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A few weeks back, Jay Caspian Kang wrote a piece for Grantland in which he speculates on how Jeremy Lin’s career will turn out once he recovers from the knee injury that has momentarily sidelined him. He suggests that Linsanity was not a one-off, and indeed, Lin will have a long, prosperous career as a starting NBA point guard. At that point, I was nodding my head in agreement, until one unfortunate sentence where states that Lin will “likely be better than Jameer Nelson or Mike Conley, Jr.”

Ugh, here we go again. It wasn’t so much that I disagreed with him – Lin is, if nothing else, a more explosive point guard than Conley – it was that once again Conley was being used to represent mediocrity. An average-at-best  point guard who isn’t terrible, but doesn’t do much else. Anyone who watches Conley on a regular basis knows this is simply not the case. He may not be flashy, but he does an excellent job facilitating the Grizzlies offense, and creating opportunities for Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph. Also, I hope Kang was talking about 2009 Jameer (when he was admittedly pretty good), because Conley is a considerably better player than 2012 Jameer, who appears to have crumbled under the giant mess that is the Dwight Howard situation.

In some respects, Conley is a victim of an era he plays in. When trying to figure out where he ranked among current starting point guards, I had to concede that he was somewhere in the middle of the pack, probably in the 10-15 range. But that’s not because Conley is a mediocre or average player, it’s simply because the league is clogged with elite point guards right now. It seems like at least a third of the teams in this league have their point guard as their best player, and have teams that revolve around him. From undeniably elite leaders like Rose, CP3, Rondo, Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, and Steve Nash to potentially elite young guards like Ricky Rubio, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, and even John Wall, the number of teams who base everything around the guy playing the 1 is staggering. As a result, someone like Conley, who is simply a facilitator, and not an elite scoring option can’t help but be overlooked.

Which is a shame, because as anyone who watches Conley knows, he does a lot for the Grizzlies. Along with Tony Allen, he’s half of one of the best defensive backcourts in the league. Anyone who doubts his ability to create plays should remember that he averages 2.3 steals per game, good for second in the league behind Chris Paul. When you see Gay or Mayo slam home a dunk on a fast break, there’s a good chance that play started with a steal by Conley.

When looking at Conley’s advanced numbers, Conley’s efficiency becomes readily evident. His offensive rating is seven points higher than his defensive rating, which basically means that the number of points he scores per 100 possessions is seven points higher than what the players he’s defending will score with the same number of possessions. Admittedly, these numbers weren’t this strong during his first four seasons, but that just shows that he’s on an upswing, and could become even more efficient in the future.

One thing that hurt Conley from the beginning of his career is that Grizzlies mere acquisition of him felt like a bit of a disappointment. After a wretched 06-07 season where the team racked up only 24 wins, everyone was excited about getting a top-two pick, and building around Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. Instead, the Grizzlies got the 4th pick, and took Conley, the second best player on Oden’s Ohio State team. He felt like a consolation prize, and while anyone would have him over Oden after his injury-riddled career, there are probably some fans who are bitter than Oklahoma City gets to watch Durant light up the scoreboard for the next 15 years. The controversy in 2009, when Allen Iverson made it abundantly clear how insulted he felt having to “come off the bench” in relief of Conley didn’t help either.

But while he hasn’t become a superstar, he has blossomed into an extremely valuable player, and the perfect point guard for this Grizzlies team.  We’ve seen the Grizzlies be effective without Rudy Gay, and without Zach Randolph, but I shudder to think where this team would be without Conley to run the show. He may not be spectacular, but he plays a big role in keeping the team together. A “glue guy” if there ever was one.


John Hugar is a new blogger at 3 Shades of Blue. A native of Buffalo, New York, John has been a follower of the Grizzlies since they were located in Vancouver. While not a local fan John brings a unique national exposure to covering the Grizzlies which should be very illuminating and informative. 

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15 Responses to Mike Conley, Jr. – An Appreciation

  1. Anthony MorrisonNo Gravatar says:

    Agree across the board.

  2. Carlos MartinNo Gravatar says:

    When I read the article in Grantland I was thinking the same. I found Jay Caspian king´s comments not really in touch with the outstanding play Conley has given to the Grizzlies. I remember when Conley got his extension and many people thought he was getting a lot of money, but, as a spurs fan, I can tell that Mike Conley was one of the main reasons the Grizzlies had such a great run last year and I really believe if Memphis wants to make another postseason ride Conley must play at an all-star level along with Gasol and Randolph. I live in Paraguay (South America) and I was fortunate enough to visit Beale Street (great music) and Graceland (what a place!!).

  3. ReginaldNo Gravatar says:

    I used to down Conley’s play in his first few years but when you look back at it, he was a victim of circumstance. Injuries killed his first year. Second year was the Iavaroni mistake and battling with Lowry. Last year was a very good improvement and this year, he’s the most important player on the team!!! Stats don’t show how important he is for the team. He doesn’t have to dominate the ball. He gets the plays started and can get a good shot for himself or another player. On defense, he’s not Gary Payton but he’s smart and able to do just enough to hold his own. Will he ever be CP3? No but we also don’t need him to be that to win either. I can’t wait for the playoffs and for the national media to see the Grizz and embrace high quality bball that is played the right way!

  4. HartNo Gravatar says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Well written piece to boot. Hope more people take a look at this blog.

  5. Lee Eric SmithNo Gravatar says:

    Welcome to 3SOB, Rook! (just kidding!)

    Nice piece on Conley. And ditto the point about us living in a golden age of point guards. There really aren’t any BAD point guards in the league. Even when you look “down” from Conley, the guys “beneath” him — Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Darren Collison, Mario Chalmers, Goran Dragic, Andre Miller (ANDRE MILLER for GODS SAKE!) — those are all pretty good point guards. And no doubt those are all reasons why the NBA is so much fun to watch these days.

    The thing about this Grizzlies team is that we do have a few guys who could be breakout type players on other teams in other systems — O.J. comes to mind, as does Conley. But this team is SO balanced that no one guy has to dominate the game for the team to succeed. I mean, we’re bringing ZACH FREAKIN’ RANDOLPH off the bench! ZACH FREAKIN’ RANDOLPH!

    Looking forward to more contributions from you!

    • JhugarNo Gravatar says:

      Agreed. I was thinking the other day about how it’s hard to appreciate what Chalmers does for the Heat, but if they still had Carlos Arroyo or God forbid Mike Bibby, they would definitely suffer.

  6. PatrickNo Gravatar says:

    No player makes me more nervous when he goes out of the game than Conley. I just trust him to run the offense.

    • stevedNo Gravatar says:

      Agreed. This was brought to light earlier in the season when Conley was working with a high 90s points per possesion, and Selby and Pargo were mid 80s. Huge influence on team offensive efficiency.

  7. boNo Gravatar says:

    steals stats SHOULD say almost all……
    also, conley is clearly ahead of nash and parker, who are sort of his “style” as PG- facilitator, occasionally create your own shot role….
    definitely above deron williams in his ability to make a team better. possibly above westbrook in same ability.. westbrook can certainly make a team worse……
    john wall and tyreke evans- hard to say with their supporting cast.
    rondo has a VERY different role with boston…..
    only derrick rose clearly a better pg……
    im sure ive left someone else out-which means conley is better than that guy…..

  8. theGrizzFanNo Gravatar says:

    I think the best way to describe Mike Conley is that he is the quintessential floor general.

  9. FrankNo Gravatar says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. On a balanced team like the Grizzlies, where they finish with 5-7 players in double figures on a good night, Conley truly is the glue that binds the team together. His defensive value is incredible, as he can go toe to toe (at least defensively)with virtually any given point guard.

    As much as it kills me to see Mike not getting the credit he deserves, they can keep fooling themselves and the Grizzlies will continue rising up in the Western Conference due in large part to Conley.

  10. KangNo Gravatar says:

    Hey, how do I get in contact w/ Jhugar? Enjoyed this post, despite being thrown under the bus a bit. Jhugar, do you mind sending me your email via twitteR? I’m @jaycaspiankang

  11. JhugarNo Gravatar says:

    ^Done. For the record, I actually really like your work at Grantland, especially your response to the “chink in the armor” controversy, and the Person Of Interest series.

  12. AussieGNo Gravatar says:

    Quote –

    “But while he hasn’t become a superstar, he has blossomed into an extremely valuable player, and the perfect point guard for
    this Grizzlies team. ”

    From 2007 until now.. that was always the point. Everyone chases the superstars but you need Conley’s in your team as well. And he’s turned out just fine.

    • AussieGNo Gravatar says:

      For the record, I’ve always thought he was the best PG this team has ever had. Not even caring whether or not the stats back it up, because that opinion isn’t based on stats. Based on his physical attributes alone puts him up there pretty high already, and he’s developed so much in the last few years.

      JWill, and Damon Stoudamire were both good (Damon blew out his knee before we really got to find out what he could do).. but yeah, this is the best Grizzlies team ever (the last 2-3 years) and he’s the PG and a big part of that, so I hope at least Grizz fans can recognise this, these days.

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