Mike Conley is the most underrated player in the NBA

Mike Conley is one the Memphis Grizzlies’ best players but is vastly underrated. The Western Conference that is blessed with point guards like Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Damian Lillard so it is understandable that he is overlooked but the time has come to give him his due. Conley has all the tools teams would love in a point guard; he is able to run a system, finds teammates in pick-and-rolls, can shoot the rock from three, and is a solid piece in the grit and grind defense that the Grizzlies employ. Despite never being in the all-star game, he has certainly been deserving and was the biggest snub this year.

There is a level of toughness from Conley that makes him a perfect for the Grizzlies. Look no further than his “Broken Face Game”, after suffering multiple facial fractures in the first round of the 2015 playoffs, he returned much earlier than expected with a metal plate in his face using a face mask as protection to help his brothers even the series against the eventual champions that year the Golden State Warriors. That night he put up 22 points in 27 minutes, his toughness should never be questioned.

Conley is a shifty point guard, just ask Corey Joseph. Conley came off a high ball screen with Joseph on his hip, he stops and steps back to the three point line. This forced Joseph to lunge at him and put him out of position. Conley went for a right to left crossover to blow by him and finished with a right-handed floater. He has shown mastery in the art of the floater, shooting 56.3% from five feet and in. If teams back off him to protect against the drive or do not avoid the bone crushing screens that are set for him in time, he’s shooting 40.1% from three. Off the inbounds play, Conley set a back pick for his teammate and then came off a pindown from Zach Randolph. His defender Evan Turner looked like he was in a pinball machine bouncing off these screens and never able to close out as Conley casually knocks down the three ball.

Conley leads the Grizzlies in assists with 6.2 per game and assist percentage at 34.6% (Assist Percentage is an estimate of the percentage of teammates field goals a player assisted on). He creates opportunities for all of his teammates and keeps the offense humming. Against Portland, Conley drove baseline and sucked the defense in which left Chandler Parsons wide open for a three. Then against the Rockets in a side pick-and-roll Conley catches the big defender cheating too much and hit the rolling Marc Gasol off the dribble for a dunk.

Defensively Conley is one of the best point guards on that side of the floor. He has a great understanding of position defense and does a job forcing the offensive players to hesitate. When Terence Ross of the Toronto Raptors tried to take him off the dribble, Conley cut him off at the elbow and stayed with him as Ross spun towards the baseline forcing up a very difficult layup. Then against the Rockets when the ball is swung to Trevor Ariza at the wing three with Patrick Beverly in the corner, Conley stunts at Ariza just enough to make him hesitate on shooting the three. When he looks to try to pass to Beverly in the corner, Conley is in the passing the lane to take that away. This force Ariza to drive the lane and once he passed it to Beverly, Conley is there again for a good contest. This is a subtle play but it takes defensive smarts to truly understand what his opponents want to do and to be able to take it away.

There was a lot of criticism this summer when Conley was awarded largest contract in NBA history, a five year $153 Million dollar deal courtesy of the salary spike. He has been worth each penny. He’s the ultimate pro, when he had a transverse process fracture in his lower. Expected to be out six to eight weeks he returned in three. This year he’s averaging career highs across the board, 18.7 ppg, 6.2 apg, 3.8 rpg, and a PER (Player Efficiency Rate a measure of per-minute production standardized such that the league average is 15) of 21.4. He is a key piece to the engine that makes the Memphis Grizzlies go. It is a travesty that he has never been named to an all-star game but you’ll ever hear him complain about it. He’s going to go out there and keep playing.

NBA Notes:

  • Blazers’ Lineup changing – It’s a small sample size as it has been only for games but the Blazers are 3-1 since they moved Evan Turner into the starting lineup with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. In the last four games, Turner has a net rating of 11.3 and the Blazers as a team are at 3.5 which is an improvement on their season average of -2.3. He’s been able to take some of the playmaking burden off the star guards and is delivering for Coach Stotts. If this trend continues they should be able to secure that 8th seed.

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