NBA Theme Day: Why Mike Conley Deserves to be an All-Star Reserve

Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

Rudy Gay isn't the Grizzly who is Wrongfully Excluded.

As part of SBNation NBA's Theme Day today, team blogs around SBN were asked to post about one of the following:

(1) Making the Case for your team's player who deserves to be selected as a reserve;

(2) Discussing a potential future all star on the roster and what they have to do to get there;

(3) Discussing a player who deserves to be selected for one of the other events, like the dunk contest or 3 point shootout.

I debated going (1) and continuing the ever-long battle of trying to change the way (for me AND you) Rudy Gay is perceived in the Grizzlies fan-world. There has to be a reason he's been around so long, especially this season, in which his trade talks have involved what seems like almost every team in the NBA. Toronto, Charlotte, Philadelphia. I could find pretty much everything. Even with the salary dump taking place yesterday morning, Rudy Gay is still believed by most to be involved in thick trade rumors.

But really, I'm just tired of trying to convince myself about Rudy one way or the other. I promise you: in two months I'll still be fighting the same battle.

I debated writing on (3). In my most recent Grizzlies 2013 All-Star piece, there was an interesting conversation going on in the comment thread about Mike Conley's possible participation in the three point shootout in Houston. The discussion was definitely interesting, and showed me one thing: we all want Mike Conley to be in a Western Conference jersey.

But in the end, do people really care about the 3 point shootout? Would that make an interesting piece? Furthermore, with names like Kyrie Irving, Steve Novak, and Stephen Curry floating around in the contest, it'd be hard for me to sit here and argue Mike Conley's three point production (1.3 3PM, .364 percentage) on a team shooting only .341 from three.

That left route (2). Why? Because as I laboriously looked through Rudy Gay's numbers for the thousandth time and lied to myself with Mike Conley's 3 point production, I realized something: I really, really want Mike Conley to be selected to be an all-star reserve.

But it's not going to happen.

As I write this article, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul are (and rightfully so) leading the voting and have each been selected as starters. As a reader moves further down the list, he sees Jeremy Lin in third place, followed by James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Steve Nash.

My mind went to an old Grantland piece written during the climax of the Linsanity movement. In the article, Jay Caspian Kang argues Linsanity isn't merely a fad or gimmick. Jeremy Lin is for real and is here to stay. He says something interesting of Jeremy Lin in his third paragraph:

Despite the small sample size, Lin has proven that he can be an above-average starter in the NBA. He's not Steve Nash or Derrick Rose, but he's probably going to be better than Jameer Nelson and Mike Conley Jr.

Woah. Is Mike Conley Jr., OUR Mike Conley Jr., being compared as the "model" for the "above-average starter" in the NBA? Are the readers at Straight Outta Vancouver, the biased Grizzlies basketball pricks that we are, honestly right in thinking what we've been thinking all along?

Yeah. We are.

Five years into the pros, Mike Conley Jr. is averaging 12 points a game with 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals. I agree, these numbers are underwhelming. But judging Conley by his career averages is deceiving. Upon closer inspection, Mike Conley has improved dramatically each of the five seasons he has played in the NBA. In 2007-08, Conley averaged 9.4 PPG. In 2010-11, he averaged 13.7 PPG.

In 2012-13, Conley is averaging 13.1 points with 5.9 assists and 2.4 steals. His 2.4 steals is a career-high.

Manu Ginobili, who has received the least amount of votes while still remaining "in the discussion" is averaging 12.9 points, 4.6 assists, and 1.4 steals. The numbers are by no means bad - but they aren't better than Conley's. In fact, if one were judging by numbers alone, Conley's a better player.

Lets jump up in the voting to Jeremy Lin. He's currently third in all-star voting behind Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. His 2013 numbers? 12.0 points, 6.0 assists, and 2.0 steals per game.

At this moment, I'm going to choose to refrain from writing on the corruption that is NBA All-Star voting. I'm going to lie to myself and assume the NBA All-Star game is a place where the NBA cares about showcasing top talent rather than selling tickets, jerseys, and creating ratings. I have to tell myself it's true for my own mental health and the stability of my NBA-fanhood.

I don't do this often - and at times I dislike it when writers do this - but lets walk away from the numbers and go deeper in the Mike Conley discussion.

Look at the team without Mike Conley. Fortunately (well, unfortunately), we have a game in which the Grizzlies played without their starting point guard. On November 26, 2012, the Grizzlies beat the Cavaliers 84-78 on night where Mike Conley was absent due to illness. In the game, Cleveland held the lead through the third quarter, but shot just 31.6 percent in the second half after shooting 50 percent in the first half.

Conley's absence wasn't an issue early on, but as the game grew older, the Grizzlies simply struggled to get aggressive and remain competitive in sets with the Cavs. Backup PG Jerryd Bayless hit a clutch jump shot and made two free throws down the stretch, but overall looked unprepared.

I dug deep and found a quote by Coach Hollins in the post-game conference:

"I've got to give a shoutout to Mike Conley and all the haters of Mike Conley. He's one of the most valuable players we have on this team. He's not a flashy guy, not a big scorer, not a big name, but he helps makes us go and we missed him big time. Jerryd did an admirable job. … (But) you limit what you can do when you don't have a guy that knows all of the nuances of what you're trying to do."

Remember several years ago in the NFL when Peyton Manning remained in the NFL MVP discussion simply because the fans began to see what a Manning-less Indianapolis team actually looked like? Or, for the baseball fans, when Justin Verlander, a starting pitcher, was chosen to win the AL MVP? Position players are assumed to have the most impact on a team in baseball. However, after seeing what Verlander did for the team, the writers realized the Detroit Tigers would not have won the division without Justin Verlander's performance, both on and off the field.

Imagine Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol without Mike Conley. Imagine Rudy Gay without Mike Conley. Lionel Hollins' offensive system is designed around a point guard playing tight defense and not turning the ball over on offense. Conley has been given a goal: get the ball to Marc, Rudy, and Zach. And he does his job well - it's just not as exciting as a Russell Westbrook reckless layup or a Steve Nash behind-the-back pass to Kobe.

William Rikard, here at Straight Outta Vancouver, said a statement to sum this up in his fanpost on December 22:

[Conley] has never delivered an iconic and memorable speech, and has had no nickname endowed upon him, but this soft spoken 25 year old is the quintessential picture of all that Grizz nation believes in.

Now, this article is coming with a bias. I'm a big Mike Conley fan. I own one Memphis Grizzlies jersey, and it's a Mike Conley home jersey. He's my favorite player on this team and is a player whom I enjoy watching play on a regular basis, even if the camera isn't always on him. A friend in my fantasy basketball league drafted Conley and has been pleasantly surprised at his quiet, consistent production as a point-guard. It's a dream of mine to one day speak with him to thank him for the way he has fueled my love for Memphis Grizzlies basketball. Until that day comes, I'll just write it here: thank you, Mike. And I'm sorry you're getting snubbed from this discussion.

But one has to imagine Grizz Nation without Mike Conley to see how valuable Conley truly is to this team. I'm not writing he deserves to be a starter above Chris Paul or Kobe Bryant - but I'm definitely advocating he deserves to be a name (at least) in the reserve discussion and is wrongfully excluded.

You'll never hear that from him, though.

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