On this Election Day, Americans either already have or will be going to cast their ballots in what is sure to be a contest for the ages. The race has been long and arduous, exhausting for both the country and candidates. It will hopefully all come to a close this evening, and as it does we can all turn our attention to starting a campaign that really matters...
Mike Conley’s campaign to be an NBA All-Star for the first time and the NBA’s Most Improved Player for the 2016-2017 season.
Yes, the Grizzlies have only played seven games so far this season. And yes, Conley’s past health issues potentially recurring will weigh heavily on his candidacy. But to this point, Mike has put together many career best numbers. He is to this point posting a 46% shooting percentage on 14.5 attempts per game, both career highs. He is shooting an amazing 53% from three, making almost three shots from beyond the arc a game as he attempts 5.3 threes per game- again, both career highs.
He also is being aggressive in the paint, attempting over 32% of his shots at the rim, his most since 2012-2013, and converting them at a 50% clip, which is actually below his career average of 57.6%, so that stands to improve. He is attempting 5.3 free throws a game and is converting them at a rate of 87.5%- again, both career highs.
This all contributes to multiple advanced numbers that- you guessed it- are currently at career highs (data and definitions provided by basketballreference.com).
- PER (Player Efficiency Rating)- 24.2. Previous career high- 20 (2013-2014)
- OFFENSIVE RATING (Points produced or scored per 100 possessions)- 119. Previous career high- 115 (2015-2016)
- NET RATING (Combined offensive and defensive rating)- +11. Previous career high- +11 (2012-2013)
- TRUE SHOOTING % (Measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws)- 61.8%. Previous career high- 55.8% (2014-2015)
- FREE THROW RATE (number of FT attempts per FG attempt)- .368. Previous career high- .329 (2015-2016)
- ASSIST % (Estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor)- 42.9%. Previous career high- 32.7% (2015-2016)
- USAGE (Amount of team plays used by a player)- 26.6%. Previous career high- 24.6% (2013-2014)
- OFFENSIVE BOX +/- (Box score estimate of the offensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team)- +6.6. Previous career high- +4.1 (2013-2014)
- WIN SHARES PER 48 MINUTES (Estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes (league average is approximately .100)- .214. Previous career high- .172 (2012-2013)
All the numbers back up what your eyes are telling you- Mike is having a dominant season offensively to this point.
He is doing it through converting three point makes off of screens.
He is doing it in the pick and roll with Marc Gasol, both in sets creating for himself...
...and for his big buddy from Spain by way of Memphis.
He is doing it on cuts to the rim-
As well as off of elevator doors sets like this one against the Clippers-
Conley has always prided himself on adding aspects to his game every season, and his offensive toolkit has grown significantly over the years. He is getting to show that off now more than ever in the schemes that David Fizdale is implementing. Fizdale to this point is doing exactly what he said he would, which is making Mike a central focus of this offense.
The numbers and the eyes also further confirm the fact that Memphis is much worse when Mike is not on the floor vs. when he is on it. Memphis has an offensive rating of 104.4 when Conley is on the court, versus a rating of 92.7 when he is off of it. He makes the Grizzlies, a team that historically struggled putting the ball in the basket, that much better.
Of course there are other players in the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo and George Hill are having tremendous starts to their respective seasons as well and are surely in the Most improved Player mix as well. Conley still plays in the loaded Western Conference, where Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, and Stephen Curry all still likely will lay claim to All-Star spots, not to mention Hill.
Mike must show he can stay on the court and play a full season- he hasn’t played in more than 70 games since 2012-2013, and that may continue this season considering how David Fizdale has already shown a willingness to rest Conley during back to backs. His numbers will likely cool down a bit- Conley is being asked to do a lot right now with Chandler Parsons easing his way back in to playing post-surgery on his knee- but consistency is key for Mike as Parsons adjusts.
If the structure of rest works, and Conley plays roughly 70 games this season while maintaining a run slightly below/similar to what he has done through his first six games, he will surely be in the conversation for both his first All-Star appearance as well as Most Improved. He is showing early in the season that the investment that Memphis made in him was not in vein. That he is truly the conductor of this Grizzlies offense and one of the leaders on this team. He is both the point guard that Memphis needs and deserves, and as such deserves our support.
Mike Conley is off to a great start this season. He looks healthy, he looks fit, he looks dominant. If he can sustain this level off play, he should be voted in to the All-Star Game by the fans and Most Improved Player by the media. After a divisive presidential campaign, Memphis’ captain can and will bring us together.
For when it comes to hopefully making the Memphis Grizzlies great again, I’m with Mike.