Diminutive point guards have it tough in the NBA. It is at times difficult for these smaller guards to get a clean view of the rim for a shot or the entire floor for a pass strictly because of height, but that's not all. Many of the players lacking elite height also happen to be wiry, meaning they lack an advantage over opponents in terms of both size and strength. Thus they have to reach deeper into their bag of tricks to find a strategic edge.
Standing at 6'1", 175 pounds, Mike Conley certainly fits the profile of a point guard who is never going to be a brute force. This isn't news to Conley, who has had the same body build dating back to his high school days. By necessity and over time, Conley has perfected the art of changing both speed and direction in a flash, which has enabled him to create at a high rate for himself and others despite his underwhelming physical profile.
Perhaps Conley's favorite way to maintain the space he creates after altering speed and/or direction is to utilize his butt to keep defenders on his back. Conley using his butt to ward off a defender gives him the extra time and space he needs to demonstrate just how great he is at creating shots for his team. Some elite point guards, namely Chris Paul and Tony Parker, use similar iterations of the move. It's an incredibly efficient move that puts the onus on the defense to react. Also, Conley's ability to pull the move off at any juncture places him among the stars of the proverbial "buttalytics" community (full disclosure: the "buttalytics" community is not a real thing — yet).
While Conley is able to shield defenders with his backside in numerous situations, he goes to the move at the highest rate in the pick-and-roll. The play against the Portland Trail Blazers detailed below is a perfect example of Conley's ability to put his butt to work for his own good.
The play starts innocently enough with a regular side pick-and-roll between Conley and Zach Randolph.
The first thing to take note of as Conley makes his way to the left around Randolph's screen is how Conley doesn't leave much of a gap between himself and Randolph. Randolph rubs Damian Lillard off of Conley early with the screen here, but Conley didn't leave enough space for Lillard to shoot the gap between himself and Randolph to recover and get back in front even if Lillard had maneuvered cleanly over the screen.
This initial rub puts Lillard on Conley's backside, which is right where Conley wants him. Now Conley just has to keep Lillard there. That's where Conley's butt usually comes into play. He uses his feel for the game and peripheral vision to survey the reaction of the defense and decide his next move.
If Conley feels that the man on his back is overaggressively pursuing him, he will slow up and perhaps even backpedal a step into his defender. Then he will use his butt and the defender's own momentum to his advantage by drawing a foul. In situations like the one on this play, with Lillard stuck behind unable to pursue too much, Conley will typically continue forward, often crossing directly under the front of the screener he just went over the top of. Not only does this move increase recovery time for Conley's defender as well as keep that man on his back, but it also makes the big man shuffle side to side while simultaneously trying to backpedal.
The beauty of Conley doing the early work to get his defender behind him is that now he has multiple driving lanes open, all of which will allow him to force the big man to step up until the primary defender can recover. When the defense is forced to execute a double team it didn't want to, this leaves another player on the floor wide open. Conley doesn't miss on many open passes. If the big man chooses to stick with the roll man, Conley can either continue all the way to the rim or shoot a jumper since his defender has no way of preventing a good shot without fouling or making an impressive, trailing block.
Once Conley makes his way fully around the screen, he stutters just a little bit causing Ed Davis to be unsure which direction Conley will head next while also preventing Davis from positioning himself for an easy block. Another key here is that Conley never stops dead in his tracks. He often stutters, but he never stops. Conley does this because it never gives his defender enough time to fight back in front.
After stuttering, Conley scampers to the right away from both adversaries. His movement is akin to a school of fish in the ocean darting directly out of a predator's way. Darting out of traffic is a survival tactic for Conley just like it is for the fish, but unlike in the sea, Conley's sudden movement changes his role on the court from prey to predator.
Davis backpedals to the rim with Randolph, and Conley now finds himself with open space ahead and a defender still reeling, attempting desperately to regain position. Just when Lillard believes Conley is finished shifting around the floor, Conley executes a final move that ensures he can finish with Lillard still on his backside. Conley darts away from trouble one more time, this time into the paint away from Lillard and help defender C.J. McCollum.
Conley shoots his patented floater in the middle of the lane with no contest, and Lillard finishes the play right where he started — on Conley's back.
To see many of the crafty ways Conley uses his rump to shed defenders and create solid offense, check out this video.
Long live Mike Conley's beautiful creativity, and long live "buttalytics".