There have only been three All-Stars in Grizzlies history. Can you guess them?
If you guessed Marc and Pau Gasol as well as Zach Randolph then you either know your Grizzlies history or deduced that those have been three of the four best players in franchise history.
Who is that unfortunate fourth player not to have been named to an All-Star team? Mike Conley, of course. Conley is the franchise leader in games and minutes played, steals, and assists, and is second in both points and three-point makes. He was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team in 2012/13, and he’s led his team to six straight playoff appearances, including a Western Conference Final.
Conley has the playoff credentials, the veteran leadership, the regular season numbers, the off-court style, the clutch gene, and signature shining moment that could (should?) have accounted for at least one All-Star appearance.
Yet, despite those achievements and more, the Ohio State product has never made an All-Star team. His best shot came in 2014 when he produced a career high in points per game on a career-best 45 percent shooting and 36 percent shooting from deep. He also notched six assists and a steal and a half per contest that year, but all that wasn’t enough to be a part of the All-Star festivities.
The reason why Conley didn’t make it in 2014 (or 2013, or 2015) is simple, and many of you probably know why. There’s an over-abundance of guard depth in the Western Conference that suffocates Conley’s mightiest triumphs.
Here’s whose made All-Star games over Conley since 2013: Kobe Bryant (four times), Chris Paul (four), James Harden (four), Tony Parker (two), Russell Westbrook (three), Stephen Curry (three), Damian Lillard (two), and Klay Thompson (two). Take a look at that list and tell me that you can objectively say that Conley is definitively better than anyone there.
(Ok, obviously Kobe didn’t deserve to make it in his last three seasons, but there’s no way in Hades that Conley would ever get in over Kobe, so that’s the end of that discussion.)
Conley pretty much would have needed to put up MVP-caliber numbers (Harden, Curry, Westbrook, Lillard to an extent), play in a bigger market (Bryant, Curry, Thompson, Paul), or play in the East to have made an All-Star team in any of the last four years. It’d be kind of like coming in fourth in the women’s gymnastics all-around. Any other year your score may have won, but how are you supposed to beat Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, and Gabby Douglas? (I’m not trying to throw shade at Laurie Hernandez or Madison Kocian; they’re super dope too.)
But with Kobe retired, and Tony Parker likely too old to play at an All-Star-caliber level, maybe there’s an opening for Conley to slide into.
Last year, six guards made the team. Let’s assume Westbrook, Curry, Harden, and Thompson get the votes again this year. Probably Paul makes it too, though he turned 31 this year and maybe he’ll show signs of regression due to age. That probably won’t happen, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility.
That leaves Lillard as the only other former All-Star to compete with for that sixth spot. His backcourt mate C.J. McCollum could easily enter the fray as well, but other than maybe Victor Oladipo, Eric Bledsoe, or Harrison Barnes (who may be considered a forward depending on how Dallas uses him), there are no guards who are better than him in the league. I mean, look at the above list and objectively tell me Conley ISN’T definitively better than anyone on it besides Lillard.
Of course, in any preseason prediction, an assumption of health is necessary, and Conley has had trouble staying healthy in his career. From ankles to wrists, Conley has only played 80 games in a season thrice in his nine years in the league. If he doesn’t come back healthy (which seems like a thing you can say about every Grizzly actually), you can kiss any potential All-Star nod goodbye.
But let’s look at the bright side. If Conley returns to even his 2015 form, he has a realistically good shot to be named to his first All-Star team. And at age 28, going on 29, he is in the peak of his prime. He may never have a better shot than this year, and as the league’s highest paid player ever, this would be the perfect season for him to do it.