As August settles in, NBA teams and their fan bases are starting to evaluate their recent transactions as they look forward to the 2017-2018 season. With the ferocious speed of the offseason, it only feels like just yesterday the Warriors won the title. It went NBA Finals, Draft, free agency in quick succession.
However, now, the NBA world can take a step back and digest some of the great story lines of the past season before fully focusing on the next season to be.
One of those storylines that have gone massively uncovered thus far into the offseason is Mike Conley’s 2016-2017 career season for the Memphis Grizzlies. For whatever reason, Conley did not get his due credit as story lines shifted with constant NBA news day after day. He put up his best statistics of his career in almost every category, but he was not talked about since he wasn’t on an All-NBA team or in the MVP race. There are reasons for this, such as Memphis being a small market or Conley’s temperament for example, but it does not explain why a staple of a franchise having the best season of his career did not get more coverage.
Mike Conley averaged 20.5 points, 6.3 assists, and 3.5 boards per game. He averaged a career high in those three categories along with a career high in Player Efficiency Rating (23.2) and true shooting percentage (60.4%) which is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
This past season Conley took on a new role. He was just coming off the biggest contract in NBA history at the time, and he knew he had to play up to his potential. If you look at his stats over his 10-year NBA career, he only advanced over this time frame. He has virtually no real weakness in his game.
Conley helped the team in almost every facet of the offensive game. Ball-handling, spot-up shooting, pick-and-roll, driving to the basket, his game was at a dominant level. Coach David Fizdale capitalized on this production from Conley letting the offense run through him. On or off the ball, he made an impact every chance he could, changing the possession out of set plays.
Conley has multiple tools coming off the screen to pull up or can slash to the rim finishing around the basket. Last season, he shot 60.7% within 3 feet of the rim which ranked close to the best among guards with more than 200 attempts. His versatility is his most potent weapon which destroys defenses not knowing which part of his game to key in on.
The offense is not the only thing that carries Conley’s game. Defense is still something that the Grizzlies strive for. While a slight decline individually from his 2012-2013 All-Defensive Award season, he still puts up reputable numbers on that side of the ball. He plays more into the system at large using his help to switch on pick-and-rolls, but his instincts are still there to keep the intensity of the grit alive on D.
The most important statistics to show another reason why Mike Conley is so crucial to this Memphis Grizzlies’ team is his wins over replacement (similar to the WAR in baseball). The definition of the stat speaks for itself; it says that Mike Conley contributes 12.15 more wins to the team than the average replacement player would contribute. That number ranks 17th in the league. Even as Memphis may have problems finding his backup, this stat does not factor in the quality of player behind him on the depth chart. It is just telling for how much more Conley contributes compared to an average player.
However, the backup point guard problem does impact him averaging 33.2 minutes a game this past season which was about a two minute increase from his previous two seasons. This instability behind him makes it imperative that he stay on the court for Memphis to have a shot at staying in games. But, at the level he is playing, Fizdale is making the right decision keeping on the floor.
The national recognition will probably never come. That is the negative aspect of playing for a small market that gets ignored or disrespected by the national media. For a player like Mike Conley, who is humble and willing to do the job for little or no attention, the spotlight is never something he demands. He goes about his work, putting up big numbers without much acknowledgment. Conley does understand that if he keeps this up and continues to grind out quality numbers, people will eventually take notice. But if people do not, GrizzNation will still appreciate everything on and off the court he does for them on a nightly basis.
All of this is why Mike Conley may be the most important asset for the Memphis Grizzlies. He is coming off the best season of his career and is showing why he earned superstar money last offseason. He needs to build off this year and carry the Grizzlies into playoff contention. Even if he doesn’t bring the flashy, over-the-top game to the league, his stats will continue to make the case for him being considered one of the best players in the NBA.
All stats from Basketball Reference and NBA.com