As we hit the halfway mark of the NBA season, the conversation has shifted towards February 17 and the All-Star game in Charlotte, North Carolina. For the third consecutive year, the voting will be broken up by three different groups of the NBA world. Fans will account for 50% of the vote, current players will account for 25%, and the media will account for the last 25% to determine who will make the game in Charlotte.
Now, there can be a much longer post about how this system of determining All-Stars is completely flawed. The selection process just does not make sense given how All-Star Game appearances are a benchmark on which a player’s legacy is based on. With fans controlling 50%, it looks like Dwyane Wade will make the Eastern Conference team averaging 13.8 points only playing 25 minutes a game. Not to mention, it is still ridiculous that the voting is still split between conferences. Unfortunately, it is what it is, and we have to deal with the voting system accordingly. In the ideal sense of an All-Star game, favoritism and big markets should be taken out of the equation, and that is why I am making the case for Mike Conley to (finally) make the All-Star Game next month.
The third returns of #NBAAllStar Voting 2019 presented by @Google!— 2019 NBA All-Star (@NBAAllStar) January 17, 2019
Vote on https://t.co/R6fBO5LSAS , the NBA App or by searching for your favorite player or team on Google.
Vote now! https://t.co/7WGNCNxnJB pic.twitter.com/FPyWNVEosn
Let’s start by setting aside the names that should be locks on the roster before diving into a comparison of Conley vs. the others. There are ten Western Conference names that should not raise much of an argument by making the team ahead of Conley.
Locks: Stephen Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Paul George, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard, Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns
Question Marks: Mike Conley, Russell Westbrook, Tobias Harris, C.J. McCollum, Jrue Holiday, Luka Doncic
First, the case needs to be made for Mike Conley without the comparisons to anyone else. Conley is averaging 19.9 points and 6.2 assists per game. He is shooting 41.8% from the field and 35.3% from three. Diving into the advanced stats a bit more, Conley has a Player Efficiency Rating of 19.9, true shooting percentage of 54.4%, and a win share (An estimate of the numbers of wins contributed by the player) of 4.0.
Even as it does not factor in Conley’s All-Star campaign, his scoring mark is also five points higher than his career average. What does factor into his campaign is that he has been incredibly important to this Grizzlies team scoring a constant 15-20 points even in this current losing stint. What really should be above all else, since this is just an exhibition game, is the type of player and competitor Mike Conley has been throughout this season and over his career in general. How many times can he barely miss out on the All-Star game because a big market player takes his spot? It is time for the media, fans, and players to finally recognize another incredible season coming from Mike Conley with an All-Star game selection.
Next, let’s look into the numbers between the other guys on the All-Star cusp.
Mike Conley vs. Russell Westbrook
Personally, Conley and Westbrook are my other two spots on the Western Conference team. I feel like these two are the best players having the more complete seasons compared to the other “question marks” that were listed earlier.
If the argument needs to be raised between the two, the discussion should focus on the shooting numbers of Russell Westbrook. He has been struggling this season which is one of the lowest of his career. Even as Westbrook is shooting 42.3% from the field, he is somehow shooting an appalling 22.8% from three. The reason this is such a negative is the fact that he is taking 20 shots per game and almost stopping momentum with his missed heat-check threes. Westbrook has had 11(!) games this season in which he has had more field goal attempts than points. That is incredibly bad.
Conley is much more efficient taking and making a higher percentage of threes plus having a better true shooting percentage. In addition, Conley has a better win share, 4.0, than Westbrook’s win share of only 2.8.
While Conley isn’t averaging a triple-double like Westbrook, Conley has a better sense of impacting the game on his level while not trying to stat pad and achieve an arbitrary talking point which is what the triple-double has become.
Mike Conley vs. Tobias Harris
This is the closest margin for the All-Star team that the Western Conference has in my opinion. The Los Angeles Clippers have a been a great, overachieving story for the first half of the season which has been mainly in part of Tobias Harris (and also Danilo Gallinari who was barely left out). He should be rewarded for getting the team to this level having some of the best numbers on the team.
Harris is averaging 20.7 points and 8.0 rebounds per game while having the best field goal percentage of the whole group at 50.2%. Mike Conley and Tobias Harris have similar numbers across the board with the assists and rebounds being the only distinguishing factor. What hurts Harris is his usage rate of only 23.5%. This compares to Mike Conley’s usage rate of 27.5%, however, it makes the argument about the depth of the Clippers. Harris is not being used and relied on in the same way Mike Conley is for the Grizzlies.
Mike Conley vs. C.J. McCollum
C.J. McCollum is one of those players who we all know who he is at this point in his career. He is one of the best pure scorers in the league, however, this season of 20.6 points per game has been seemed a bit underwhelming compared to his last two season averages of 23.0 and 21.4. McCollum is just that though, a scorer. His All-Star case is negated by the minimal impact of the game outside of his shooting. It is not to say he isn’t a great player, but Mike Conley is more efficient and has better assist numbers than McCollum this season.
Mike Conley vs. Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday is someone that jumped out to me while I was putting together names for my All-Star list. He has a much stronger resume than I assumed. Holiday has also been a top guard in the league, but outside his 2012-2013 season, he has not put up the consistent numbers to consider him an All-Star. This year, however, he is averaging 20.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 4.6 rebounds. These on their face are better than Conley’s numbers. If you dive deeper, you can see that Conley is more efficient and has a higher usage rate than Holiday. Those advance stats are backed up by the eye test as well. Everything revolves around Anthony Davis on that Pelicans team, and because of that Jrue Holiday is not being counted on as much as Conley with the Grizzlies.
Mike Conley vs. Luka Doncic
Finally, this one will be relatively short because the best argument is not stats driven. Luka is averaging an impressive 20.3 points, 5.1 assists, and 6.7 rebounds a game, but that is not why the NBA could want him in. The non-statistical argument is if the NBA is trying to have the best players in the All-Star Game, Doncic is out. If the NBA contest is making it a popularity contest that is all about high-profile players, then they need to own it and Doncic is in.
All in all, the difference between these six players is a razor thin margin. That is why this argument is so tough. Plus, it is not even mentioning players like Danilo Gallinari, Demar DeRozan, Devin Booker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jamal Murray, and Klay Thompson. Those guys have a bit more ground to make up before All-Star consideration, but the point is that the Western Conference is exceptionally deep.
Nevertheless, two of those six players will make the cut and the other four will not. Mike Conley needs to make the Western Conference All-Stars next month not just because he is a praiseworthy individual, but because he has the numbers to back it up. He is the most efficient of the player of the names considered, and he is most important for a team who was overachieving early on in the season. Even as the Grizzlies have faded, he has still kept up this production. The biggest knock against Conley’s chances is that he plays in a smaller market, and that just is not right. Give Mike Conley the All-Star game he deserves.