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Examining Mike Conley's unorthodox right-handed floater

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Unorthodox is the word most used to describe Mike Conley's right-handed floater. I somehow doubt he cares about that description when the floater falls through the net.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

"Floater" as a basketball term is defined as an early layup taken by a player moving towards the rim where, upon release, the ball floats in the air over the top of a defender before dropping softly into the hoop. It's otherwise known as a tear-drop or a runner. The definition makes it sound simple, but it is one of the hardest shots in basketball to perfect.

Long a weapon of choice for the undersized of the NBA, the floater requires a tremendous amount of body control, solid footwork, and soft touch. There is only a handful of players who even utilize the shot with regularity, and there are even fewer who have mastered the shot. Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and Rajon Rondo have all developed a reputation as guys that are the best in the game at taking and making floaters.

Mike Conley is another player who has developed a notable floater during his NBA career. Each one of the aforementioned players shoots the floater a bit differently, but none of them shoot it like Conley. A predominantly left-handed shooter, Conley essentially only shoots floaters with his weaker right hand.

Shooting with the weak hand is not a high-percentage event for most NBA players, particularly outside of shooting point-blank layups. The special thing about Conley, though, is that he doesn't have much of a "weak" hand. He's been adept at driving and finishing with both hands dating back to high school, and he's only honed his ambidextrous craft even more since entering the NBA.

As ambidextrous as Conley is, shooting floaters with the weak hand is such a phenomenal, rare skill that it becomes confusing to watch. It's easy to begin to wonder and want to analyze if the right-handed floater is actually a good shot for Conley, or if he should be taking less of them as some might suspect. As a general comparison, check out the table below showing how well Conley has shot floaters compared to the likes of Parker, Rose, Paul, and Rondo since the 2010-11 season, per NBAsavant.com.

Player Floaters Made Floaters Taken FG%
Tony Parker 150 250 60.00%
Chris Paul 89 142 62.68%
Rajon Rondo 44 73 60.27%
Derrick Rose 76 128 59.38%
Mike Conley 124 257 48.25%

The table demonstrates that Conley, despite taking more floaters than any of the players listed, has not been nearly as proficient at converting them over the course of the last five seasons as those players considered to be some of the best in the league at the shot. Conley's 48.25% from the field on floaters since the 2010-11 season is neither a terrible percentage nor a great one. It's merely around league average.

Given how much Conley has improved and expanded his game over the last couple seasons, it's worth digging down into the data to see if his floater has improved and kept pace with the rest of his game. Again, the stats in the following table are via NBAsavant.com.

Mike Conley Floaters Made Floaters Taken FG%
2010-11 19 41 46.34%
2011-12 11 26 42.31%
2012-13 21 49 42.86%
2013-14 43 85 50.59%
2014-15 30 56 53.57%

Remarkable improvement is reflected in the above table. Conley's field goal percentage on floaters has improved more than a full ten percentage points since his low mark in the 2011-12 season. Conley's elevated his status in the league to an All-Star caliber player over the last several seasons, and the positive strides he has made with his floater demonstrate just one area of his tremendous growth that has occurred in a relatively short period of time.

Such significant improvement by Conley on floaters raises one main, pertinent question. How has he become so good at pulling off this incredible shot? To begin with, Conley's floater is not a new development. He has done almost everything with his right hand outside of shooting a basketball since he was born. The shot initially grew out of necessity when Conley was a small child struggling to get the ball up to the rim. The entire story is worth reading, and it's one Micheal Cohen of The Commercial Appeal told with poise back in April.

To better understand how Conley has become such an excellent shooter of the floater over time, let's consult the film.

In the clip above, Conley executes a textbook floater. To begin, his gather is spot on. He launches off of his left foot, which is obviously opposite the hand he shoots floaters with. This allows him to slow his body down, thus keeping himself under control and preventing a charge as he prepares to rise for the release. More often than not, Conley actually launches off of both feet. He stays relatively low to the ground, keeping his center of gravity, enabling even more balance with which to shoot.

Upon launching into the air, the goal is for the shooter to keep his body as straight up and down as possible, which Conley does. The idea behind this method is that it eliminates forward momentum, enables more balance, and creates a buffer zone between the shooter and his defender to prevent a blocked shot.

When releasing the ball, Conley launches it high into the air to prevent any lengthy big man from elevating and sending the shot back to sender and also to give the shot a higher percentage chance to swish through the hoop or gain a favorable bounce.

Additionally, Conley does an excellent job of taking some of the rotation off of the ball by not following through as much on his release. This is a main part of what allows the ball to actually float in the air, and it also gives the ball a softer landing.

Being able to shoot a textbook floater doesn't mean much if the shot isn't utilized in proper situations. Conley's high basketball IQ and propensity for making the smart play prevent him from taking too many poor floaters. From time to time, Conley will shoot a floater after launching off of the wrong foot or while being completely off balance, and that can drive a coach crazy.

However, Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger is patient with Conley and understands his floor general needs room to operate and do things as he sees fit, no matter how unorthodox they might look from time to time. Mechanics surely matter in basketball, which is why coaches work on them with players all the time at every level, but what makes Conley's floater so successful isn't the fact that it's always textbook; it's that it brings a certain element of surprise with it.

A player shooting with his weak hand is not something defenders are accustomed to seeing, as very few players possess the ability to do so. Despite averaging multiple floaters per game, defenders are caught unaware with a high level of frequency. Conley is able to lull defenders to sleep while patiently zigging and zagging, slipping his way into the paint, and waiting for a striking opportunity to present itself. Conley capitalizes at just the right moment nearly every time.

Despite the unorthodox nature of Conley's right-handed jumper and the downright incorrect mechanics that sometimes appear when he takes the shot, it's a huge part of his game that's not going anywhere. He's drastically improved on floaters since entering the league, and the shot continues to catch defenses off balance. This season, every floater Conley has taken has been with his right hand, he's making the shot about half of the time, and one has yet to be blocked. I'd say those are more than enough reasons for Conley to keep floating it.