Mike Conley, NBA Superstar

By Kyle Rowland on May 12, 2013 at 6:00a
45 Comments
Looks good, plays great

Even in victory, Mike Conley Jr.’s doubters persist.

Fluke, hot streak, just one of those games. Those are some of the excuses Conley’s critics have used to describe his heady play. But it is starting to be drowned out by the admiration of his supporters.

Now in his sixth NBA season, Conley has improved each year, a progression from oft-injured rookie to budding superstar. His rise has been consistent since high school, where he was an All-American beside teammate Greg Oden. The duo went on to prominence at Ohio State before their NBA careers went in opposite directions.

Conley was the fourth overall pick in the same draft that Oden went No. 1 to Portland. While Conley was a top-five selection, if the state of their careers was discussed today without names, most would recognize Oden as the catalyst in a playoff push. Instead, it is Conley.

The point guard has Memphis on solid footing, leading the Western Conference’s top-seeded team, Oklahoma City, 2-1 in their best-of-seven series. The façade from Conley’s game has been lifted. He’s shedding the reputation of being a serviceable point guard to being one of the league’s best – on both ends of the court.

“He’s a steady point guard that deserves more credit than he gets,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I understand the value he has to that team. He plays for his team every night, and I appreciate the way he plays.”

Points Per Isolation

2012-13 NBA regular season

Mike Conley Jr. 1.05
LeBron James 1.03
Kyrie Irving 1.03
Tony Parker 1.02

Source: ESPN.com

During the regular season, Conley averaged a career-high 14.6 points per game, which was complemented by 2.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.2 steals. He joined Chris Paul, regarded as the best point guard in the league, on the 14 points, six assists and two steals per game list. Still, Conley remained largely anonymous.

But his playoff statistics are hard to ignore. Conley is averaging 17.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game. The postseason, dating to high school, has been the time for Conley to thrive. Certain players have that “it” factor where they are able to elevate their game when it matters most. Ohio State fans learned that during the Buckeyes’ run to the 2007 Final Four.

Conley has a first-step that rivals any other player in the league. His initial burst of speed can result in a defender being defenseless or an opposing guard pondering his next move after Conley steals the ball and races up the court.

He is first in the NBA in defensive win shares, an advanced metric that estimates wins contributed by a player based on their defensive merits. With Conley on the court, Memphis has a 98.1 defensive efficiency rating. Without him, that number is a paltry 120.8. Further highlighting his importance at both end of the court, the Grizzlies are +11 per 48 minutes with Conley and –17.3 without him.

In the first-round series win over the Clippers, Conley didn’t play Paul to a stalemate, Conley outplayed him. With Russell Westbrook out for the season, Conley has continued his dominant play against Oklahoma City. Game 2 saw an historic performance – 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

That stat line was the best in Grizzlies postseason history. Only three other players had recorded at least 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on the road in a playoff game during the past 25 years: Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Barron Davis.

“He played like he had been playing all season, and we needed that,” Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins said of Conley’s Game 2 heroics.

“Mike Conley is now one of the top five point guards in the league, whether anybody likes it or not.”

It’s not entirely based in fact, but the point is Conley’s production is not a mirage. He’s an elite point guard in a guard driven league that doesn’t get the exposure that others acquire in larger markets.

But that could be nearing an end. Conley’s emergence was discussed at length on Saturday during ABC’s coverage of the playoffs. The breakout performances have coincided with Rudy Gay being shipped to Toronto in late-January trade. Conley’s stats have skyrocketed since Gay went to the Raptors, leading the Grizzlies in scoring, assists, three-pointers and free throw makes and attempts. 

He also has developed into a clutch late-game player. Conley has scored 49 points in games where the margin is five points or less in the final five minutes since the January 30th trade. That is 11th-most in the league. Surprisingly, Conley, not James, leads the NBA in points per isolation with 1.05.

“Mike Conley is now one of the top five point guards in the league, whether anybody likes it or not,” Memphis guard Tony Allen said. “I know a lot of people have got their favorites on who they think it should be, but Mike Conley is in that conversation now, being able to do these types of things on the court night in and night out.”

The list of allies is growing.

45 Comments

Comments

JozyMozy's picture

The fact that he's steadily improved as the season wore on, first through the Rudy Gay deal and again here in the postseason, makes my heart swell with pride. To think, I used to get funny looks when I'd wear Buckeye gear to Grizz home games. 

gumtape's picture

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=9265929
 
This clip is funny, the anchor says: conley scored fourteen points. How has missing westbrook affected the thunder?
 

High and tight boo boo

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

“Mike Conley is now one of the top five point guards in the league, whether anybody likes it or not,” 

No, he's not. 
Conley has become a star during this playoff run, but calling him a superstar is going a little far.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

AJW_16's picture

Just curious: who are your top five point guards?

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

In no order: Paul, Rose, Rondo, Westbrook, and Parker(or D.Will).

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

AJW_16's picture

I would have said Parker a few years ago (even though he is still really good now). Fair enough - I see where you are coming from.

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

BuckeyeLurker0509's picture

Conley has surpassed Rondo. I agree with the rest though.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Based on what?

It hasn't even been 4 months and people forget how good Rondo is come playoff time.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

SPreston2001's picture

Rondo?? Seriously you think he's passed up Rondo?? Wow...

BuckeyeLurker0509's picture

also better than Rondo (IMO)
Damian Lilliard.
Steph Curry.
Deron Williams.
I've always thought Rondo was a beneficiary of playing alongside 3 hall of famers (now 2). Rondo is a good player though, despite his pathetic stat padding at times.
We'll see how Rondo does next year when he has to do the heavy lifting.
 

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Outside of D.Will, that is absurd. Lillard has had 1 good season, and he's better than Rondo? lol Curry is a better shooter, and that is it. Classic prisoner of the moment.

Conley plays with Gasol and Randolph. They're the best PF/C combo in the NBA.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

BuckeyeLurker0509's picture

Conley also had to deal with Rudy Gay who was a black hole offensively, not to mention Zbo and Gasol weren't always as good as they are now. Conley made them better (in addition to improving his own game). 
Curry came to mind because of the game today, so touche, but again, I'd rather have him run the offense than Rondo.
To be honest, I'd rather have Kyrie Irving & Jrue Holiday as well.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Did you just say he made Gasol, and Randolph better? Is that a serious comment? Marc got better once he dropped the weight. Randolph has always been a good player.

Outside of shooting, what does either does either do better than Rondo?

This reminds me of those who jumped Marc, and Brook ahead of Howard because of one "bad" season.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

bostonbuckeye's picture

It amazes me that a player can sit our a few months due to a season ending injury and all of a sudden fall off people's radars.  Rondo is still one of the best (non-scoring) point guards in the league.  If he could hit a jump shot, people could argue he was the best.  He can't but he still dishes out assists like nobody else.

sandytowne's picture

Given age and performance to date, I would also put Irving and Curry over Conley.  No knock on Conley; he just plays a position where there are a dozen plus upper echelon players.  

SPreston2001's picture

I totally agree. Conley is good but before these playoffs NOBODY was calling him a superstar. Lets see him continue this pace for a few more years before overreacting and putting him in the superstar category...

Gametime's picture

I was thinking the same thing, I've been saying it he's easily top 10 but not top five, If you're building a team, you'd probably take (in no particular order) Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, & Stephen Curry before you take Mike Conley.
He has emerged as a legit STAR since they traded Rudy Gay, but by no means is he a "Superstar" he's not even the best overall player on his team (Gasol). 
To call him a "superstar" is mentioning him in the same breath as Lebron, DWade, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, etc. - and that's a YOGA stretch to say that.
But much love for stepping his game up from solid starter to Star player.

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

I would say thought Conley is working his way up into the Top 10 point guards.  He has gotten better each year, more consistent and more production.  His first move is extremely fast and he is able to blow by less agile defenders. 

bostonbuckeye's picture

I'd say he's been in the top 10.  Who are 10 point guards better than him?

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

For my Top 10 I’d probably have to go:

Paul, Westbrook, Parker, Rose, Rondo, Irving, Curry, Deron Williams, Jrue Holiday, then Lawson. 

Now the way that Conley has been playing in the later part of the year I might move him ahead of Lawson and Holiday, so that would make him #8.  I think he’s solidly in the 5 to 12 range.  He’s not a superstar at this point.  He’s getting better each year too so he’s still able to move up.  What spot do you have him on your list?

zbd's picture

Conley is the reason the Bucks went to the finals in 2007.  He fits with Memphis but is not among the best in the NBA. And a Superstar?  Please....................

okiebuck's picture

He's very solid and an up and coming star no doubt about that; but playing the Thunder w/o Westbrook is a huge break for him; Memphis and the rest of the West; he really SHOULD put up big numbers in this series.  

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

tdible2132's picture

Conley has established himself as a top 10 PG in the NBA IMO. His improvement had really been something, and as a previous poster said, it makes me swell with pride.

moopdawg's picture

It really depends on a coach's philosophy.  Conley will never be regarded as a superstar in the average fan's view, because he doesn't fit the "superstar/rockstar" image.  He's not a shoot first point guard and he doesn't look to dazzle you with his handles on every possession. 
In my opinion, however, he's the purest point guard in the league and I happen to love the way Memphis play's basketball.  Mike is a team first, run the show, kind of point guard.  You don't get on Sportscenter for giving crisps entry passes to the posts, making your free throws, taking care of the ball, playing within the flow of your offense, playing selfless team defense, and knocking down open jumpshots that are created from just running your set.  And that's what Mike does every game.  He leads his squad.
He's a baller who is highly regarded by his peers and true students of the game.  The game of basketball becomes a beautiful team sport because of players like Mike Conley.
 

tdible2132's picture

You're definitely on to something there. Very Good points.

Poison nuts's picture

For those saying he's no superstar, I would say that leading your team during the playoffs - when it counts most - is how you become a superstar. If you don't think he's one now...keep watching. By the time the finals come around, if the Grizzlies are still there, there really won't be any question as to his status as a star.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

But you could make the argument that Marc is leading them, not Conley.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

SPreston2001's picture

But at the same time having a good playoff run doesnt make you a superstar either. Playing at the same high level for a number of years is what makes you a superstar...

Poison nuts's picture

Leading a team like the Memphis Grizzlies to the finals makes you pretty much a star, I didn't say superstar. Playing at a high level for over one year is part of the recipe but leading your team to winning a championship - that would make him a superstar.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

gobucks96's picture

The thing about conley, he doesn't care about stats or props. He cares about winning... His game shows it, he personality shows it. THAT is a welcome change in pro sports and the NBA in particular...

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Some on here seem to think that saying Conley isn't a superstar or top 5 is somehow hating on him.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

osu_chris's picture

Not that it really matters since everyone has their own interpretation of what makes one basketball player better than another, but I'd rank Conley as the 5th best PG in the league right now behind Rose, Westbrook, Paul, and Parker. He's great on both ends of the floor. I wish Westbrook were healthy so we could see those two battle in this series. That would have been fun to watch.

SPreston2001's picture

Conley's no superstar....yet

EvanstonBuckeye's picture

Rose? Sounds familiar, but I can't seem to place him...

gravey's picture

The problem with all these guard rankings is that most people doing the ranking are dazzled by offensive stats, and ignore defensive stats.  
Conley's a star and among the best five because he plays lights out on both ends.  His stats back it up.  If he was in NY or LA, Boston or even Dallas, he'd be getting his proper respect, but Memphis is a media backwater and he's not a flashy guy.  
So keep degrading him...he'll keep proving you wrong.
 

tussey's picture

I'm just happy that he is finally playing as well as he was when he was suiting up for ohio state.  I think that he has earned the right to be a part of the debate for that fifth spot.  

TLB's picture

I couldn't name 5 NBA guards.

onetwentyeight's picture

To everybody saying Conley isn't a superstar/not top 5 Point guard I bring this up: HE ACTUALLY PLAYS GOOD DEFENSE. That's kind of, like, 50% of the game. OK. 
Curry, Parker, Kyrie and Deron do not play any defense of note. 
They just score more points than Conley (who plays on a team that has an incredibly slow pace) and so the average fan automatically thinks ZOMG moar PPGS = BETTER. 
RW and Rondo's reputations as defenders precedes their actual defensive abilities. Also, rondo can't shoot. A huge liability at times for the position. I'd put RW over conley, though. We see how much OKC misses him.
Rose may never be the same again; reserving judgment until I see him in action. 
Right now, top 5 PGs in nba, in order, are: CP3, RW, (Rose maybe), Curry, Conley, Parker. 
I still put Curry ahead of Conley just b/c his offensive game is so disproportionately amazing it outweighs everything else. But the man's shooting splits are a once in a generation anomaly. He had inarguably the greatest 3pt shooting season in HISTORY this past year. 
But yea, I'd take Conley over Parker, Deron, Rondo, Kyrie, Jrue, Lillard, lawson, Rubio, etc any day

Gametime's picture

You're allowed to have YOUR opinion, but don't try to dumb down people who actually watch the game of basketball. For you to generalize those of us with just criticism of your overrating of Mike Conley because he doesn't happen to "score as much" is asinine.

You didn't even use any stats or metrics to back it up. It's fine if you wanna be a homer for Conley, but these other guys you said "don't play defense" based on what? Steals per game? Please, then you have the nerve to criticize Rondo who is a better passer, rebounder, & defender than Conley by bringing up his shooting while Conley is shooting 41% FG & 28% 3PT. C'mon man.

I'd take him over Lillard, Lawson, & Rubio, but let's not overstate how good he is because he's had a hot streak. The only PGs in the top ten overall players last year in EFF were Chris Paul, Westbrook, Parker, and DRose. Conley was at 50.

And among point guards this year he was 10th just ahead of Rondo (injured & still at 12) Lawson (13) with CP3, RW, Parker, Irving, & Curry rounding out the top 5. And Williams at 7 behind John Wall. If you rate them according to EWA (estimated wins added) by their play then Conley ranks 8 just ahead of Lillard & Lawson.

It's not just about scoring it's the whole package, being a legit scoring threat, a disruptive defender, creating shots for others consistently, rebounding, clutch, etc.

Facts are the stats: Conley is REALLY good, but not Elite.

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

SonOfBuckeye's picture

And among point guards this year [Conley] was 10th [in EFF] just ahead of Rondo... And Williams at 7 behind John Wall.

Because Wall plays for the deplorable Wizards, most people seem to have forgotten he exists. Conley is good, but Wall is better:
2013      fg%     reb     ast     stl     to     pts     per
Conley    .440    2.8     6.1     2.2    2.4   14.6   18.38
Wall        .441   4.0     7.6      1.3    3.2   18.5   20.91
career    fg%     reb      ast     stl     to     pts
Conley    .440    2.8      5.5    1.6    2.0   12.4
Wall       .423    4.4      8.0     1.5   3.7    16.9
 

onetwentyeight's picture

You like EFF, i like WS/48. Conley's posted a .172 this year, and that's including the games the Grizz played with offensive black hole Rudy Gay. For context, .172 is higher than lawson's .141, Irving's .125, Rondo's miserable .108 and Wall's .134.
Like I said, this also takes into account the 1st half of the season when MEM had Rudy Gay and before Conley took on a greater role in the offense. (check his pre-post asg splits, & monthly increases as season went along). 
Curry and CP3 and RW did post higher ws/48 scores than him his year. I agree and I ranked them above Conley.
Deron is at .184 which is also higher but I said he plays worse Defense compared to Conley based on their DRtgs. Conley's is 100 which is ridiculously good (also a function of the team's overall defense, I know). Deron's DRtg is 109 which is ... mediocre at best. Even Curry's notoriously porous Defense on the historically leaky warriors managed a 107 DRtg this year, better than Deron's. That's why, even tho they both posted .180s in WS/48 I put Conley over Deron and Curry over both.
Yes, I'm not discounting the teams they play on, but at the least there is SOME proof he is a statistically superior defender to Deron, and to me that, plus the gap in their overall production, esp considering how Conley played better down the stretch, makes me want to choose Conley > Deron in the long run. 
As for Parker, I admit I underestimated his stats this yr. I should have flipped the order of him and Conley. But my overall point about Conley being top 5 stands

SonOfBuckeye's picture

Washington improved from 5-28 without Wall to 24-25 with Wall.  (The latter was 24-19 until they arguably tanked the last 6 games to climb the lottery).  I don't know enough about basketball stats to argue the fine points, but I wonder if "win shares" accurately reflects Wall's contribution.

onetwentyeight's picture

Well its a stat that measures how much you contributed towards your teams wins. And then averaged over per 48 minute increments. So yea, Wall's team going 24-25 versus 5-28 is impressive, and Wall's .134 for this year is a pretty decent number for a PG. (league avg is roughly .100). Wall was .070 last year, so improvement as well. But his team still went 24-25, essentially an average, .500 team down the stretch. Thus still not as many Total wins produced as a team like the Grizz which were well over .500 all year. That's part of why Conley's rating is higher. But it's not like anyone on a good team will always have a good WS/48 score. Jordan's rookie year the Bulls won 38 games but MJ still posted a .213, which is, in context, better than ANY kobe season save for 2006. 
http://www.basketball-reference.com/about/ws.html
I've looked at lots of advanced basketball stats and IMHO this one is the best when you average it over 48 mins and compare starting minutes playing players. If you go thru the historical WS/48 scores for most all time greats, things seem pretty accurate. 

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Deron do not play any defense of note.

Thar is false. I'm not sure what games you are watching.

But yea, I'd take Conley over Parker, Deron, Rondo, Kyrie, Jrue, Lillard, lawson, Rubio, etc any day

I agree with Jrue, Rubio, and Lillard. Kyrie, and Lawson are debatable. As of now there's no way am I taking him over Deron, Parker, or Rondo.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

UrbanCulture's picture

Perhaps my father will finally get me that Mike Conley jersey I've been wanting for Christmas for the past 4 years.