Mike Conley is Important

When Mike Conley signed the richest deal in NBA history, $153 million, the first reaction was Mike Conley, really? He’s never been an All-Star. He’s never cracked the top 3 point guard club of Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook. He can’t carry a team on his own.The Grizzlies don’t win because of Mike Conley, they win with Mike Conley. He hardly seemed worth the money until you factor in only LeBron James is worth the money. Everyone else is taking advantage of the market.

Now that we have seen a little bit of Conley’s game after the huge payday- it has in the past changed people for the worse- this is very apparent. It is the same Mike Conley out there, only it is a better Mike Conley.

It doesn’t mean the Grizzlies will crack a top-4 seed. Conley’s game is not one that collectively changes the Grizzlies game ala a Chris Paul. But Conley is that necessary piece. The 9 Grizz wins are because Conley is the point guard. The 5 losses are because the Grizzlies are 28th in fast break points, 25th in points scored, 27th in field goal percentage, 20th in 3-point percentage, 26th in assists, 25th in defensive rebounding, 19th in turnovers. That’s not on Conley. That’s the front office and player personnel moves.

Conley is having a season though.

13.5 shot attempts, a career high. 49.3% from three, a career high. Over five three point attempts per game, a career high. Five free throw attempts, a career high. 89.2% from the line, a career high. 3.4 rebounds ties a career high (2008-09). 19.2 points per game, a career high. 119 offensive rating, a career high. 103 defensive rating, a career best. 23.8 PER, career high. 61.4% True Shooting Percentage, a career high. 32.4% Assist Percentage, a career high. 25.2% usage rate, a career high.

2016-17 Points FG% Assists Offensive Rating Real Plus Minus Rank (PG)
Chris Paul 18.4 46.5 8.8 130 1st
Mike Conley 19.2 45.1 5.6 119 5th

Conley has never shot this well. He is making 48.1% of his catch and shoot jumpers. He is connecting on 44.1% of his pull-ups and has similar efficiency less than 10 feet from the rim. His 72% when the clock is late illustrates what a clutch performer Conley is. He is calmer when the pressure is on.

Of the few knocks on his game this season: he’s not very good when a defender is guarding him tight, like in his jersey. Conley makes only 28% of those jumpers, rather than 46% when the defender gives him space.

He drives to the rim almost 8 times a game but only hits 41% of his drives. Conley touches the ball 84 times per game and dribbles it approximately 5 times he touches it which means this is not a shoot it or move it offense. It explains the low assist numbers.

2016-17 Catch and Shoot % Pull Up % Drives % Touches Dribbles Per Touch
Steph Curry 47.9% 37.3% 63.8% 78.9 3.37
Mike Conley 48.1% 44.1% 41% 84 5.18

But numbers will not define Conley this season, and for the seasons to come. That contract legitimizes Conley as a great player. Great players lead their teams to conference finals. That is how Conley will be judged. But it is not why he is important.

Conley is important because he set the price for players of his ability. He is not a top-10 player. And yet his salary is transcendent. It has a similar effect of the Kobe Bryant aged star salary. It creates a precedent for the players that will follow him. Agents can now go into GM’s offices and use the Conley salary as a bargaining tool.

No one is kidding themselves here. Mike Conley  is not the best point guard in the league. But he he has the highest salary. Similarly, Al Horford isn’t the best center in the league but he is the paid the most at that position. Dirk Nowitzki isn’t the best power forward in the league. But he is the highest paid and is a direct beneficiary of the Kobe Bryant precedent. It’s not about equality but what the market will pay you based on performance and importance to the team.

Mike Conley is important because he helped the league and its players in contract negotiations. He moved the needle. The future is changed because of Mike Conley. We will see if he has that same  value for Memphis come playoff time.

 

photo via llananba