HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In print, at least, Mike Conley‘s stats — 13.3 ppg and 6.2 apg — don’t leap off the page like one of Russell Westbrook‘s springboard jumpers or a Chris Paul halfcourt alley-oop.
“Let me ask you this here,” Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins propositioned: “Does being a good point guard, is it only determined by numbers?
“I mean there’s some guys that score a lot of points because that’s their role. There are some guys that get a lot of assists because they have the ball and that’s all they do. But you know, its organizing your team, facilitating the ball. A lot of times Mike Conley will do what he’s supposed to do and throw it into Marc Gasol and Gasol throws the ball for the assist. But he’s done his job. He defends, he gets steals. I think he’s a very good point guard.”
Frankly, so do we.
And, by the way, so does Conley, who is in his sixth season as Memphis’ starting point guard. Season by season, the 6-foot-1 former Ohio State teammate of Greg Oden steadily improves his game. He’s having another fine year, leading the Grizzlies to a 24-11 record and the No. 4 spot in the West heading into tonight’s home showdown against Paul’s Clippers (8 ET, League Pass).
“I do, I do feel like that,” Conley said when asked if he deserves mention among the top point guards, a group that Paul has taken over as the inarguable No. 1. “I think I’ve played well against a lot of the big-time guys and continue to keep getting better each year. But I can’t worry about what people say or if people overlook me. I’ve always been a guy that just goes out there and plays ball and lets everything else take care of itself.”
Paul will be heading to a most-deserving sixth All-Star Game next month, likely as the starting point guard. Fan voting ends tonight and Paul, at last count on Jan. 3, trailed only Kobe Bryant in votes among Western Conference guards. Conley, on the other hand, didn’t register in the top 10. If third-place vote-getter Jeremy Lin, some 46,000 votes behind CP3, makes a late push to get in as the starter, then Paul will be first on the list of seven reserves selected by the coaches (who can’t pick players on their own teams).
Conley would love to make his first All-Star team, but the odds are stacked against him. Deserving talents like Westbrook, James Harden and Tony Parker are likely to be locks, with Stephen Curry and even rookie Damian Lillard making a push, too.
Conley continues to quietly get the job done on both ends of the floor. He ranks second in steals behind Paul and is very close to averaging more steals per game than turnovers (2.38 to 2.59), a rare occurrence that only Paul (2.62 to 2.14) can claim. Conley is also second behind Paul in steals-to-fouls ratio, meaning he stays in front of his man, defends and makes steals far more than he hacks.
With O.J. Mayo in Dallas, Conley has responded to becoming the Grizzlies’ primary 3-point shooter when defenses collapse on post men Zach Randolph and Gasol by shooting the 3-ball at a career-best 38.0-percent clip while on pace to launch about 70 more 3s than in any other season.
“He’s having a really good year,” teammate Rudy Gay said. “The fact that he keeps all of us together, that says a lot about him. We’ve got four other totally different people, all aggressive, all playmakers and scorers, yet he still finds a way to make everybody effective.”
About a year ago, Hollins said his main complaint with Conley is that he can be too unselfish and not aggressive enough in creating his own shot. It’s exactly the area Conley, who could stand to sharpen his overall shooting percentage of 41.6 percent, said he’s improved the most this season.
“Just overall I have a better feel for the game as a point guard, knowing when to be aggressive offensively, knowing when it’s my time or time to get other guys the ball,” Conley said. “That’s really helped me to gauge my game, but also helps my teammates out in a much better way as a point guard.”
As far as a first All-Star appearance goes, Hollins probably has the right concept when it comes to Conley: “It’s not the individual stars as much as it is about your team being a cohesive unit that plays together.”