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February 01, 2016: Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) and center Marc Gasol (33) screen off New Orleans Pelicans guard Norris Cole (30) during the NBA game between the Memphis Grizzles and the New Orleans Pelicans at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA. Memphis Grizzlies defeat New Orleans Pelicans 110-95. (Photograph by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)
Memphis Grizzlies

Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 Countdown: 49 – Mike Conley

Photograph by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire

Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro

Retaining Mike Conley was half of the Memphis Grizzlies having the best offseason this side of Golden State. Conley was far and away the best point guard in free agency. Thus, he earned a gargantuan contract worth $153 million, a deal so big it had other professional athletes questioning their chosen vocation.

Now it’s up to Conley to prove that he’s worth that much money. With averages of 15.3 points and 6.1 assists last year, casual fans might overlook his significance to the team. But there’s more to him than meets the statistical eye, and that’s why he makes the top 50 on my list.

Ceiling: 30

Conley is a jack-of-all-trades type whose numbers are a bit underinflated by the deliberate and methodical approach of the Memphis Grizzlies, who were the slowest team last year. Based on pace-adjusted stats Conley joins a group that, with the exception of Dennis Schroder, are considered top-tier point guards:

Query Results Table
Per 100 Possessions Shooting
Rk Player Age Tm TRB AST STL BLK PTS TS%
1 Russell Westbrook 27 OKC 11.3 15.1 2.9 0.4 33.9 .554
2 Chris Paul 30 LAC 6.4 15.3 3.1 0.3 29.9 .575
3 Reggie Jackson 25 DET 5.3 10.2 1.2 0.2 31.0 .535
4 Jeff Teague 27 ATL 4.7 10.3 2.1 0.5 27.2 .551
5 John Wall 25 WAS 6.6 13.8 2.5 1.0 26.8 .510
6 Mike Conley 28 MEM 4.8 10.0 2.0 0.5 25.0 .538
7 Jrue Holiday 25 NOP 5.3 10.6 2.4 0.6 29.5 .529
8 Dennis Schroder 22 ATL 6.2 10.6 2.1 0.3 26.8 .510
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/31/2016.

 

So, at 25 points and 10 dimes per 100 possessions, Conley closes the gap more than his 15 and six would suggest. But more than that, he’s a multi-faceted player. He’s not great at any one thing, but he’s good at almost everything. And in a team-oriented approach like the Grizzlies have, that’s all you need.

The Grizzlies also added Chandler Parsons, which gives them a real shooter they haven’t had in the past. That should also help Conley’s assist totals climb a bit. If the Grizzlies are in pursuit of that No. 2 seed come All-Star time, Conley could join the festivities.

Floor: 55

The mystery around the Grizzlies this next season is what kind of team new coach David Fizdale will run. He does see it as running with a bit more pace, mentioning in his introductory press conference, “I think they already have some ingredients in place to have a running team — a team that can at least play with a higher pace. I don’t envision this team as Golden State by any means from the standpoint of just getting up and down the court and launching a ton of threes.”

While he seems to be approaching this from a “less-is-more” approach to change, exactly how the adjustments work out and whether they favor or hurt Conley’s production are the biggest challenges to the point guard’s floor. However, with that kind of investment in the man, it’s unlikely he falls very far.

Offense

Conley’s shot chart tells a lot about him. Pay attention to not just the colors, but the distribution from the different areas:

Shotchart_1472661757041

Where he does well, he shoots more. Where he does worse, he avoids shooting from. The three red areas on the court account for only a tad over 10 percent of his shots. The green areas combine to account for nearly 20 percent of them. When you put them together into a basic zone shot chart, this is what it looks like:

Shotchart_1472661800913

Conley is pretty close to the league average almost everywhere, but that doesn’t make him an average player because that makes him a threat from almost everywhere. But this is a great illustration of Conley on offense. He’s not going to wow you, but he’s constant, smart and will beat you down over time. He’s the slow erosion of the tide instead of the quick destruction of the tidal wave.

Defense

On the other side of the ball, most consider Conley to be one of the better defenders at his position, but his Defensive Real Plus-Minus is surprisingly lower than you might expect at just .08. According to his defensive dashboard at NBA.com, opponents shot 1.6 points better than their season averages when he was guarding them.

However, last season the Grizzlies’ defensive rating was 103.4 when Conley played and 107.0 when he did not, per NBA.com, so that would support the common narrative.

When I see conflicting data like that, I like to look at the play types because often times what you’ll see is players are adept at certain types of defense but can be exploited on other plays.

Conley was in the 61st percentile defending the spot-up allowing .94 points per possession, and in the 70.8 percentile defending in isolation, per Synergy stats at NBA.com. So when it comes to contact-free defense, he seemed to do well.

But in defending the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, he was only in the 21.2 percentile, and that was the play he guarded 40.6 percent of the time. Clearly, teams were hammering him with this. Conley is a slight player and screens are going to hinder him.

Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 Countdown: 49 – Mike Conley

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