The 2019 NBA Draft is over. The dust has settled ... for now. Mike Conley is leaving his home in Memphis and heading to the Salt Lake Valley. There is understandable excitement surrounding the trade. Donovan Mitchell has performed admirably over the past two seasons, but he has also been overworked, carrying the bulk of the backcourt load most nights. With the arrival of Conley, he has help. So, what can we expect from our new point guard this season?
Mike Conley is the last player left of the “Grit-N-Grind” era in Memphis. He has quick hands, can stay in front of his defender, and jumps into passing lanes. Over his career, he has posted a defensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions. Not world-beating, but respectable.
Defensively, Conley and former starting point guard Ricky Rubio are similar, which is not a bad thing.
Utah’s bread and butter is the pick and roll for two reasons: Number one is Donovan Mitchell, and number two is Rudy Gobert. During the 2018-19 season, Donovan Mitchell handled the ball in the pick-and-roll on 857 possessions, fourth-highest in the league. Mike Conley was the ball handler in 591 possessions, good for 12th. So why was Donovan the ball handler rather than point guard Ricky Rubio?
Two major reasons stand out to me. First, when Ricky was the primary ball handler, a score resulted only 38% of the time. Donovan Mitchell, on the other hand, posted a score frequency of 43.6%, a considerable improvement. And Mike Conley? 43.8%. Secondly, Ricky Rubio’s ball handling in the pick-and-roll resulted in a turnover a whopping 22.8% of the time, a problem which gave Jazz fans heartburn throughout the season. Mitchell and Conley, by contrast, produced a turnover 11.4% and 11.3% of the time when handling the ball in the pick-and-roll.
Now that Conley is in town, the Jazz have two highly competent pick-and-roll ball handlers. With Mitchell, Conley, and Rudy working the PnR, the Jazz offense—offense—is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the regular season and beyond.
When Ricky Rubio was our starting point guard, the shooting was generally the job of either Donovan Mitchell or Joe Ingles. Teams would sag off of Ricky and dare him to shoot. Sometimes he made them pay, but not enough for them to stop daring him to shoot. You do not dare Mike Conley to shoot unless you want him to score in bunches, which he might do anyway.
One of the things we loved about Ricky Rubio was his passing. How does Conley stack up? Well, for one, his assist/turnover ratio is better. For every 3.5 assists, Mike Conley gave up one turnover. For Ricky, it was every 2.4. Rubio assists more overall, especially if you look at the per 100 possessions numbers, (9.2 for Conley and 12.5 for Ricky) but Conley balances that out by being able to create good shots for himself, which is something that Ricky struggles with. For some of Mike’s passing highlights, watch at 0:15, 1:20, and 1:40.
5. Commitment to the Community
One thing that has endeared Jazz fans to players quickly is seeing their willingness to help out and be present in the community. Donovan Mitchell is absolutely amazing at this, being rightfully nominated for the NBA Community Assist Award. The other Jazzman nominated? Mike Conley, for his work in Memphis. Conley has supported sickle cell research, donated money to kids in accidents, and attended forums on civil rights. He was and is a staple in the Memphis community. His first interaction with the people of Utah may have been a little rough, (to be fair, the great Karl Malone did as well, see our City of Utah shirts) but he fixed it almost immediately in a very self deprecating and awesome way. Seriously, though, this man is a gem, and will no doubt continue is stellar off-court work in Salt Lake.
We have ourselves a solid point guard and a genuine third star. The West is wide-open, and the arrival of Mike Conley has the Jazz poised to make a deep playoff run.