By Chris Molicki
Point guard is the deepest position in the NBA, and one guy who rarely gets mentioned in the conversation of top floor generals is impending free agent Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies. Conley has been underrated his entire career, but he’s an extremely solid PG. He’s excellent at running an offense, getting into the lane, defending, and taking care of the ball, and he’s got a good enough three-point shot to keep teams honest.
So why doesn’t he get discussed with the league’s elite? No one’s arguing that he should be in the Stephen Curry/Russell Westbrook/Chris Paul stratosphere. Guys like Damian Lillard, John Wall, and Kyrie Irving are clearly ahead of him too. Conley falls into a third tier with players like Isaiah Thomas, Jeff Teague, Kemba Walker, Reggie Jackson, Goran Dragic, and Kyle Lowry.
Let’s compare Conley to these guys based off his 2014-2015 campaign that wasn’t riddled by injuries.
Walker: While Walker is more of a pure scorer than Conley, the latter is a better defender and distributor. Conley is also a slightly better shooter from deep. Walker could do more on a team with less, but Conley as more of a complementary point guard could lead a squad to more wins.
Thomas: Another guy who doesn’t have the height or defensive chops, Thomas can put the ball in the basket, but becomes a liability on the other end of the flood. He’s also another guy who shoots about the same as or worse than Conley from deep.
Teague: Known mainly for his quickness, Teague has lost a bit of his luster, even though he’s performed fine statistically. Despite being criticized for his shooting, he knocked down 40% of his threes last year. The question is, can he be the same kind of floor general as Conley?
Jackson: Jackson’s stats ballooned when he came to Detroit, but he was pretty inefficient shooting the ball. In his first season in a starting role, I wasn’t impressed enough to definitively say that this is a guy that can help you win as your starting point guard.
Dragic: He’s slipped since coming to Miami, and he only shot 31% from three last year. Part of his decline has been due to playing in a different offense with the Heat, and his production saw an uptick when they played faster after Chris Bosh’s injury. But even so, Dragic doesn’t strike me as a better option than Conley.
Lowry: After slimming down, Lowry had his best season yet, excelling as a scorer, distributor, and shooter. He had some struggles in the playoffs, but he eventually silenced his doubters and looks to make moves into the upper echelon of NBA point guards.
It’s possible that Conley is the best guy on that list. Even if he’s not, I believe he’s firmly in the top 10 of point guards, and teams should be treating him that way. This exercise wasn’t supposed to determine whether or not Conley should get a max contract-he definitely should, and there’s no doubt he will in this market with the salary cap increasing. The interesting thing will be just how many suitors he has based on how they view him.
Conley shouldn’t be underrated anymore by NBA front offices. But there is one thing that could cause GM’s to stay away from him: his injury history. Conley has dealt with issues to his neck, wrists, back, foot, and face. There’s a chance that some NBA executives shy away from a 29-year-old with such an extensive injury history.
But Conley is still one of the top free agents in this class. Let’s take a look at some teams that may potentially target him:
Memphis Grizzlies: A lot of people expect Conley to stay home in Memphis. He loves the city and loves playing with Marc Gasol. However, if he loves winning more, Memphis might not be the place for him. The team was disastrous with Conley and Gasol out, and with Zach Randolph’s tenure winding down, many think the Grizzlies’ window has closed. This team also severely lacks three-point shooting (a reason they never got over the hump), and they’ll need more than just Conley to contend.
San Antonio Spurs: As always, the Spurs are a fantastic location for a player who wants to win, but with Conley, it makes even more sense than usual. Sorry to all you nostalgic Spurs fans, but the days of Timmy, Tony, and Manu are over. Even if they’re still on the team, they’re only role players at this point. Parker is in the bottom half of starting point guards in the league, and while he can still play, San Antonio needs more at the 1. Conley would be a great fit and can defend a lot better than Parker.
Dallas Mavericks: As long as Dirk Nowitzki is still in the fold, Mark Cuban will likely try to win now. But in order, to do so, Dallas will need an upgrade at point guard over the Deron Williams/Raymond Felton platoon. Conley is neither old nor overweight, so he’d certainly be a helpful acquisition, although I don’t think that alone makes the Mavericks a contender.
Houston Rockets: Conley can run an offense, but he doesn’t always need the ball in his hands. James Harden can still do his thing, while the unselfish Conley would do what’s best for the team.
Los Angeles Lakers: Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell occupy the backcourt now, but never count out the Lakers from throwing big money at a free agent to try and accelerate their rebuilding process.
Chicago Bulls: Now that Derrick Rose is gone, Chicago needs a point guard. Their hesitance to move Jimmy Butler might mean that they’re not quite ready to blow this thing up, and Conley would fit well with Butler.
Philadelphia 76ers: Is this the Sixers’ first Post-Process move? They want to start winning and they have a massive hole in their backcourt. Conley would make all of the youngsters around him better. It’s just a matter of if he’s willing to lose for a little while.
Sacramento Kings: Is it possible that the Kings are a worse destination than the Sixers? Playing with Boogie Cousins definitely has its perks, but this front office has shown to be a joke time and time again, and there’s really no plan here. The only reason they’re on the list is because they desperately need a point guard.
The Grizzlies and Spurs are the two most likely options. If Conley wants continuity and comfort, he’ll stay in Memphis. If he wants to win, the Spurs are his best option. But don’t count out one of these dark horses to throw their hat in the ring in case San Antonio doesn’t come knocking.
Regardless of where he goes, Conley is going to make an impact. But depending on his choice, he could really affect the title picture more than anyone expects him to.