Still underappreciated, point guard Mike Conley is perfect fit for Grizzlies’ system

As the point guard of the Memphis Grizzlies, Mike Conley provides something that is almost always overlooked:“ game management.

It’s a trait that’s often associated with NFL quarterbacks like the Chiefs’ Alex Smith or Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. Yet, in many ways, the 27-year old point guard runs the Grizzlies’ offense just like a quarterback, making the correct reads to get teammates the ball in favorable positions. In a time when the most popular NBA point guards are fast-paced, flashy and high scoring, Conley still runs his offense in an old-school style.

It only makes sense that Conley makes sure to involve his big men as much as possible. The Grizzlies boast one of the best frontcourts in the league. Marc Gasol has emerged as arguably the top center in the game, and Zach Randolph is still extremely productive going into his age-34 season. 

Conley attentively sets up the Grizzlies’ inside-out offense that grinds away at Western Conference defenses every season. It’s slow-paced, but effective.

Though numbers do not precisely reflect how well Conley runs the offense and makes the correct decisions, they still support him being one of the league’s most consistent point guards over the past three seasons.

Among point guards with at least 150 games played over the last three years, Conley ranks fifth in win shares (24.9), third in defensive win shares (10.1), second in defensive rating (103), third in steals (373), eighth in player efficiency rating (19.0), fifth in box score plus-minus (3.5) and sixth in value-over-replacement-player (10.2).

The NBA saw last season just how important Conley is to the Grizzlies when he was sidelined for three games in the playoffs after he suffered bone fractures near his left eye in the opening series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Offensively, the Grizzlies averaged 104 points per game with a healthy Conley in the lineup for the first three games. With Conley sidelined, the Grizzlies’ average plummeted to 92.3 points per game, including a series-opening loss to the Golden State Warriors in the second round.

The importance of his lockdown defense on Blazers star Damian Lillard was also apparent as Lillard, who averaged 18 points per game on 35 percent shooting in the games that Conley played, averaged 27 per game on 48 percent shooting in his absence.

That influence of Conley’s missed time has been a trend over the past two seasons. With Conley in the lineup, the Grizzlies have won 64 percent of their games. Without him, that winning percentage drops to just 54.

When the Grizzlies lose their pick-and-roll maestro and one of the best point guard defenders in the league, the team struggles to sustain its prominence as one of the powerhouses of the Western Conference.

Conley has never been an All-Star, and may never be one, but his value as a crucial piece on a perennial title-contending team can’t be overlooked. On a team that preaches grit and grind, Mike Conley may not be the perfect point guard, but he’s the perfect point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies.