Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thinking About Mike Conley

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 4:09 PM

The jurys still out on Mike Conleys upside and fit.
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • The jury's still out on Mike Conley's upside and fit.
I ran out of time before the season started to do all of the preview stuff I'd originally intended, but given all the consternation about Mike Conley's performance last night it seems worthwhile to go ahead with some of what I was going to do on him as part of the preview package.

Two years and one game into his NBA career, Conley's outside shooting is ahead of schedule, but there are a couple of other aspects of his game that have lowered my initial expectations. One is his athleticism and the other is how he uses it.

Conley is certainly a good enough athlete to be a quality starting point guard, especially if his shooting progress continues, but he's not as electric as he seemed coming out of Ohio State. He now looks like a good athlete for his position, not a great one, and this limits his upside.

The other problem has been Conley's timidity. While not quite the athlete I first thought he was, Conley still has the quickness and handle to put a lot of pressure on defenses. But he doesn't do this nearly often enough. Conley should be breaking down defenses in the halfcourt and streaking past defenders in transition with at least some regularity, but these explosions have been too rare. If Conley can begin to use his speed more, he can still be a high-quality starting point guard. If he doesn't, then it's not going to happen.

All of that is a question of how good Conley can be. How good of a fit he can be with this particular team is a separate question and one the current roster and coaching perspective makes difficult to evaluate. As should be clear to anyone, this team's backcourt needs to be built around O.J. Mayo, which requires first figuring out what Mayo is going to be. And while I've become more skeptical about the idea of Mayo developing into a point guard (though such a move would certainly help him on the defensive end), I think the team hasn't done enough to make that determination. Now, they have a coach who seems to have ruled out the possibility and a guard rotation (with Conley, Allen Iverson, and Marcus Williams) in which Mayo is the only player who can really play off the ball, making it very difficult to get him minutes on the ball.

Despite legitimate doubts about Conley's upside and fit, the shrill reactions to his poor performance in last night's opener are a little much, an example of detractors somehow choosing to consider one game a more meaningful sample than Conley's three months of quality production last season after the coaching change.

As a reminder, here are Conley's month-by-month stats in the second half of last season:

Mike Conley Month-by-Month (Points/Assists/Rebounds/Steals — FG%/3P%)

February: 14.5-6.2-4.8-1.4 43/34
March: 13.9-5.1-3.5-1.1 45/41
April: 15.6-5.8-3.7-2.4 50/47

That's not all-star production or anything, but it's very good for a second-year point guard. And it was consistent. Over those 36 games (discounting the one where he left early to injury), Conley scored in single digits only four times. While Conley's production to start this season certainly bears close scrutiny, a 36-game sample is more meaningful than a single game.

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