Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mid-Season Player Notes: Mike Conley

Posted By on Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 12:28 PM

Mike Conleys controlling the game on both ends more than ever for the Grizzlies this season.
  • LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Mike Conley's controlling the game on both ends more than ever for the Grizzlies this season.

Perhaps, from a ready-to-play standpoint, Mike Conley came into the league too early after one year at Ohio State. Perhaps a rookie injury and rookie head coach didn't help. But, after fitful development, Conley has emerged in a career-best fifth season, at age 24, as a steady and often dynamic floor general for the Grizzlies.

Conley's floor game is in some rare company this season. He leads the NBA in steals per game at 2.5, bumping his average up from 1.8 last season despite no increase in playing time. At the break, he's the only point guard in the NBA who actually has more steals (79) than turnovers (77), with Chris Paul — the NBA's best true point guard — as the only other player at the position even close to that unusual achievement. And Paul and Toronto's Jose Calderon are the only point guards with both a higher assist ratio and lower turnover ratio than Conley.

Defensively, Conley is still prone to one-on-one struggles, especially against bigger, stronger opponents, but these mismatches seem less frequent or noticeable this season, and the Grizzlies have been four points better per 100 possessions defensively with Conley on the floor.

If Conley's floor game has been terrific this season, he's been a little more flawed as a scorer. Though his career best 89% free-throw shooting is seventh best in the league, Conley's three-point shooting has gone the other way, at 33% his worst since his rookie season. And Conley's inability to develop a reliable floater might be the most frustrating aspect of his game at this point, negating some of the value of his quickness.

This season, Conley is taking only 13% of his field-goal attempts in the lane (and making only 31% of them; by contrast, floater master Tony Parker is taking 22% of his attempts in the lane and making 49%), shifting more shots to the rim, where's he's a good finisher and has gotten better, and to mid-range, where he's a mediocre shooter and has gotten a bit worse.

But even as uneven a scorer as Conley is, the Grizzlies have been dramatically better on the offensive end when he's on the floor — a partial testament to the team's poor depth at the position.

And that lack of depth is why the most important question about Conley entering the season's second half is durability. While the other members of the team's four-man core have all missed extended periods to injury over the past three seasons, the comparatively sleight Conley has been surprisingly durable and steady. He's missed only five games over the past two-and-a-half seasons, one of those a game where he was held out on purpose.

Barring some dramatic improvement on the depth chart behind Conley, the Griz need that to continue.

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