When discussing the NBA’s best point guards, Mike Conley‘s name rarely comes up in the conversation.
If character, defense and winning were valued more highly, Conley may be the league’s best.
Currently locked in a first-round playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Conley and the seventh-seeding Grizzlies have a great chance to pull off the upset. Thunder coach Scott Brooks is a big fan of Conley, recently telling NewsOK.com:
“Give credit to him, that he comes in every year a better player. He’s as crafty, as heady, as any point guard in this league. He understands how to play. He understands the angles. He understands their team’s strengths, very well. And he makes shots. His shot’s improved every year. You can’t drop off on him, because he can make 3’s, even though he hasn’t made a lot of 3’s this series. He’s a 3-point shooter off the dribble or on the catch.”
Indeed, Conley has stepped up his play year after year. This season with Memphis, Conley averaged career-high’s in scoring (17.2 points), field-goal percentage (45.0 percent), 3-pointers made (1.4), PER (20.0) and offensive rating (113). The Grizzlies finished 50-32 with Conley leading the charge, their fifth straight season with 40 wins or more.
Conley is widely regarded as one of the best defensive guards in the league. He’s averaged 1.6 steals a game for his career and was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team following the 2012-13 season.
Maybe as important or more so than his on-court talent is the way Conley handles himself as a professional. As a result, he was recently awarded the 2014 Joe Dumars Trophy for the NBA’s leader in sportsmanship, which is voted on by the league’s players.
“I’m honored and obviously it’s a great achievement,” Conley told ESPN.com “It says a lot about what you do for the team, the community and how the players respect you around the league. I’m just professional and care about the team, care about the city, care about the league.”
This is a huge testament for the former Ohio State star, who many believed was drafted too high at No. 4 overall back in 2007. Instead, Conley has done nothing but reward Memphis for their trust in him by becoming a leader both on and off the floor.
While he may not have the handles of Kyrie Irving, the passing ability of Chris Paul or the athleticism of John Wall, Conley has more playoff series wins (three) than the three of those players combined.
This number could be on the rise soon if Conley and the Grizzlies can knock the Thunder out of the playoffs for the second time in as many years.
Whether they accomplish this feat or not, one can bet on Conley handling either outcome with class. After largely being an afterthought the past few years when discussing great point guards, Conley now deserves and should demand our respect.
-All stats provided by basketball-reference.com unless otherwise noted.