Though Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale will look to fill the void left by Bojan Bogdanović, it’s Mike Conley who will determine how the Utah Jazz’s playoffs go.
Mike Conley’s first season with the Utah Jazz didn’t go how anyone expected. Upon arrival in the Summer of 2019, Jazz fans and executives figured he was the “missing piece.” Exactly what Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and coach Quin Snyder needed to seriously contend for a birth in the NBA Finals — even in a crowded Western Conference with LeBron James and company.
It’s safe to say, however, that — along with an unexpectedly shortened regular season — things didn’t quite pan out the way Conley had hoped. Heck, that might even be an understatement, as Money Mike’s greatest accomplishment of the 2019-2020 NBA season might very well be him beating out Zach LaVine as the league’s reigning H-O-R-S-E champion.
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Luckily, the NBA season is set to return in late July. And even better for Conley, the stage is set for him to atone for a year of lukewarm individual performances in the postseason. I mean it — think about what Utah will need to overcome to achieve a respectable playoff outing:
- Long-time Jazz legend, Jerry Sloan, passed away near the end of May.
- Apparently, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell aren’t exactly best friends.
- Bojan Bogdanović is out for the year after season-ending surgery on his wrist.
That last point’s of particular interest to me, as the narrative (fueled by yours truly) is that Joe Ingles or Royce O’Neale’s play at the forward position will need to account for the absence of Bogey’s scoring. The truth of the matter? The solution will be a team effort, but the individual who can finally prove his long-term worth to the Jazz is none other than the 32-year-old Conley.
Things didn’t start out great for Conley with the Utah Jazz. In fact, four games into the season, the 13-year veteran had connected on only nine of 45 shot attempts. His shooting did improve over the next 17 games, but the team struggled mightily, winning a mere 12 of their first 21 contests.
A nagging hamstring injury would subsequently sideline Conley for 19 of the next 20 games. As you’ll recall, the Jazz won 15 of 19 games over that stretch, all this with Bogdanović lighting it up from deep alongside Gobert and Mitchell — the knee-jerk reaction was clear on this one.
Conley was the obvious problem, right? Eh, not so fast, #TakeNote Nation.
In the 19 games in which Conley played since returning from injury, he averaged 16.5 points, 4.9 assists and 3.8 rebounds. Furthermore, the shooting woes that plagued him early on appear to be a thing of the past, as he’s now shooting 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep.
Consistency might’ve improved for Conley, but Utah’s up-and-down play continued. Still, Utah Jazz fans occasionally caught site of something that’ll need to become a mainstay of Conley’s first playoff run with the Jazz — the ability to take over tight games both at home and on the road.
Averaging 20.2 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting from three, Bogdanović’s absence is going to be painfully apparent. On nights where ball-dominant players like Mitchell or Jordan Clarkson can’t find their shot, Conley will need to have the awareness to call his own number …
Again and again and again.
There’s no doubt Ingles or O’Neale will be called upon to hit a few timely corner threes in clutch moments, but neither of them has the vision, handles or basketball IQ to change the course of a game the way Conley can. If ever there was a time to earn a $34 million player option, it’s now.
Your move, Michael.