NBA Weekly Dime Drop: Mike Conley, the NBA star most in need of a Christmas miracle

Utah Jazz v Indiana Pacers

Now full of the festive spirit, and very much looking forward to the Christmas Day sleight (sic) of games - starting at a great time of 5 pm here in the UK - my thoughts are with Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz, the NBA star most in need of a Christmas miracle to get his season back on track.

The veteran guard’s first season with the Utah Jazz has not gone anywhere near to plan, something excruciatingly blatant at all levels. 

Glaringly obvious, even at just a fleeting glance, is the Jazz’s 17-11 record and the sixth seed in the West. Conley was supposed to be the missing piece that pushed this team to the top of the Western Conference standings, with many predicting that their trademark defence would now be accompanied by a competent and productive offence. Instead, at the close of the decade, Utah’s lowly offence ranks 22nd in the league and Conley’s individual stats are leaving a lot to be desired.

Perhaps the new setting, after eleven seasons in Memphis, has thrown him. Perhaps it’s that his role has been reduced alongside Utah's ascending franchise player, Donovan Mitchell. But the man who has perennially been considered underrated and consistently snubbed for a spot on an All-Star team now seems, dare I say, to have been overrated.

If the simple eye-test wasn’t enough, a quick browse through Conley’s advanced stats makes his falloff even more obvious. His points per shot attempt are the worst of his career, and his finishing at the rim is so poor he ranks in the fifth percentile amongst point guards (meaning 95% of the league’s floor generals are having more success). Perhaps some of his struggles at the rim are the result of playing with a paint clogging big like Rudy Gobert, but that shouldn’t account for the entire drop - remember when he played alongside both Zach Randolph and a not-yet-shooting-threes Marc Gasol?

It’s not just as a finisher that Conley’s game has suffered. One of the most reliable floor generals of the past decade is also struggling to be the distributor he once was. His assist to usage ratio was only ever lower in 2017-18, when he played in just 12 games, after his return from an Achilles injury was further hampered by season-ending surgery on his heel in January 2018.

Perhaps this is all we should expect from the 32-year-old as he transitions into being the secondary orchestrator behind Mitchell. But, if so, this transition is proving to be far from painless and is unlikely to have been the role Dennis Lindsey’s front office were expecting when they sent four players and a 2020 first-round pick to Memphis in July. 

Utah Jazz v Phoenix Suns

Certainly, it’s not the output that you would reasonably expect from a player commanding nearly 30 percent of the team's salary cap this season and set to earn a further $34.5 million in 2020-21.

However, you can guarantee that Conley, a consummate professional without controversy in his 12 years and the winner of both the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year and the Sportsmanship award at the 2019 NBA Players Awards, will be far from comfortable with his current form.

So my wish this Christmas is for Conley to find his footing in Utah, to return to the form that generated mass discussion as to how this guy had not been All-Star and how deserving he was of a max contract. It would be great (for both him and the Jazz) if that could happen in quickly in the New Year, to push Utah's traditional second-half surge. 

You can hear more from Mike weekly on the Double Clutch Podcast, the UK’s leading NBA podcast.

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