Where Does Mike Conley Rank Amongst His Peers?
By Ian Smith
One of the many free agents the San Antonio Spurs are looking at is Mike Conley, who is among the most talented point guards in the league when healthy.
With Tony Parker’s decline, an upgrade at point guard is desirable for the Spurs. Conley would give the Spurs maybe not a top-tier point guard, but certainly a guy on that level right below.
It really got me thinking about where exactly Conley ranks among his peers. I recently did an article that compared the best players in the NBA who stand at 6 feet and below. What about the players who measure out between 6’1 and 6’4?
These guys consist of moderately-sized point guards and undersized shooting guards. Many of the most athletic players in the NBA fall in this category, and as I compiled a list of the top 8 players in the league standing at this designated height range, I wanted to do another simulation of 1-on-1 games to 21 that I did before, with the same tournament-style matchup.
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The 1 seed plays the 8 seed, the 2 seed plays the 7 seed, the 3 seed plays the 6 seed, and the 4 seed plays the 5 seed.
After much internal deliberation, I finally came up with rankings… 1) Stephen Curry… 2) Russell Westbrook… 3) Damian Lillard… 4) Kemba Walker… 5) Eric Bledsoe… 6) Kyrie Irving… 7) John Wall… and 8) Mike Conley.
This analyzation focuses primarily on 1-on-1 skills they’d use against each other. It’s always been the de facto way of proving basketball supremacy, and looking at this list of players, a 1-on-1 tournament held with these participants would be absolutely incredible.
Who would end up getting the best of who? Trash talking and brash moves would rule these heated contests.
Next: First Round: Curry vs. Conley
Nov 11, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) drives against Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) in the second quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
This is a good draw for Conley, believe it or not. In last year’s Western Conference Semifinals between the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies, Conley helped to stymie Curry during the beginning of that series. Conley has made an NBA All-Defensive Second Team, and is as capable as nearly anyone of containing the offensive weapon which is Curry. Despite a bad reputation in terms of defensive prowess, Curry has improved on defense since entering the league, and while he’s certainly not a lockdown defender, he’s adequate enough to not let Conley walk all over him. Conley gets to the hoop well, but isn’t a great finisher relative to other points guards, and that hurts him in a contest like this. His midrange shooting is also mediocre, so it’s harder for him to abuse Curry when he has the ball. Curry meanwhile hits enough shots from anywhere on the court to pull out a win.
Next: First Round: Westbrook vs. Wall
Jan 21, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) attempts to bock the shot of Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) in the fourth quarter at Verizon Center. The Thunder won 105-103 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
This is probably the most high-octane matchup that can possibly be arranged. Each one of these guys is lightning quick and explodes to the rim. Also both commit a lot of turnovers. What’s more, each is an erratic shooter from the perimeter, so they can play loose defense anticipating a drive. Where Westbrook is also dangerous, though, is his ability to stop on a dime and pull up from midrange, which is a very efficient zone for him. Wall doesn’t have the midrange touch that Westbrook does, and it looks like this will be one of the x-factors in their game. Any time one of them settles for a jumper is a victory for the defender, but Westbrook will hit more shots outside the paint than Wall will. Both are elite slashers and finish fantastically around the rim. As an on-ball defender, Westbrook has the athleticism to torment his opponent. Wall is also a terrific defender, which an NBA All-Defensive Second Team credit. In the end, Westbrook wins the exciting back-and-forth battle.
Next: First Round: Lillard vs. Irving
Nov 4, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the fourth quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
This is an intriguing matchup, because Irving has arguably the best ball handling ability in the entire league, and is a fantastic midrange shooter. Those two skills are especially valuable in a 1-on-1 game, and he’s nearly impossible for a defender to keep in front of him. The concern with him is his defense, and Lillard will give him fits with both his quickness and shooting ability. Irving almost shoots as well from midrange as he does the paint, so he’d likely focus on keeping Lillard off-balance with a wide variety of jukes and handles meant to gain separation to pull up and bury a smooth midrange jumper. In an extremely close game, Irving pulls out some nasty ankle-breakers on Lillard and capture a big first-round upset.
Next: First Round: Walker vs. Bledsoe
Nov 14, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker (15) handles the basketball against the Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) in the first half at US Airways Center. The Hornets won 101-95. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Walker is most deadly as a perimeter shooter, as his midrange game is iffy. He prefers driving to the right side of the paint, and is more comfortable finishing with his right hand. Bledsoe can use this to his advantage by forcing him to his left, where his field goal percentage plummets. Bledsoe is similarly more adept at finishing with his right, but Bledsoe is also more of a threat to pull up from midrange. He’s got quick hands on defense to swipe steals from Walker, and Bledsoe uses that tenacity to his advantage to end up securing a win against a fantastic scorer like Walker.
Next: Semifinals: Curry vs. Bledsoe
April 2, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots the basketball against Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) during the fourth quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Suns 107-106. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Curry is unfairly labeled by some as a pure shooter, but it discounts his amazing athleticism and ball-handling ability. Many players can stand in one place and be great shooters, but Curry’s shooting ability off the dribble is what gives defenders nightmares. Bledsoe will be like most other defenders and dejectedly shrug his shoulders when a perimeter jumper is swished from an impossible range. Bledsoe is a handful himself to cover, and Curry will display some of his much-maligned defensive weaknesses, but the game is never too much in question. Curry coasts to the finals behind his athleticism and legendary touch.
Next: Semifinals: Westbrook vs. Irving
Dec 11, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) handles the ball against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Irving could only get by on his remarkable offensive moves for so long. Westbrook can equal his ability to score, and also bring defensive intensity that Irving isn’t capable of mustering. Westbrook is born to play 1-on-1 basketball, as his first step on slashes to the hoop is otherworldly quick. Irving doesn’t stand a chance, as there’s no big man behind him to provide any help defense. Irving looks like he’s on roller skates trying to cover Westbrook, and some incredible finishes near the hoop highlight Westbrook’s victory and trip to the finals.
Next: Finals: Curry vs. Westbrook
May 26, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) is defended by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) in the fourth quarter in game five of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. The Warriors won 120-111. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Fresh off his Western Conference Finals loss to Curry, Westbrook goes into this game with a rather large chip on his shoulder. Westbrook laughed at the suggestion that Curry was a good defender, and although the numbers said that Curry contained Westbrook fairly well in the series when on him, there’s no Warriors teammate to pick up any slack this time. Curry shouldn’t feel too bad about it, because Westbrook is one of the most exhausting assignments in the NBA. Curry keeps the game competitive with some acrobatic finishes near the hoop and his silky smooth perimeter jumper, but Westbrook uses his physicality to wear down Curry and claim the crown in this 1-on-1 tournament. Although he may not be the overall player that Curry is, Westbrook can take solace in this prize for whatever it’s worth.