The Curious Case of Mike Conley in San Antonio
By Kyle Spishock
Mike Conley — the perennial most-underrated point guard in the Association — is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Reports indicate that the Grizzlies will struggle to retain his services. Although Gregg Popovich is unlikely to implore a small ball rotation with a point guard cluttered back court, teams would be foolish to overlook Conley.
San Antonio doesn’t have a star of JT’s caliber to woo Conley to the Alamo City (Sebastian de la Cruz and Eva Longoria are available), the franchise’s championship mentality should be appealing for the 28-year old point guard.
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Further change is imminent for the franchise; the original big three of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili seems as good as dead, waving a white flag against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the postseason in a likely forfeit of their playing days together.
Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge served as a “new twin tower” role in the Spurs rotation, while Danny Green’s shots failed to sink and his role fizzled in the offense. The acquisition of Conley would create a “new big three” between the starters in the wake of the old. While KD and DeRozan pickups seem farfetched, a Conley signing is within the realms of possibility.
The Grizzlies could offer him the most money over the offseason, but are ancient, ranking oldest in average age (30.5), just above the Spurs (30.3). Conley could be wooed by the enamor of a big market team ala New York, where he could plug-and-play as a starter at the one, and make an immediate impact. But, if winning is the biggest attraction for the free agent, San Antonio could be the dark horse, and maybe OKC, if Donovan moves Westbrook to the two, as many pundits have encouraged. San Antonio would likely be the best fit if Conley wanted to compete on a contender , and could be the necessary push they need to get over the hump over younger rivals in the conference.
The Spurs are looking to get younger, athletic, and swifter to compete with the fast-break offense perfected by Western Conference foes OKC and GSW. Conley is a fantastic defender, but at age 28, he is getting long in the tooth, and isn’t the quickest point guard. For his hefty price tag, Popovich would likely start him over Parker, who may be running out of steam in the waning seasons of his career. The 15-year veteran has logged many miles on his body in both NBA, FIBA, and Olympics play.
Conley court generalship led Memphis to the Western Conference finals twice, and the playoffs six of his nine seasons. It’s difficult to imagine Parker or Conley serving as back-ups to one another, but the depth at the position is lacking. Patty Mills is a fantastic spot-up shooter, but plays off the ball and is not a playmaker, averaging a mere 2.8 assists per game. Kyle Anderson, Boris Diaw, and Ginobili are valuable at spreading the floor in the backcourt if required, but are not natural fits at the position.
Despite injuries that limited him to 56 games last season, Conley averaged 15.3 points and 6.1 assists, surpassing Sharif Abdur-Rahim as third on the all-time Grizzlies scoring list.
Conley would relieve some perimeter defensive pressure off of Leonard, and contribute the number one ranked Spurs in terms of defensive efficiency (.964); additionally, he is a reliable three-point shooter (lifetime 37.3%), benefitting a team that ranked 25th at 3-pointers per game (21.3).
In nine seasons, Mike Conley ranked in the top 20 in steals and assists five times (including three top five finishes in steals from 2010-2013).