The Utah Jazz have been special to watch this season. They
currently sit at 26 wins and only 6 losses, which is good for the
best record in the league. When watching the Jazz, it’s easy to see
why: they exhibit a synergy between various roles that a team can
only achieve through years of growth and culture-building that we
don’t often see in the age of perpetual tanking and player
So what, specifically, is the reason for this team’s newfound
dominance? Two words: Mike Conley.
It’s inaccurate to say the former Memphis Grizzlies guard is
"finally" playing well. Conley is about as sound as a point guard
can get. He’s stable on the court, a threat both inside and outside
on top of providing versatile and energetic defense. A single
underwhelming season in Utah after being placed in a weighty role
on a contender (following years alongside Marc Gasol in Memphis)
seems to have required an adjustment period for the periodically
All-Star-caliber guard. And judging by the Jazz’s recent play,
Conley has figured it out (as one should’ve expected).
Utah’s dominance this season is supported by both the eye test
and the subsequent stats one looks up to determine whether
they're seeing things. To start with the eye test, the Jazz play
with a comfort and confidence that stems from either knowing
exactly what to expect of your teammates and their respective
roles, or the knowledge that day in and day out, your team has the
best player on the court. Although the latter may not be true on
many nights, the Jazz have been winning regardless. This leads me
to believe the connectivity the team has exhibited this season is
linked to Conley’s familiarity and knowledge of the current roster
that he helps lead.
We don’t often speak on the ridiculous responsibility that's
frequently placed on point guards in contention. The expectation
that these players help in coordinating entire offenses has even
resulted in the accepted notion that the average point guard
doesn’t truly reach their fullest potential until their late 20s.
Considering basic team infrastructure, all signs point to Conley
smoothing the Jazz’s kinks despite the fact that the other stars on
the team, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, haven’t seen drastic
changes in their stat lines from last year to this season.
The same can’t really be said for Conley. The lead guard has
notched increases in points, assists, rebounds, two-point field
goal percentage, three-point percentage and field goal percentage
(duh) -- all topped with a slight increase in field goal attempts
and a stabilized turnover rate even with the upped assist rate.
Beyond these superficial stats, the lead guard is also holding a
116.6 offensive rating and a 100.1 defensive rating, which is good
for a 16.5 net rating -- worlds better than the 2.1 net rating he
held last season and also good for the highest of his NBA career.
Not only is Conley acting as the rare, missing ingredient that the
Jazz were hoping for when they initially acquired him from Memphis,
he also happens to be playing his best team basketball in the
third-lowest minutes per game of his career.
One of the main critiques of Conley that was widely held last
season was his virtually non-existent on-court chemistry with
Gobert. After years of orchestrating an iconic two-man game with
offensive brainiac Marc Gasol, Conley seemed to have a lot of
problems adjusting to the alternative play style of Gobert. When
you take into account how offensively juxtaposed the two big men
are, it’s no wonder why Conley required a prolonged adjustment
period. With a 14.4 net rating, it almost seems as though Gobert
has been the recipient of the cascading positive effects of the
improved play. Considering the purported importance of heightened
chemistry between small guards and the big men that act as
extensions of them, Gobert has naturally eclipsed his offensive and
defensive ratings of last season (and Gobert's offensive rating is
also the best of his career).
The context in which we discuss Conley tends to be in the form
of All-Star snub outrage. But instead of sitting in a stew of
contrarianism and the perceived injustice of a packed Western
Conference All-Star guard rotation, it’s probably best to give him
his flowers regardless.
Few things are more fun than seeing players figure it out in
real time, especially when it significantly improves the roster
that surrounds them. Soon enough, we’ll see how he utilizes this
newfound rhythm in the postseason, and how this resurgence allows
him to stack up against the countless dominant guards in the