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Mike Conley on verge of stardom as Grizzlies on verge of elimination

May 26, 2013, 1:39 AM EDT

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three Getty Images

Where is the line between the NBA’s stars and the league’s merely good players?

Star is such a loaded term – full of reputation and production and marketing and talent and style – that, occasionally, it can be useful to sort through all the distractions and look at objective measures.

Let’s examine players in order of regular-season win shares. Stop me when I name a player who’s not a star. I’m going to go quickly at first.

1. LeBron James

2. Kevin Durant

3. Chris Paul

4. James Harden

5. Russell Westbrook

Still with me? Good. Let’s keep going.

6. Marc Gasol

There are plenty of people who don’t appreciate defense, but even they recognize Gasol won Defensive Player of the Year and that he must be pretty good on that end.

7. Stephen Curry

It’s a wonder he wasn’t an All-Star, but after a spectacular and exciting postseason, he’s definitely a star.

8. Kobe Bryant


9. Deron Williams

Williams was on the verge of fading from star territory, but a strong second half to the season keeps him comfortably viewed as a star.

10. Blake Griffin

Dunks often and appears in commercials even more often. Griffin is definitely a star.

11. Mike Conley


Well, on second thought…


ESPN’s cameras captured a conversation between Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and Spurs point guard Tony Parker during the Western Conference Finals.

“Mike’s learning from you,” Hollins said. “He’s learning from you.”

After the best regular season of his career and a postseason that nearly matches – pretty remarkable considering how much his competition is upgraded in the playoffs – Conley is showing he might be on his way to becoming Parker’s peer rather pupil.

Conley had 20 points, four assists, three rebounds and five steals in Memphis’ Game 3 loss 104-93 to San Antonio tonight, bringing his playoff averages to 17.6 points, 7.1 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals. But he still ran hot and cold, leaving plenty of questions in his wake.

Is he the player who made five steals in the first 8:04 of the game, or is he the the player who ceded his defense on Parker to Tony Allen?

Is he the player who turned the ball over five times in the first three quarters and was befuddled by Kawhi Leonard guarding him, or is he the the player who had no turnovers in a hotly contested fourth quarter and (a less hotly contested) overtime?

Is he the player who scored on Memphis’ final possession of the third quarter and then added a game-high 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, or is he the the player who shot 2-of-11 before that?

Is he the player Memphis trusted to take the final shot of regulation, or is he the the player who could muster only an off-angle runner while going away from the basket?

Is he a star?

Maybe the numbers overrate Conley. Maybe our perception of him hasn’t caught up to what the numbers tell us. Plenty of players would love their resume to include an up-and-down game against Parker and the Spurs in the conference finals, because few get that far, and many who do only see the downs.

Suddenly, I’m wondering why Conley received no Most Improved Player traction – he finished tied for 15th in the voting – and why I didn’t even consider him for my hypothetical ballot. Conley spent his four seasons playing about league average ball. He took major step forward last year and other one this year.

In this series, he’s showing why he deserves a discussion about whether he’s a star. But he’s also showing why he’s not one yet.

His Grizzlies trailing 3-0, the 25-year-old Conley has likely run out of time to prove his stardom this season. But to re-quote Hollins, “He’s learning.”

  1. 00maltliquor - May 26, 2013 at 3:04 AM

    What I take away from this article…

    1) Very nice article, Mr. Feldman. We need more like this.

    2) There are 3 players in the top 5 that in 2011-12 were all members of the OKC Thunder. Wooow. Once again, tell me why OKC didn’t amnesty Perkins or just pony up the dough? Me thinks that cost them a championship or two.

    3) I’m really warming up to Conley. Kind of amazing he’s #11 in wins shared though. I remember him starting off soooo slooow for his career. Back then it looked like Kyle Lowry and Juan Carlos Navarro were the better PG’s for the Grizz and Conely Jr. was a wasted pick. Nice to see him progress.

    4) Now watch a whole bunch of posters rant negatively about Blake Griffin being on this list……

  2. dondada10 - May 26, 2013 at 7:20 AM

    If Rose, Rondo and Westbrook are healthy, is Conley a top 10 point guard in the league?

  3. nbascreed - May 26, 2013 at 7:30 AM

    Negatory. In no particular order

    1. CP Thrizzle
    2. D-Will
    3. Rosey
    4. Rondo
    5. Rusty
    6. Steph Curry
    7. Tone Parker
    8. Damian Lillard
    9. Irving
    10. Jrue Holliday
    ORV (Tyjuan, Wall, Jennings, etc).

    Michael Conley Jr, is an ORV.

    A thumbs down simply demonstrates your ‘prisoner of the moment’ thinking and inability to contextualize or evaluate in the aggregate. In short in demonstrates your fandom.

    • dondada10 - May 26, 2013 at 9:56 AM

      Mike Conley isn’t that much better than George Hill.

      • antihypocritz - May 26, 2013 at 6:40 PM

        Define “not that much better”.

        Conley is a better passer and a better defender.

    • erckle31 - May 26, 2013 at 2:14 PM

      No way is D-Will still the #2 point guard. The fact that you put Lillard above Jrue and Uncle Drew is beyond me…

      • nbascreed - May 26, 2013 at 7:04 PM

        The reason it is beyond you is b/c of your limited reading comprehension skills. Read the post again…this time in its entirety.

  4. mp4philly - May 26, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    Didn’t think so at the time but they made the right move getting rid of Lowry.

  5. emosnar - May 26, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    My top guards:

    Regular season (no particular order)
    Paul – Great leader, can ball, but can’t lead his team past real competition
    D Will – Way over hyped, coach killer, can ball but will get exposed by a real player head to head and only plays well when someone is bashing him in the press
    Rondo – Truly a baller can’t stay health or consistent enough with the jumper
    Rose – mental midget, has skills but are the now gone from the inqury? I think many people will be surprised when they find out Derrick Rose will be retiring in two years.
    Damian Lillard – True baller, will be on the second list below real soon
    Kyrie Irving – Will be on the list below real soon, actually meets the hype for his age and year in the league and his hype is actually measured justly.
    Jrue Holiday – He aiight

    The above guards are either over hyped, mental midgets, still up and coming or given too much hype early in their careers before meeting or seeing their true potential.

    Playoff Guards

    Give me these ballers, they don’t have any fear, wear no make up, true team leaders, and don’t care what premature analysis the media places on them. Nor do they care about any of them bums on the other list cause true ballers know and true fans know. Its all about rings and playoff wins babay!!!

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