Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/2/14
Los_angeles_lakers_08b6
Whenever someone tells me that Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the NBA — or one of the top three, or one of the five best, or whatever — I ask where that person ranks Mike Conley. The reason I ask this is because if the fan has not bothered to think about his list at least through the top dozen or so point guards, of which Conley definitively is one, then they probably have not thought long or hard enough to offer a serious analysis of the position. It is one thing to acknowledge that Rondo or Chris Paul or Deron Williams is good. It is another thing to recognize why each one is good and exactly what makes him better than the other guys. Now, early in Conley’s sixth NBA season, merely using him as a baseline for the league’s top point guards might be doing him a disservice. In a golden era for floor generals, being one of the top dozen or so is nothing to sniff at. In fact, Conley might even be better than that. At first glance, Conley has a relatively easy job. He hands the ball to Rudy Gay on the perimeter or he tosses it down to Zach Randolph in the post. He shares playmaking duties with center Marc Gasol, who is at least equal to Conley in passing abilities. He seldom has to cover the opponent’s top backcourt player, as the task usually falls to defensive specialist Tony Allen. Yet all those things could present problems for a lesser point guard, who may not have the wherewithal to navigate a roster with so many singularly talented stars. Conley calls the plays on the court, giving him a freedom and responsibility that not even Rondo had until a couple of years ago. He can run three or four possessions without ever looking Gay’s way, and there is never a whiff of Memphis’ leading scorer demanding the ball from him. “I say, ‘I’ll get you the ball if you’re open, and if not, I’ll run it through you,’” Conley told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal earlier this season. “They say, ‘OK, that’s cool.’ They know I have their best interest, and at the end of the day, the ball gets where it should.” Conley has been a target for criticism every since the Grizzlies inked him to a five-year contract in 2010. At the time he was a competent yet not overly impressive guard with a below-average player efficiency rating on a losing team. The team reportedly considered trading him and giving his starting spot to Kyle Lowry (who has since blossomed in Houston and Toronto). From an individual statistical standpoint, one could argue that Memphis could have better spent its $40 million elsewhere. Purely looking at Conley’s statistics — which at 14.4 points and 6.3 assists entering the week were not markedly better than his career averages of 12.0 points and 5.4 assists — misses the point. Conley has missed only eight games since 2008 and sat out one game this season with flu-like symptoms. The Grizzlies are fortunate for his durability, as they score 12.1 points more per 100 possessions when he is on the court. On defense, the Grizzlies hold opponents to 3.5 points fewer per 100 possessions with Conley on the floor than off it. Two games in particular underscored Conley’s importance. The first was the game he missed Nov. 26 against the Cavaliers, when the Grizzlies, who average 98.2 points and roughly 21 assists on 36 field goals per game, put up only 84 points and recorded just 16 assists on 33 baskets. The second of those games came Saturday, when a banged-up Conley committed six turnovers and had only three assists in 35 minutes, completely preventing the Memphis offense from getting off the ground. The moral is that when Conley is absent or just plain ineffective, the Grizzlies become far less formidable. Lots of point guards have that sort of impact on their team, however. What makes Conley different — and perfect for the Grizzlies — is the reputation he has had for being a businesslike pro since he entered the league at 20 years old. To an even greater extent than is typical for a professional sports team, Memphis’ roster is a minefield of unique personalities. Randolph is a reformed problem child. Gay was a high-scoring lottery pick who needed to be more efficient as the Grizzlies’ focus shifted into the post. Gasol was an immensely talented big man who had to be prodded to use his full array of skills on offense. Celtics fans are familiar with Allen’s occasional tendency to go off the reservation. Conley has dealt expertly with this tenuous collection of talent. He has helped the Grizzlies increase their win percentage each of the last four years, held his own against Paul in the playoffs last spring and currently has Memphis battling for the best record in the NBA. At age 25, Conley is more than just an above-average example against whom other point guards should be compared. He is one of the best, and for the Grizzlies in particular, it is doubtful that anybody could be better. Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Chris Paul ruled out for Game 1 against Rockets

Stephen Curry thanks father in touching MVP speech

Lawrence Taylor's son pleads guilty to statutory rape

49ers FB Bruce Miller charged with vandalism

Report: Winston snubbed ESPN out of draft interview

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Some Colts players unhappy with first-round pick

Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff: Focus is on Julio Jones contract

Irvin on Seahawks not picking up option: ‘F— that option’

Brandon Prust rips referee, accuses him of on-ice trash talk

LeBron James ditched headband to look more like teammates

Report: Stephen Curry to be named NBA MVP

WATCH: Chewbacca throws out 1st pitch at Red Sox game

WATCH: Kyrie Irving carves up Bulls' defense for layup

WATCH: Metallica goes Jimi Hendrix for national anthem

Brandon McCarthy shares disturbing info about himself

Ole Miss fan got pregnant because of upset over Alabama

Willie Cauley-Stein legally changes middle name to 'Trill'

Marcus Mariota welcomed to Tennessee with billboard

Five takeaways from the first round of the NBA playoffs

NFL has a Los Angeles Rams webpage

10 undrafted free agents who could become NFL stars

WATCH: ESPN reporter calls first First Take a 'train wreck'

Mike Trout criticized for tweet about Floyd Mayweather Jr.

NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Cauley-Stein changes middle name to 'Trill'

NFL has Los Angeles Rams webpage

10 undrafted free agents to watch

Report: Winston snubbed ESPN

Life without Love: The new-look Cavs

Drafted player changes Twitter name to ‘Pick 245′

Floyd Mayweather Punch Out mock video game is great

Report: Steph Curry to be NBA MVP

Kelly: Tebow here to compete for job

Tony Allen booed for being rude?

Lindsey Vonn, Tiger Woods break up

Pacquiao fought with injured shoulder?

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.