Throughout the offseason, we’ll be counting down the Top 50 players in the NBA from 50 to 1. Who will just miss the cut? Which names do you expect to see? Regardless, you’ll be able to find them all right here.
Why He’s Great: Mike Conley is basically the same player as Kyle Lowry, the man he beat out for this slot, but slightly better. He’s a bit younger and definitely more athletic, which gives him more leeway. His shooting and scoring numbers are slightly lower, of course. But remember, he’s Memphis’ only perimeter ball-handler. Lowry has the advantage of sharing the court with DeMar DeRozan. He’s a slightly better table-setter. He’s a less cantankerous personality. They’re both great players, Conley is just very slightly greater. His age, athleticism and health are more promising moving forward.
The biggest difference between them, though, is that Conley improves in the playoffs. Lowry gets worse. We covered the biggest reason for that in Lowry’s piece: the Raptors are slow and predictable. But it’s not like the Grizzlies are copying Golden State or San Antonio. They’re slow too. They pound the ball too. But Mike Conley has always found ways to generate offense out of thin air no matter who the opponent is. He has an extra gear for the playoffs. Maybe that gear is effort. Maybe it’s versatility or maybe it’s intelligence. Whatever the case, something about his game translates better. If you’re trying to win the championship, that matters.
Why He’s Below No. 21 (Marc Gasol): When Gasol reached free agency, there was a full-blown panic. Top of the market teams like the Spurs would’ve been prepared to build their off-seasons around adding him. He was a universally beloved superstar center that every team wanted. Gasol made things easy by refusing meetings and sticking around with Memphis. But had he left, the Grizzlies would’ve broken up. Marc Gasol is the foundation on which that team is built.
When Mike Conley reached free agency a year later, it felt pretty anticlimactic. Dallas was the only team that really tried to pry him away from Memphis. There was never a sense that he was this desperately sought after commodity, even in a summer when everyone had cap space.
It’s refreshing when the league answers these questions for you. Both on and off of the court, it’s pretty clear that Marc Gasol means more to the Grizzlies than Mike Conley does. That’s not an insult. Mike Conley is still awesome. Just honestly ask yourself: if you were the Grizzlies, would you trade Gasol first, or Conley? I’d bet 90 percent of you say Conley.