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Mike Conley, Top 5?

US Presswire

US Presswire

The Memphis Grizzlies are playing as good a brand of basketball as any of the eight teams left in the NBA playoffs, with the emergence of Mike Conley being a big reason why. But when Tony Allen, following an emotional road victory in which Conley led the way (26 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists), declared that his floor general was “one of the top five point guards in the league,” it smelled a lot like an overreaction. As an elite perimeter defender, I value Allen’s opinion on this matter, but the conversation regarding Conley and the top five point guards in the Association is a short one: he’s not there right now.

That being said, he safely resides in the next tier of point guard and is more than capable of heading a championship level team. I hardly have the NBA experience of Allen, but as a reasonably efficient high school point guard in my day (Kyle Soppe, the pAssman), here are my PG rankings with a regular season Conley (25 years old) related tidbit for each. It is important to note that these rankings are for next season. This isn’t a “you’re starting a franchise now and need a point guard” list, but rather a snap shot as to where we stand at the PG position for the 2014 regular season.

1. Chris Paul (28 years old) – Regardless of where he plays, he is simply the gold standard when it comes to properly running an offense. The six time All-Star and four time All-NBA Defensive team member has a career 4.03 assist to turnover ratio, 25.2% better than Conley’ best season.

2. Russell Westbrook (24 years old) – The explosive leader of the Thunder has the ability to do things athletically than Conley simply will never be capable of. Westbrook’s shot selection is as criticized as anybody’s, but his FG% over the last two seasons (44.7%) is better than any season Conley has ever produced in the NBA.

3. Kyrie Irving (21 years old) – The general public seems to have forgotten just how special (brief reminder) this former Blue Devil is just because he isn’t still playing. He’s a high level athlete that has playmaking abilities and instincts than cannot be taught. Since leaving college, Irving has scored 1.25 points per FGA while Conley has averaged 1.20 over the same stretch.

4. Stephen Curry (25 years old) – Yes, I’m buying this postseason breakout to a greater degree than that of Conley. We all know that Curry has arguably the sweetest stroke we’ve ever seen, but he is far from a one trick pony. In fact, the baby-faced Curry has muscled up for 30% more rebounds than Conley over his career and holds the edge in steals per game.

5. Derrick Rose (24 years old) – Say what you will about this season, but Rose at full health is as tough a cover a there is in the league. His size and athleticism demand the attention of the opposing team’s best defender (players like Tony Allen), thus creating mismatches for his teammates. All you have to do is look at his 2010-2011 season to realize that his ceiling is significantly greater than that of Conley. In Rose’s MVP campaign he scored 2,026 points, a 70 point edge over Conley’s total number of points scored in the last two seasons combined. Scoring is his greatest attribute, but he does average 23.6% more assists per game over his career than the Grizzlies’ guard.

OK, so that settles the debate over the top five point guards in the league today. Conley has been excellent this postseason and is developing into a very good point guard, but he simply isn’t in the class of the five listed above. I’d listen to an argument at placing him anywhere in this next tier of PG’s, but I’ve got him sandwiched between Holiday and Williams.

6. Rajon Rondo (27 years old) – It is entirely possible that Conley is playing at a top-five level (based on his hot streak and the rash of injuries among the PG’s ranked above him), but that wasn’t the quote. Rondo is the best table setter in the league (149 more assists than Conley over the past two season despite playing 51 fewer games) and among the best defensive options at the point. Those qualities are well known, but did you know that since Conley entered the NBA in 2007-2008, Rondo actually averages more FGM per game (5.02 to 4.60)?

7. Tony Parker (30 years old) – The elder statesmen of this strong crop of point guards will turn 31 in less than a week, but Parker is showing more signs of improvement than decline. His experience is a factor that cannot be measured statistically, so let’s stick with some numbers. As a five-star recruit, Conley was part of a loaded Ohio State team that lost in the national championship. During that season, Conley shot 51.8% from the field against comparatively inferior competition for the most part. Parker has shot a higher percentage from the field than that in two of the last three seasons.

8. Ty Lawson (25 years old)His choice in headband style may be declining, but every other statistic is on the uptick for this road runner. In each season of his budding career, Lawson has increased his point, assist, and steal totals. His extreme speed is an advantage he holds over nearly every point guard in the league, making the fact that he owns a better career 3P% than Conley icing on the cake. I trust Lawson’s ability to penetrate/create a bit more and believe that he is a slightly tougher matchup on the perimeter.

9. Jrue Holiday (22 years old) – It is easy to forget just how young the 76ers leader is, especially when you consider the increasing maturity of his game. This past season saw Holiday tally 17.7 points and 8.0 assists on a nightly basis, numbers that may define the ceiling for Conley. When comparing Holiday’s 2012 season totals with the totals from when Conley was 22 years old (424 more points and 200 more assists), it is clear that Holiday is on the fast track to ascend to the top of this second tier. After a strong campaign in his first season as the 76ers go-to player, Holiday proved more than capable, a quality that is hard to find in players (especially point guards) his age.

10. Deron Williams (28 years old) – It feels like DWill was atop this list not very long ago, and while he has dropped off a bit, he still deserves to be considered a strong option. He has developed a lethal outside game (169 3PM this season, three more than Conley over the last two seasons), allowing him to stretch defenses and thus create single coverage situations in the paint. Williams has a higher scoring upside than Conley but lacks general consistency on both ends to still be considered with the best PG’s in the league.

This list doesn’t include Damian Lillard (need to see more), Ricky Rubio (my favorite player, but he’s a poor man’s Rondo at this point), or whoever you consider to be the point guard in Milwaukee (inefficient and lacking the ability to lead a team).

What did I get wrong? Tony Allen has forgotten more today than I know about basketball, but is he too close to the situation to properly analyze where his teammate ranks? Or am I just off my rocker and failing to accept that Memphis is home to an elite point guard? I’d love to hear your thoughts (@unSOPable23) and see how you’d rank the top point guards in the NBA for 2014.

  • Ankur Chawla

    “As an elite perimeter defender, I value Allen’s opinion on this matter…”

    I didn’t realize you we’re an elite perimeter defender, Mr. levy ;)

    • Ian Levy

      I wish I could claim credit, but this article is the work of Kyle Soppe.

      I believe he meant that as an elite perimeter defender Allen would be a good judge of a player’s offensive ability. I also believe that you understood this and were just ribbing me. (I’m a terrible judge of tone in tweets, comments).

      For what it’s worth I’ve heard some incredible tales of Kyle’s ability as a perimeter defender in his middle school days.

  • Robert

    I think most people are comparing the growth that Mike Conley has had over his career and specifically point to his production since the Rudy Gay trade.

    Yes you can find a fact about just about any other point guard and compare some numbers between Mike and that point guard and say they are better, but you can’t deny that this Memphis team, playing in the West, trading away a player like Rudy Gay, and 2nd best or best defense in the NBA, is getting a huge lift from Conley on both ends of the floor.

    I’m sure that you can also make a case for him as a defender which he is definitely a top 5 defensive PG.

    • Ian Levy

      I agree Conley is a great fit for the Grizzlies and has grown into an even bigger role since the Gay trade. It seems crazy to think how much value he’s provided considering how awful his contract extension looked when it was first signed.

      His defense is tremendous but I think you can still make the case that there are 5 or more point guards who’s overall contributions are greater than his.

  • Xavier Q

    I see FG%, points per game, assists per game… even things like FGM/game and 3PM….this does not read like a article. Jose Calderon is a significant unmentioned player, by any measure.

    • Ian Levy

      We have a whole staff of writers these days and everyone uses stats in their own ways.

      I agree Calderon is really undervalued. His questionable defense contributes to that though.

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