Every Jazz fan had an opinion about how to replace Ricky Rubio. Many are thrilled to see Mike Conley in a Jazz uniform. Others preferred D’Angelo Russell. A few probably even wanted Rubio to return. Hi mom. But what if we could statistically rate every starting guard and get an idea of how they would fit with the Jazz and specifically with Donovan Mitchell? On paper, Conley is a slick fit with both Mitchell and the Jazz, but what do the numbers suggest?
This is not some catch all numerical evaluation. Every evaluator of talent, or data, has biases and ways they interpret results. But if I could create the perfect back court mate for Donovan Mitchell, that player would have the ability to do 3 things: create good shots, both for himself and his teammates, hit open spot up shots when Donovan Mitchell is forcing help with his ball handling and drives, and be a versatile and talented defender who wouldn’t force Mitchell to always defend the opposing teams best guard. Does Mike Conley check those boxes?
Those three aspects are not absolute “musts,” but they allow Donovan Mitchell to play to his strengths while enhancing the ability of the team as a whole. If James Harden magically became a Jazzman tomorrow, there is no question that the Jazz would be much much better. But it would most likely be at the expense of Mitchell’s offensive repertoire, much as Chris Paul has taken a back seat when he joined the Rockets two offseasons ago. The same is true for Steph Curry. Curry would improve the Jazz leaps and bounds, but there would also be large defensive concessions made by the Jazz and Mitchell. Harden and Curry are the best guards the Jazz could add this offseason, but they might not be the best fits. Editor’s note: The Jazz would gladly welcome Harden or Curry tomorrow in this fantasy.
Methods to the Madness
To determine Mike Conley’s, and others’ relative ability to create offense for themselves and teammates, I used cleaningtheglass.com and synergysportstech.com to find the percentile ranks of each starting guard in these areas: Usage, assists per usage; effective field goal % on non-assisted shots, the percentage of non-assisted shots, and the percentage of foul shots drawn over the last 3 seasons. Take D’Angelo Russell for example: He is in the 97th percentile of usage, the 70th percentile for assists, the 69th percentile for effective field goal percentage of non assisted baskets, the 86th percentile for amount of unassisted baskets and the 9th percentile for free throws drawn. So 97+70+69+86+9= 331. Divide that by 5 and you get an average percentile of 66.2, which is 6.62 on a 10 point scale for shot creation.
The spot up score is the percentile of spot up shots made on the last 500 spot up shots. Pretty straight forward.
The defensive score was the toughest score to come up with, but it’s a percentile rank of the players based on defensive real plus minus stats, on-off defensive measures, and individual defensive matchup rankings.
Without further ado, here are the numbers, without comment or bias:
Before the Conley trade, I had hoped to use this evaluation to find the best guard to pair with Donovan Mitchell. Even though the trade took away the necessity of such an exercise, here is my list of best fit’s with Donovan Mitchell, who are also semi-realistic:
1. Jrue Holiday
2. Kyle Lowry
3. Tomas Satoransky
4. Mike Conley
5. Malcolm Brogdon
6. Patrick Beverly
7. Darren Collison
Holiday is young, has a reasonable contract, and checks off all the boxes, except for shooting. He’s also currently unavailable. Lowry is like Mike Conley, with a more versatile defensive toolbox. His size allows him to switch onto defenders that Mike Conley simply can’t. Satoransky and Brogdon are both great spot up shooters, average defenders, but lack in the creation department. They are both restricted free agents and I would bet my mortgage that Brogdon gets a significantly bigger contract this summer. Satoransky isn’t a perfect fit with the Jazz, but he would have been a sneaky good one. Beverly, who I love at $8-12 million a year, is fantastic, but doesn’t create offense. He may command significantly more money than that, however. Darren Collison is also better than he gets credit for, but he has to be wide open to shoot and is slight of frame.
Mike Conley’s Fit
Mike Conley is an elite guard when it comes to being able to create for himself and others. He was in the 87th percentile for overall usage, and he drew foul shots on nearly 13% of his shots, which is a top 5 mark for point guards in the league. Ricky Rubio was pretty decent at drawing fouls, but both he and Donovan Mitchell only drew foul shots on 9% of their shot attempts. Add in Conley’s experience in running pick and rolls and he starts to look like one of the best guards in the league in being able to run the offense for the Jazz, while not dominating the ball.
On top of that Conley has shot 40% on spot up 3 pointers over the last 500 attempts, which is in the 60th percentile for guards. There are better spot up shooters in the league, but only a handful of guards rival Conley in terms of both creation and spot up shooting.
Is Mike Conley a Good Defender?
According to the defensive stats I consulted, Mike Conley rates as a below average defensive guard. This would seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Multiple national basketball guys on TV this week have called Conley a great perimeter defender. If you look at the ratings above, you might also notice that Klay Thompson rates poorly defensively. This is almost assuredly due to the fact that he (along with most of his teammates) hasn’t been trying all that hard from possession to possession. Thompson is also a careless off ball defender at times and the numbers reflect that. But during the playoffs when man to man defense is at a premium, Thompson is at his best.
On film Conley does appear to be an average to above average defender, although his size and age are cause for some concern. It’s also hard to be engaged defensively on a team you know isn’t competing for anything meaningful. But I’m also comfortable saying that Conley’s defense is not as great as its reputation. Is Conley’s defense fading a bit because he plays on a perennial loser, or because he’s small and aging? The bottom line is that if a guard were to have a deficiency in any of the three areas presented, defense would be the best for this otherwise defensive squad. And if the Jazz can be a top defense with Ricky Rubio, it can almost assuredly do the same with Mike Conley.
The Bottom Bottom Line
This was a good trade for the Jazz at the right time. It will end up costing them Brandon Clarke, Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder and whoever the Grizzlies take in 2022. Unless Clarke or the 2022 pick, or Grayson Allen become perennial All-Stars, this trade will favor the Jazz. Mike Conley makes the Jazz better for what they gave up for him. And depending on what other moves are made this offseason to enhance the roster, the trade for Mike Conley could make the Jazz real title contenders for the first time in 21 seasons.
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