The Mike Conley era in Utah will be defined by health

Jared Woodcox , 2019-06-26 04:36:25
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So long as Mike Conley stays healthy (and his injury history is far better than many presume), he should be in for an impressive stint with the Utah Jazz.

Despite turning 31 just prior to last season, Mike Conley had one of the best campaigns of his career. He appeared in all but 12 games, some of which he was held out of for mere resting purposes, meaning he enjoyed a very healthy season. He also posted a career-high 21.1 points per game on respectable shooting marks of 43.8 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from deep, all while being the best player on his team and the focal point of opposing teams night in and night out.

Conley was also a prolific assist man as he put up 6.4 dimes per game, the second best mark of his career, to go along with 1.3 steals per game while posting a positive plus/minus and net rating despite suiting up for a Memphis Grizzlies squad that struggled all year long.

However, the year before that was the exact opposite. Rather than play in all but 12 games, Conley only played for 12 games total as a left Achilles injury would require surgery and ultimately leave him out of action for nearly the entire season.

That was the worst injury issue that he has faced in his career in terms of keeping him out of action the longest, but it was far from the only one he’s dealt with. Throughout his career, Conley has missed time with various ailments including a heel injury, fractured vertebrae, and several others. Those woes led to him missing significant time in the 2016-17 season (13 games), 2015-16 season (26 games) and 2011-12 season (20 games).

However, excluding the 2017-18 season, where he underwent surgery, and his rookie season, Conley has actually been much more healthy than some seem to believe. He’s played in 70 games or more in seven seasons, with four of those featuring him in 80 or more games. He’s known as a tough and relentless player who has even played through discomfort to sacrifice for his team.

If we take away the unfortunate and anomalous ’17-18 campaign, 26 games is the most Conley has ever missed in a single year (excluding his rookie season where most games missed weren’t due to injury), which really isn’t bad at all in the grand scheme of things. And the durability he’s enjoyed in several other seasons is worthy of recognition.

Nevertheless, the fact that his most banged-up outing came so recently and that he’ll turn 32 prior to the start of this upcoming season is reason enough for Utah Jazz fans to be somewhat nervous about what to expect of him on his new squad. By all counts, he’s a perfect fit for the Jazz as an offensive and defensive ace, a prolific point guard and a maestro in the pick-and-roll.

However, Utah isn’t exactly known for its favorable injury history. Not to mention Father Time is undefeated. And although Conley had a superb 2018-19 outing, should any old issues surface or his age begin to creep up on him, it could be troublesome for both him and his newly joined Jazz team.

The good news is that Conley isn’t as old as the narrative seems to indicate sometimes, even by NBA standards. He’s only a few months younger than Stephen Curry, who no one seems worried about slowing down despite significant injury woes earlier in his NBA career. He’s also younger than point guards still viewed as stars including recent NBA Champion Kyle Lowry and the Houston Rockets’ Chris Paul.

In other words, a lot of the concern and doubt about Conley may very well be overblown. Then again, there is undoubtedly an injury history there, particularly from 2017-18. The truth is, Conley seems like such an ideal fit in every single way – from his style of play, to his personality, to his shooting ability, to his defense – that about the only thing that feels like it could get in the way of him thriving in Salt Lake City is if the injury bug rears its ugly head.

As such, I’m willing to go as far as to say that health will very likely define Mike Conley’s time with the Utah Jazz. He’s under contract for two more seasons, at the end of which he’ll be 33 years old. If he remains healthy, as he did in 2018-19, then I expect nothing but big numbers and bigger results out of him. I expect him to be a prolific star and the best point guard the Jazz have had since Deron Williams.

However, if Utah’s common misfortune on the injury front rears its ugly head again, then the two years of Conley could be left with a bit of a damper.

Fortunately, as I’ve pointed out quite clearly, I do believe the injury concerns about Conley are somewhat exaggerated (save for the fact that obviously he isn’t getting any younger). Eliminate his one outlier season, and he’s been able to play far more often than not, suiting up for over 80 percent of potential regular season games with the Grizz. Take his rookie season and unfortunate 2017-18 year out of the mix, and he’s suited up for over 88 percent.

That’s a great and very reassuring mark. Conley defined grit and grind during his time in Memphis, and he very likely will continue to play with that same mantra as a member of the Utah Jazz. His ability to stay healthy will greatly determine how his legacy winds up in Salt Lake City and if his body holds up, he has all the indications of being a spectacular fit.

If the past has taught us anything, it’s that Conley can indeed hold up. And if pesky injuries don’t surface to taint his legacy in Utah, then there’s no limit to what he can accomplish.

If it ends up as much, rather than being remembered as someone mired in injury, the Conley era in Utah could very well be remembered as one of the greatest in Jazz history. It could even be remembered as one that brought a championship to the Beehive State if everything goes according to play for him and his Utah Jazz squad.

Next: Utah Jazz: 15 realistic free agency options post-Conley trade

Mike Conley is such a great point guard, his fit in Utah is so spot-on and the Jazz are now so dangerous, that so long as injuries are left out of the equation, the next two seasons could be a real thrill for the Utah faithful.

Feeling excited, Utah Jazz fans? Because you should be. Luckily the start of the regular season is only a mere four months away.

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