[UPDATE: The Utah Jazz traded for Mike Conley. Read about the deal here. Once you’re done, come back and learn why Utah can win an NBA Championship with Mike Conley.]
The Utah Jazz would become a contender overnight if they were to trade for Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies. There are many fans out there that don’t believe so, but adding Mike Conley to a team that won 50 wins isn’t some paltry move. It is a power play. It is a pushing all the chips to the center of the table. Let’s go through why Mike Conley would change the Utah Jazz overnight and make them a Western Conference contender.
He’s significantly better than Ricky Rubio
As a result of Utah initially trying to trade Ricky Rubio for Mike Conley at the deadline, Rubio will forever be linked with Conley or vice versa. If you’re just looking at this trade in a vacuum and asking, “Does Utah get better by replacing Ricky Rubio with Mike Conley?” The answer is an unequivocal yes.
Mike Conley vs Ricky Rubio Per Game
The Per Game numbers of Mike Conley put Ricky Rubio’s to shame. There are no drop offs when it comes to on the ball defense and passing abilities, Conley has less turnovers, he can shoot the lights out with the ball, and he can play off ball allowing Donovan Mitchell to thrive. When talking more unquantifiable numbers like gravity, Mike Conley has a superior edge as teams will hone in him. No more will Utah deal with teams being able to let a defender roam to guard Mitchell or drop to Rudy Gobert in the paint.
But this prospective trade cannot be looked at in a vacuum. Utah will most likely be parting with a young player like Royce O’Neale. Would Utah still be able to replace that effort? In short, yes. Utah would be able to go bargain hunting and go next man up. Utah’s strength as an organization is finding diamonds in the rough. They have found Royce O’Neale, Joe Ingles, and Ekpe Udoh. Their development staff is amazing. But the point remains, the Utah Jazz would need to replace a combined 7.0 win shares (Royce O’Neale + Ricky Rubio) to make this trade palatable. The good news is it does.
Mike Conley vs Ricky Rubio Advanced
Mike Conley had 8.0 total win shares last season on a struggling squad. That type of winning ability would lift other players. In the past Utah has had to rely on a strategy of being greater than the sum of their parts. If the Utah Jazz were to bring in a 21 ppg scorer like Mike Conley to a core of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, the sum of their parts would be pretty damn big. That’s before factoring in Joe Ingles. That’s a REALLY good squad.
Recent injuries from the NBA Finals opens up the Western Conference to a new upstart
Just as LeBron’s absence in the East allowed for the rise of the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors, the injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson open up the Western Conference to some new contenders. Think if this type of window opened for Houston two years ago instead of now. The Houston Rockets could have possibly been the proud owners of some championship rings instead of Golden State.
When people hear what the possible trade for Mike Conley could be—a couple protected 1st rounders + promising young player—they’re quick to balk at it. Rightfully so. That is a lot to ask for a 32 year old All-Star with only a couple years left on his contract. We ask the question, do you think that haul is worth Mike Conley? But that’s the wrong question. It’s not the question Utah’s asking when they look at this type of deal. They’re asking, “Do you think Royce O’Neale + 2 protected 1st rounders is worth an NBA Championship?”
For the young Jazz fans out there, there’s an entire generation of Jazz fans in their 50s and 60s who have seen this broken record. Almost getting there. Punting championship contention to the next year when MJ has retired, when the Lakers don’t have Kobe and Gasol, or—most recently—when the Warriors fall apart. The Raptors are showing that if you have the goods to compete you don’t back on the future, you bank on the present then see where your cards fall.
Take a look at the Western Conference, Kevin Durant’s injury opens up things for all teams. Even if Golden State re-signs KD, Golden State is vulnerable and paying a ton in luxury tax for a redshirt player. Without KD, Golden State is limited as to who they can put around Draymond Green, Steph Curry, and Klay Thompson. They’re vulnerable.
LeBron James will be 35 years old next season and even if Anthony Davis gets out to Los Angeles, do we really believe they can overcome their tire fire? Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets are on the decline. Utah figured out their style and was so close—shooting 5% better from 3 point land close—to beating them. Utah was seen by many as third best team in the West. Adding Mike Conley puts them into an elite class.
Is the window small? Yes. Two years small. Maybe only one year small. But how much would all of us give to see Utah win an NBA Championship? How much do we want to see Utah have that gold tag on their jerseys? How much do we want to see a parade rolling down Temple in Salt Lake City? That’s the question you get to realistically ask when acquiring Mike Conley. Doesn’t guarantee it, but Mike Conley allows Utah to be a championship contender.
Mike Conley would be the perfect backcourt partner for Donovan Mitchell
While I do believe that D’Angelo Russell would be a better long term backcourt partner for Donovan, the Utah Jazz wouldn’t be able to attack the limited championship window with him as both he and Donovan lack the many years of NBA experience that Mike Conley would provide. Mike Conley has the skills now that many hope D’Angelo Russell will fully develop in the next 2-3 years.
Mike Conley is amazing in catch and shoot opportunities. He shot 39.8% from three on catch and shoot opportunities. Ricky Rubio who spent the majority of his minutes with Donovan Mitchell shot only 32% on catch and shoot opportunities from three—23% in the playoffs. Why is this a big deal? When Donovan Mitchell drives the lane or Rudy Gobert dives toward the paint, the defense collapses resulting in open threes on the perimeter. 27.7% of all of Ricky Rubio’s wide open (a defender 6+ feet away) shot attempts were threes. Part of that was defenders willingly leaving him wide open. Contrast that to Mike Conley who only had 16% of his wide open shot attempts as threes. Rubio only hit 33% of his shots when he was wide open. Conley hit 43% when he was wide open. That’s 0.9 points per three point shot with Rubio versus 1.29 points per three point shot with Conley.
While Mike Conley would never see that much daylight, if teams choose to collapse on the paint, Conley can instantly punish them. The most likely result is just as favorable for Utah. Staying pinned to Conley on the perimeter forces teams to play the two man game against Mitchell and Gobert as they run a pick and roll of death. OR teams will have to pick their poison of leaving Joe Ingles in the corner in order to help defend the play. Mike Conley INSTANTLY makes Utah better and INSANELY better.
The downside is he is 32 years old and probably only has two prime years left
Mike Conley’s window for his best years is closing. There’s no denying that. But if Utah is able to land him, that tight prime window for Conley also coincides with the tight prime window for an NBA Championship. Conley’s contract would also coincide in the same offseason as Donovan Mitchell’s max extension, so Utah would still be able to recalibrate in two years for another run. If they are able to hit their window and get a championship, that would go a LONG way in recruiting their next big free agent.
If the Jazz go for Mike Conley via trade, there’s a good chance it happens this week before the draft or at the draft. So we could have some fireworks in Jazzland soon ... and if Utah plays its cards right next season ... possibly a parade.