If you’ve looked into the dredges of Facebook groups, reddit threads, twitter comments, and maybe the impatience of some of us at this site, you’d swear Mike Conley was a shell of his former self. While Mike Conley has struggled to start the season, the noise outside the arena has exaggerated his demise like he’s Miami Heat era Gary Payton rather than a guy adjusting to a new system. Mike Conley himself jokingly said, “I think you need a PhD to play here [Utah].” He isn’t wrong. So it would behoove us to look at a past doctoral student of Snyder University and see how quickly he took to the system and what we can learn from him.
How we will evaluate our doctoral class
In order to compare both players fairly, I compared both players first seasons in Utah. I then took the average of every three games for both players. But I pieced it with every game. Basically that gives us a good “Rolling 3” average for both players. Mike Conley only has 9 games under his belt, but we can use Rubio as a way to see where Rubio trended, how he started out of the gate, and how he continued his next 6 games after his first 9 games.
For the sake of this exercise, we’re going to ignore the defensive data right now because defensive stats can sometimes be taken out of context, and most people are worried about Rubio’s offensive production and not so much his defensive prowess. It’s in the opinion of this writer that defensively, he’s been fantastic, but let’s get to the offense.
In the charts in this article, the solid lines are their rolling 3 numbers, the dotted lines are trendlines.
Clear as mud?
Shooting and Point per Game
Mike Conley has started rough—and that’s putting it lightly—with his shooting. Karl Malone said he just needs to relax and get in the groove. Salt Lake City doesn’t feel like home yet. He’s used to shooting in another arena for 41 games a year. He’ll adjust. But in the meantime, we can see that he’s struggling.
Ricky Rubio, however, came out of the gate like a rocket. A guy who is a career 43.3% eFG% shot above that mark quite a bit during his first 9 games. What is fascinating is he’s known for being an inconsistent shooter. So what happened with Rubio? Did he continue to improve as a shooter throughout his transition to the Jazz’s offense? That’s a big nope. He was the same inconsistent Ricky Rubio. He crashed in spectacular fashion between games 10-15.
Look below at both players. Mike Conley’s trend shows a consistent increase. Slow and steady. That will win the race and coincidentally, that may allow the Jazz to more consistently win more games.
Mike Conley’s career eFG% is 49.7%. He’s going to move up as the season goes along and his points per game will go up with it. We can see the same trends for Mike when looking at points per game.
We could see Mike Conley almost return to averaging 20 points a game by the 15-20 game mark. He’s a marathon runner not a sprinter. Tavan Parker went into how Conley’s brand is starting out the season a bit slower than most, but once he gets rolling, he’s immovable. While the Jazz’s doctoral program may have forced Conley to start the season off slower, his trend is consistently improving. Mike Conley in his career is consistent so it’d be odd to see him take a crazy dive similar to Rubio’s.
One thing we can guess that he probably won’t improve wildly in is his free throw attempts. We can look at both Conley and Rubio and that part of their games when entering the Snyder system stayed pretty consistent with their careers. Rubio averaged 3.7 free throws a game in his career while Conley averaged 3.5. Both started their seasons in Utah matching those averages.
They’re right on track. So that part of their games was unaffected. It basically shows that both were smart enough to know that if their shot wasn’t falling, they needed to go to the rim.
Assists for Conley could be down this year
One of the features of Quin Snyder’s advantage offense is it spreads the wealth when it comes to being the playmaker on offense. At any time, any player not named Rudy Gobert or Tony Bradley is going to be initiating the offense. Because of that assists will dip for said player. In both Minnesota and now Phoenix, Rubio averaged 8.5+ assists a game. In Memphis, Conley averaged 5.7 assists per game. Rubio would end up averaging 5.7 assists per game in Utah and with Conley’s shooting ability, he could be utilized more as a scorer and less as a distributor than Rubio was.
Looking at Rubio’s first 15 games and where Conley is trending, it seems to look like Conley could be made more into a scorer as the season rolls on.
As Rubio became more comfortable in Snyder’s offense, his assists went down. His assist numbers seemed to matchup more to when opponents mucked up Utah’s offense requiring Rubio to improvise which led to more assists for him. Utah has more offensive weapons than those years with Rubio which means the playmaking duties won’t all fall back on Conley. Joe Ingles, Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, and even Jeff Green can step up to fill that void and get creative.
I rebound so I don’t get fined
After Utah had their coming to Jesus moment about rebounds, Conley woke up. I’m not sure if this is something we can reliably depend on him for as he’s a career 3.0 rebounds a game player, but with a smaller front court, this could be another one of those system anomalies that Snyder’s system creates. But it would be a very recent wrinkle as Rubio wasn’t asked to rebound the basketball more in Utah—and Utah had Crowder and Favors to do that dirty work as well during Rubio’s stay. Conley’s tenure in Utah requires a much more democratic system of rebounding. And the trends bare out that he could be having a career rebounding year—or at least start to the season.
The last time Mike Conley averaged more than 3.5 rebounds a game was in 2016-2017. Not saying he can’t, but it would be an interesting jump for a player at 32 at his size. Rubio’s rebounding numbers dropped as the season went on, but this could indicate a difference in what Snyder is requiring of his guards on a roster without Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder.
What can we learn?
We can learn to chill out. Basically. The first nine games of the season is barely a tenth of the season. Looking at Rubio’s small sample size of the beginning of the season you’d swear you got an MVP point guard candidate. As we all know, that wasn’t the case. The numbers show Mike Conley is improving game by game. It may not be as fast as we’d all like, but he’s INCREDIBLY close to the Mike Conley we all thought we’d be getting in the trade. In other words, he’s excelling in his classes and receiving his Snyder University PhD in record time. Mike Conley is almost #MountainMike.