Entering this season, there were a variety of expectations for the Utah Jazz’s starting point guard, Mike Conley. On one end, coming off an All-Star season, it was fair to expect Conley to perform at a similar level. On the other, the combination of his hamstring injuries and age provided valid concerns about his natural regression. About 20 games into the 2021-22 season, his performance has fallen somewhere between the two expectations. Here, we’ll try to get a better understanding of Mike Conley’s season, thus far.
In only looking at per-game statistics, Conley has experienced a slight regression:
2020-21: 16.2 points, 6.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds, on 44.4/41.2/85.2 percent shooting splits
2021-22: 13.6 points, 5.3 assists, 1.8 rebounds, on 50.0/43.5/85.7 percent shooting splits
While Conley is down on points, assists, and rebounds compared last year, his efficiency has shot up. That has to do with Conley experiencing both lower volume and usage this season. He’s shooting the ball about three times less per-game and experiencing a dip of about four percent in his usage. While neither of these are tremendous drop-offs, they do help provide context to why Conley’s number’s aren’t as prolific as last season’s.
With Donovan Mitchell having nearly identical usage percentages, FGA per-game, and assists per-game to last season, I don’t think it has to do with the Jazz moving towards making Mitchell the point guard (which is a whole conversation in itself). Instead, I think the Jazz are lowering Conley’s load at this point in the season so that he doesn’t burn himself out before the playoffs. Entering this season, I expected Utah to lower Conley’s minutes. Instead, it seems as if the team has delegated less for him to do while he’s playing, which is a viable idea as well. Because of that, the slight drop-off in those numbers isn’t concerning to me.
Where the numbers become slightly more concerning are in his advanced metrics. Take a look at a few major advanced stats:
2020-21: 6.1 WS, 4.4 BPM, 2.4 VORP, 16.7 NETRTG, 13.1 PIE
2021-22: 2.3 WS, 3.1 BPM, 0.7 VORP, 10.1 NETRTG, 11.5 PIE
Don’t get me wrong, Conley’s advanced metrics are very kind to him. It still should be noted that they’ve taken a slight dip in comparison to last season’s. This, again, can be attributed to Conley taking more of a backseat role this season in an effort to preserve himself. It can also be attributed to the Utah Jazz, as a team, no longer sizing up as the statistical juggernaut they were last season.
But putting numbers aside, I have been pleasantly surprised with how Conley has looked on the court this season. After seeing how terribly his hamstring effected him, I was worried that the injury may have cost him some of his lateral quickness and agility. Instead, it seems as if the hot yoga that he started in the off-season has done wonders. He’s looked fantastic with the ball in his hands and has played some surprisingly solid on-ball defense this season. At this point in his career, taking a small step back on the court is the smart decision for both him and the Jazz. So long as he can stay healthy, play at this level, and not burn out prior to the playoffs, Conley’s play thus far, although a slight statistical regression, should be considered a success.
All statistics from basketball-reference.com.