If you've ever read any of my thoughts on the Utah Jazz, you probably know that I'm a big fan of Mike Conley. I think he's an incredibly valuable player and helps our team in all the ways we need most. He's a great shooter, a steady playmaker, a solid defender, and a leader on the court. I've had many debates with NBA fans over Conley's value, and I always argue that he is continually underrated.
That's why it hurts me to say that Mike Conley has been playing terribly for a while now.
Over the last ten games, Conley is putting up some rough numbers. He's scoring only 9.5 points per game in that stretch while shooting 29.8% from the field and 27.1% from three. While Mike has proven that he doesn't necessarily have to score a ton of points to be useful, he needs to be a threat. For the last couple of weeks, he's been anything but a threat. He's not looking for his pull-up three. He's making poor decisions in the pick & roll. These are uncharacteristic issues for him.
The Utah Jazz need Conley to be at his best when the playoffs come around. Conley adds a critical dimension to the team. He's a second guy who can effectively run the offense, get a bucket for himself, and create for others. After Donovan Mitchell's last few playoff series', opposing teams will be doing everything they can to stop him, which means Conley needs to be ready to punish them for overplaying Mitchell.
In his 11 playoff games as a member of the Jazz, Conley has been magnificent, putting up 17.4 points and 6.5 assists per game while shooting over 50% from three.
This is the version of Mike Conley that Utah needs. This version is aggressively running the pick & roll, using the threat of his outside shot and his floater to get the roll man easy buckets. This Conley attacks weak defenders in isolation. He takes threes around screens anytime he has space.
The Mike Conley of the last ten games is passive. The Mike Conley we need is assertive. He's a star point guard, and he knows it.
So what's causing this downturn in productivity? The first thought is always health, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Less than a week ago, we learned this news.
Mike Conley said that he and the Jazz intend to ramp up his minutes per game between now and the end of the regular season... thought is he will play in selected back-to-backs.— Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) March 2, 2022
Conley has been on a slight minutes restriction all year, as the team doesn't want to have another series without him. Hearing that they're ramping up his minutes shows that the training staff and Conley himself must feel more healthy than before. Conley brushed it off pretty quickly when asked about his physical condition last night.
Mike Conley, when asked how he is physically: "Everybody has bumps and bruises. Nothing crazy. … I'm just trying to find a way to have an impact. I've had a rough couple games."— Eric Walden (@tribjazz) March 8, 2022
Clearly, he doesn't see health as the reason for his struggles.
My personal opinion is that it's mostly just a regular slump. We've seen Conley have times where he couldn't make a shot and times where he couldn't miss. Slumps happen. They end.
I do, however, have one other hypothesis. I think the loss of Joe Ingles may be affecting Conley's play. According to cleaningtheglass.com, Utah Jazz lineups this year that included both Conley and Ingles were plus 15.2 points per 100 possessions. Lineups with Conley and no Ingles are only plus 6.6. Conley has learned to share ball-handling duties with Mitchell, Clarkson, Ingles, and others. He found his role as a secondary playmaker who sometimes took over as primary playmaker. Ingles's role as a secondary playmaker provided balance for a lot of lineups. Now, when Conley and Gobert join the second unit during their second stint in the game, there's Danuel House instead of Ingles. I think House is a solid player, but he's not a playmaker. This puts more responsibility on Conley, and I think he's struggling to find the balance he had before.
In all honesty, I hope that's the issue because I think Mike can solve that quickly and likely will be solved just by tightening the playoff rotation. Otherwise, it's just a simple slump. Either way, Conley will get out of it. He's a great player, and he'll figure it out.