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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
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Mike Conley Is One Of The NBA’s Best Players

Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – When the Utah Jazz acquired Mike Conley in the summer of 2019, several experts that cover the NBA predicted the move would make the Jazz one of the dark horse favorites two compete for the NBA championship.

Those experts were right, it just took longer than expected for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

Conley struggled during his first season with the Jazz, especially before the league’s hiatus last March.

The guard averaged 13.8 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from the floor and 37 percent from the three-point line and missed 23 of the team’s first 64 games with hamstring and knee injuries.

With Conley in the lineup, the Jazz were a solid, albeit unspectacular 24-17. In the games Conley missed, the Jazz were 17-6 and far more resembled the contender many experts predicted them to be.

The pairing was difficult enough that in February last season, Conley was nearly removed from the starting lineup after returning from injury. A last-minute change kept Conley in the rotation with the starters, but clearly, the coaching staff had recognized the difficulty the roster was having coming together.

Though Conley performed well for the team during the league’s restart in Orlando, including 19.8 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 48 percent from the floor and 53 percent from three, the Jazz were eliminated in seven games in a first-round series with the Denver Nuggets.

Conley Has Become One Of The NBA’s Best Players

While Conley’s raw scoring, assist, and rebounding numbers pale in comparison to his best averages in Memphis, the 34-year-old may be having the best year of his career. As a result, he’s become one of the NBA’s best players.

Conley is averaging 16.4 points, 5.9 assists, and 3.7 rebounds, but has upped his shooting percentages to 46 percent from the floor and 42 percent from the three-point line. The guard’s effective field-goal percentage has climbed from an average of 49 percent last season to an exemplary 57 percent this season.

His advanced metrics are even better.

Conley is the league-leader in plus-minus this season. Through 16 games, the Jazz have outscored opponents by 188 points while Conley is on the floor. That bests future Hall of Famers LeBron James by 31 points and former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard by 36 points.

His metrics during the Jazz current eight-game win streak also rank atop the league. Conley has upped his 11.75 plus-minus season average to 19.4, topping second-rated Rudy Gobert who comes in at 17.9.

“My imprint on the game is hopefully starting to show more,” Conley said of his advanced numbers. “I do a lot of things that might not show up on the scoreboard. I can score 30 or 15 or have 10 assists or two or 10 rebounds. I don’t really care I just want to win.”

In total, five Jazz players, including Bojan Bogdanovic, Donovan Mitchell, and Royce O’Neale rank among the league’s top 10 in plus-minus during the team’s eight-game win streak.

Conley also leads the NBA in 538’s Raptor rankings, which measures a player’s statistics and compares hows his team performs when that player is on the floor versus off the floor during the season.

“Mike’s feeling more comfortable demanding the ball,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of Conley’s play. “You can demand it in a subtle way. But guys are just getting used to each other, and over time everybody finds the best way to play. And oftentimes, that’s a process, I think that’s part of his evolution.”

With backcourt mate Donovan Mitchell performing at an All-NBA level, and Rudy Gobert doing typical Rudy Gobert things, Conley’s rise in play has the Jazz playing as well as any team in the NBA.

If the guard is able to keep up his high-level of play, Conley may push the Jazz into the contender conversation like many predicted when the team acquired him two summers ago.

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