Sacramento Kings

NBA Beat: Memphis’ Conley is the best point guard you never hear about

Mike Conley is averaging 16.2 points and 6.2 assists for Memphis, which was 8-1 entering Saturday night’s game against Detroit.
Mike Conley is averaging 16.2 points and 6.2 assists for Memphis, which was 8-1 entering Saturday night’s game against Detroit. The Associated Press

At some point, the basketball world has to accept that Mike Conley can play this game.

For years, the Memphis point guard has said he’s the most underrated point guard in the NBA. He is, in fact, the best player you’ve never heard of.

Seriously, how do you follow the NBA and not know who Mike Conley is?

“For a little bit, it was cool because you started to get a little bit of respect, but it’s been an ongoing thing for the last four years,” Conley said. “I joke with the guys and say at some point I’ll be rated, and I can’t wait until that day.”

That day might be here.

Conley is the leader of the Grizzlies, who were 8-1 entering Saturday night’s game against Detroit by persevering with the grit-and-grind mentality of the city.

Conley’s strength is his versatility. He’s one of the better on-ball defenders in the league, pairing with Tony Allen to give opponents fits, and he scores and facilitates, all quietly. That might be why he remains under the radar.

“I think a lot of it has to do with that,” said Conley, who also plays in a small market. “For me, I play a style where I do whatever is best for the team. If that’s me being a defensive player or a spot-up shooter, my game has changed throughout my career. Each year, I just try to improve and get better in different areas, and hopefully you’re good enough where people will notice.”

Memphis coach Dave Joerger points to a stretch last season when the Grizzlies were beset with injuries and Conley kept the team together.

The Grizzlies made the playoffs, thanks largely to Conley’s efforts.

“He really put us on his back in a situation where every game mattered,” Joerger said. “In the West, it came down to Game 81 for us to get in, and we had to win the last five out of the season.”

Conley averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals last January to keep the Grizzlies competitive until Memphis was at full strength.

This season, Conley is averaging 16.2 points and 6.2 assists, both above his career marks.

“He sees what needs to be done, and he does it,” Joerger said. “If we need some scoring, if we need the ball up the floor, if we need a steal, if we need to get the ball into the paint ... He has a great mind for knowing who needs to get what and at what time.”

The Grizzlies are only two seasons removed from making the Western Conference finals, but some still thought the Grizzlies could miss the playoffs this season.

Phoenix is surging. New Orleans’ talent is beginning to produce. Dallas has improved, too.

Yet the Grizzlies have figured out how to get off to a good start.

“Our defense has been consistent night in and night out,” Conley said. “We haven’t played our best, we definitely haven’t played our best offensively, but just the way we’ve come out, we’ve worked and had to will our way to victories. None of them have been blowouts; we’ve had to work for them. We have a lot of good experience in this group, and I think that’s helped out.”

If the Grizzlies continue to excel, Conley will receive more attention. He’s always mentioned as a player on the fringe of the All-Star team.

Grizzlies Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have received All-Star nods in recent years. Plus, cracking the West All-Star roster as a point guard is difficult. Pencil in Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry at the point if they’re healthy. Then there’s Damian Lillard, who made the team last season.

“I think if you make an All-Star team, you definitely wake up a lot of people,” Conley said. “Other people will notice you. For me, it’s all about winning. And if we can attract attention to the team by going 18-1, 19-1, that’s just as good because people realize you’re a good team.”

Trending up

In case you missed it, the Toronto Raptors aren’t going anywhere.

Last season was supposed to be about rebuilding after the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento. Instead, the Raptors won the Atlantic Division.

Toronto, led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, was 7-2 entering Saturday night’s game against Utah.

Chicago and Cleveland are the heavyweights in the East, but the Raptors don’t figure to go away quietly.

Trending down

Denver coach Brian Shaw can’t be too comfortable.

If you catch a Nuggets home game on television, you’ll see a lot of empty seats.

The low point came last week, when the Nuggets scored 50 points in the first half against Portland – and trailed by 34.

Maybe the Denver Broncos can make another run to the Super Bowl and divert attention from the Nuggets (2-6) .

Last words

“The good news is it’s the NBA – you get another game tomorrow. The bad news is it doesn’t go away. It’s like water dripping on your forehead, and there’s no place to hide.”

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown, after the 76ers lost by 53 points at Dallas on Thursday.

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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