NBA

Jazz and Grizzlies reaping benefits from Conley trade

By Sports Desk February 04, 2021

It wasn't the most celebrated or impactful trade of the Summer of 2019 – the newest gold banner that is waiting to be unveiled at the Staples Center answers that question.

Still, when browsing the current state of affairs in the Western Conference, it's hard to deny the significance of another deal that went down shortly after the franchise-defining blockbuster that landed Anthony Davis alongside LeBron James in Los Angeles and shifted the balance of power within the NBA.

With the aftershock of the Davis deal still reverberating, the Memphis Grizzlies were making a more under-the-radar move to set their own new course. Just days after the gigantic trade, Memphis sent the franchise's all-time leading scorer and arguably most popular player, Mike Conley, to the Utah Jazz, formally closing the door on the moderately successful 'Grit and Grind' era of the previous decade.

It's fair to say the trade is working out quite well for both teams, though. The Jazz presently sport the NBA's best record at 16-5 with Conley superbly manning the point following a somewhat trying first season in Salt Lake City. The Grizzlies currently stand as the surprise leader of a suspect Southwest Division and are seemingly well ahead of schedule on a rebuilding plan young general manager Zach Kleiman has so far orchestrated with a master stroke.

Memphis' swift rise to respectability was hard to see coming, and neither was the considerable effect so far generated by a trade centered around a player who has never made an All-Star team in 13 NBA seasons. That may change in Conley's 14th, however. The 33-year-old has been a major force on both ends of the court in what has been a terrific bounce-back campaign to date, as his 124.2 offensive rating is the highest of his career and his 2.35 steals per 48 minutes is his best mark since making the NBA All-Defensive Team in 2012-13. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, is how the Jazz have performed with Conley on the court as opposed to him off it. The veteran point guard's plus-minus rating of 11.0 per game trails only Clippers star Kawhi Leonard for the best in the league among players averaging at least 15 minutes per outing and who have appeared in at least half of their team's games, and the following chart illustrates how much better Utah has been when Conley is on the floor: 

JAZZ, WITH/WITHOUT MIKE CONLEY ON COURT, 2020-21 

With/Without stats (/100 = per 100 possessions) 

Points/100: 116.5/108.8 
Opp Points/100: 99.9/113.8 
Point Diff/100: +16.6/-5.0
FG Pct: .470/.444 
Opp FG Pct: .427/.475 
Turnovers/100: 13.4/16.6 

Conley's presence also allows Donovan Mitchell, Utah's leading scorer and their highest usage player, to play more off the ball where he is most effective, as the numbers demonstrate: 

DONOVAN MITCHELL, WITH/WITHOUT MIKE CONLEY ON COURT, 2020-21 

With/Without stats (/100 = per 100 possessions) 

Points/100: 35.0/32.9 
Rebounds/100: 6.8/5.5 
Assists/100: 5.4/8.1 
Turnovers/100: 3.5/5.7 
FG Pct: .451/.409 
3-Pt Pct: .446/.343 

With Conley playing at an elite level and a pair of All-Stars in Mitchell and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, the question can now be raised: Have the Jazz finally achieved the status of a legitimate challenger to the West's upper crust after four years of consistently winning in the regular season but never seriously threatening in the playoffs? 

Quite possibly. 

The Jazz are the only team that currently ranks in the NBA's top five in both offensive and defensive rating. They have never finished a season higher than ninth in the former category under coach Quin Snyder, but there is reason to believe this team differs from its predecessors. It has been hitting 3-pointers at a historic rate (16.9 per game) with both impressive efficiency (39.8 percent) and variety. Six of the Jazz's top seven scorers are shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc while taking at least four attempts per game, the most in the league. 

Only one team in NBA history has shot 40 percent or better from 3-point range while making 12 or more 3s per game, and that is the 2015-16 Warriors that set an NBA record with 73 regular-season wins. Granted, there are three other teams that currently fall under that category this season, and they are all pretty good as well: The Clippers, Bucks and Nets. 

So, we have discussed how the Conley trade has benefited the Jazz. How about the Grizzlies, who received Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen, a 2019 first-round pick and a future first-rounder in the deal? 

Korver was immediately traded to Phoenix in a swap that brought back De'Anthony Melton, Memphis' best wing defender, and a 2020 second-round pick that turned into center Xavier Tillman, who has quickly emerged as a solid rotational piece as a rookie.

Crowder was later shipped to Miami, with capable veteran Gorgui Dieng and the still-injured Justise Winslow the return.

Last year's first-rounder was ultimately used on Brandon Clarke, one of only five players from the 2019 class to average 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game through his first season-plus.

All told, that is five viable contributors (Clarke, Allen, Dieng, Melton, Tillman) and a possible sixth if Winslow can ever get healthy. And Melton may have a chance to be something more than that if he continues to make strides with his still-developing shot.

And we have yet to mention the primary motive for moving Conley, which was to clear a path at the point guard spot for the electric Ja Morant. Though Memphis was able to go 4-4 in the eight games the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year missed with a sprained ankle earlier this season thanks to the enviable depth Kleiman has assembled, there is no question the Grizzlies are a more dangerous team with the 2019 No. 2 overall pick in the lineup.

Here are the numbers to back it up: The Grizzlies average 117.4 points with him, compared to 103.1 in his absence. Their field goal percentage (.479 compared to .451) and 3-point percentage (.381 compared to .331) are also unsurprisingly better, while the turnovers drop by just over one per game (13.5 with him, 14.9 without).

If the Grizzlies could maintain that points-per-game average throughout the season, they would rank third in the league behind only the power-laden Nets and Bucks. Combine it with their other strengths, an opportunistic defense that leads the NBA in steals per game and a rotation that boasts a league-high 11 players averaging 8.0 points or more (min. 50 percent of team’s games played), and it is no stretch to proclaim they will be a formidable playoff foe for any team should they get in – especially if budding star Jaren Jackson Jr. makes it back from the knee injury that has sidelined him all season thus far. 

Memphis are still not ready to realistically threaten the league's championship contenders, but there is a lot to like about this team going forward. The Grizzlies have one bona fide star in Morant, a potential second in Jackson and a young and promising supporting cast – most of whom are under contract for at least two more years. They are also set up to be flush in cap space and a potential dark horse player in free agency come the 2021 offseason.

The Grizzlies have the NBA's third-youngest roster, its youngest GM in Kleiman and third-youngest head coach in 36-year-old Taylor Jenkins. It looks like their rebuild is maturing beyond its years , too.

Related items

  • 'It's good to know what that feels like finally' – Stephen Curry thrilled by first NBA buzzer-beater 'It's good to know what that feels like finally' – Stephen Curry thrilled by first NBA buzzer-beater

    After 13 years in the NBA, Stephen Curry finally knows the exhilaration of hitting a buzzer-beater.

    He kicked out at a courtside chair in frustration at one point on Friday evening, but the two-time MVP saved a big shot for last, his stepback 20-footer giving the Golden State Warriors a 105-103 win over the Houston Rockets.

    Curry, whose shooting from the field has fallen short of his usual high standard this season, finished the game with 22 points and 12 assists, with the wobbling Warriors bouncing back from a sorry 121-117 overtime defeat to a depleted Indiana Pacers the previous night.

    In the Pacers game, Curry had scored 39 points, but against Houston he made just six of 21 shots from the field. Ultimately, it hardly mattered thanks to his last-ditch heroics.

    "It's good to know what that feels like finally," Curry said of his special moment. "We know we dropped a ball last night, and for 30 minutes or so this game was all over the place.

    "Throughout the course of the season you can go through different dry spells.

    "We're second in the West, and we're fine. We obviously know we've got to play better if we're going to win a championship. But there are different ways to lose basketball games and last night didn't set well with any of us.

    "We had a good talk in our pre-game meeting about what we needed to do. There's always that uneasiness of knowing what you've got to do and then going out and doing it and dealing with adversity in the game when you're trying to show up and trying to bounce back, and that's what tonight was."

     

    Curry spoke of an improved mentality from the Pacers game.

    "It reminds you to keep the big-picture perspective on what we're trying to do, realise what it takes to continue to try to win at this level," said 33-year-old Curry.

    "I liked the way we fought. Everyone contributed down the stretch leading up to the shot to give us a chance. We needed it, obviously. We've got to try to build on it and bring some joy back."

    Even as his radar appeared to be off, Curry never stopped going for his shots.

    "The worst thing you could do is shy away from that next opportunity," he said.

    "The fact I had a shot to win it was because everybody stayed locked in, stayed focused and competed. That's a great sign in terms of what we're trying to build on."

    His field-goal shooting is down at 42 per cent this season, by far the lowest of any year in his career, bar 2019-20 when he played just five times. Curry's career average is 47.2 per cent, and he knows he can improve.

    "Somebody told me my open shots were like six or seven per cent lower than they usually are. There's no reason other than you're just missing shots," Curry said. "I obsess over it, but I don't panic. If I did, I wouldn't be shooting as much as I am to try to get myself through it.

    "I know I've got to shoot the ball better, and I want to shoot it better, and I'm going to shoot it better. Everything else I feel pretty good about.

    "You want to be as efficient as possible, but you also want to win games, and whatever it takes to do that is the most important."

  • Doc Rivers fires back at reporter after 76ers collapse leads to coaching question Doc Rivers fires back at reporter after 76ers collapse leads to coaching question

    Doc Rivers gave a cold response when his coaching methods were questioned following the Philadelphia 76ers' loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

    The Sixers slipped to 26-19 after giving up a 24-point lead on Friday, with Reggie Jackson's 19 points, including two free throws with a little over 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter, securing a 102-101 victory for Los Angeles.

    The collapse drew comparisons with last season's Eastern Conference semifinals, when Philadelphia blew a 26-point advantage at home to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5. The Hawks went on to win the series 4-3.

    With the Clippers missing Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for Friday's game, the defeat led to increased frustration on social media among a fan base that has never wholly warmed to Rivers since he took charge in 2020.

    That the loss came against the team he spent seven years with from 2013, one sitting eighth in the East, only made matters worse.

    However, Rivers took exception to a question suggesting his coaching was to blame, arguing Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs would never be asked the same.

     

    "Would you ask Pop that question? No, you wouldn't," he said. "So don't ask me that question. I've earned that.

    "It's a game we should have won, and we didn't."

    Joel Embiid followed up his 50 points on Wednesday with 40 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but his efforts proved in vain.

    "We have a lot of guys out and that could contribute, but that's not an excuse," he said.

    "We've got to be better prepared. We got to know our assignments. We just got to be focused."

    Tobias Harris, who posted 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists, simply said: "Honestly, we just blew this one and we all know that in the locker room."

    The Sixers are at the Spurs on Sunday.

  • Does Derrick Henry's return matter for the Titans? Does Derrick Henry's return matter for the Titans?

    Despite claiming the number one seed in the AFC, there has not been much hype around the Tennessee Titans ahead of the start of their playoff campaign.

    After they each exploded for five-touchdown performances in the Wild Card Round, most of the attention on the AFC side of the postseason has focused on the rematch between Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Kansas City Chiefs counterpart Patrick Mahomes.

    Yet there is a 6ft 3in, 247-pound reason to pay attention to the Titans as they face Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in the Divisional Round.

    Running back Derrick Henry's season appeared to be over when he suffered a Jones fracture in his foot in the Titans' Week 8 clash with the Indianapolis Colts.

    But he was activated from injured reserve this week and is in line to make his return for the visit of the Bengals as the Titans look to reach the AFC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons.

    A two-time rushing champion, on the surface Henry's value to the Tennessee offense is obvious as an explosive powerhouse back who when healthy this season was threatening Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing yards record.

    However, with the Titans continuing to excel on the ground even after Henry's injury, it is fair to ask: how much does his return actually matter?

    A slight drop-off

    If you looked solely at the raw numbers, it would be easy to answer that question in the affirmative.

    Between Weeks 1 and 8, when Henry was on the field, the Titans were fourth in the NFL with 147.6 rushing yards per game.

    After he went down injured, that average dropped to 135.9 yards per game, though that was still good enough to put them sixth in the league.

    In other words, Henry was worth nearly 12 extra rushing yards - or one explosive run - a game to the Titans.

    But in the grand scheme of things, that is a negligible difference and the counting statistics point to Tennessee still possessing an elite rushing attack even without Henry.

    And a more granular look at the performance of Henry and the two backs that assumed the bulk of the workload in his absence, D'Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard, also suggests there was not much of a drop-off when he left the lineup.

    Henry low on power?

    Henry's fearsome reputation as the most overpowering running back in the NFL is one earned off the back of a string of highlight-reel runs comprising brute force and remarkable open-field speed for a man of his size.

    More than simply bouncing off defenders, Henry is a back who can run them over at will.

    That makes his numbers in terms of after-contact yardage this season extremely surprising.

    Henry averaged 1.87 yards after contact per attempt in the regular season, below the league average of 1.95, with Foreman (1.92) outperforming him.

    His average of 3.05 yards per rush attempt on carries where then was a run disruption by a defender was on the right side of the ledger. The league average in the regular season was 2.88 yards per carry.

    Yet his efforts in that regard were inferior to those of both Foreman and Hilliard. Foreman averaged 3.40 yards per attempt when faced with a run disruption and Hilliard went beyond that with 4.03 yards per carry in those situations.

    Their efficiency in that area is in part down to a smaller sample size, Henry carried the ball 219 times this season compared to 133 rush attempts for Foreman and 56 for Hilliard.

    Still, Foreman and Hilliard got enough run in his absence to indicate that they were actually superior to Henry when it came to turning potential negative plays into gains for Tennessee.

    In fact, Henry's most substantial contribution may not be what he does with the ball in his hands, but the influence the threat of him carrying it has on opposing defenses.

    A play-action asset

    He might not have been overly effective in gaining yards after contact in the regular season, however, it is obvious defenses still very much respect his ability to do so.

    Indeed, Henry was consistently faced by defenses who committed an extra man to the box. Among running backs with at least 100 carries, Henry was fifth in the NFL in percentage of snaps where the opponent had one more man in the defensive box than the offense had in its box.

    Per Stats Perform data, Henry encountered a 'bad box' on 58 per cent of his snaps compared to 48.2 per cent for Foreman. Additionally, on bad box plays where Henry was on the field, the Titans gained 6.05 yards per play but only 5.09 yards when he was off the field in those situations.

    And the Titans excelled at using their opponents' aggressiveness in committing to stopping Henry against them.

    The Titans sold the run to throw a pass on play-action or a quarterback bootleg on 25 per cent of their passing plays in the regular season, the second-highest rate in the NFL and well above the league average of 19 per cent.

    Without Henry, they averaged 7.06 yards per play on play-action and bootleg passes, below the league average of 8.1. With Henry on the field, that figure ballooned to a remarkable 9.94 yards per play.

    Henry's impact as a runner may be somewhat overstated, but his influence on the Titans' offense is not.

    As a player whose reputation precedes him, Henry's mere presence forces defenses to commit more men to the box and helps set up play-action passes on which the Titans averaged almost enough yardage for a first down on every such play when he was healthy in 2021.

    It remains to be seen how effective Henry can be after his lengthy spell on the sidelines, yet the numbers leave no doubt his return does matter. However, he is less important to what has been a consistent rushing attack than he is to a passing game that may need to go blow for blow with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to avoid a swift playoff exit.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.