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How Should the Utah Jazz Handle the Mike Conley Situation?

| January 24, 2020 12:05 am PDT
Mike Conely and Quin Snyder With Jazz Logo

The Utah Jazz routed the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday in yet another impressive performance. The win took the Jazz to a 31-13 record, which is enough to secure them the 2nd seed in the Western Conference before their crunch matchup against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

The Jazz is certainly one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, but things looked very different just a few months ago. The team’s chemistry was not right, and they experienced frequent breakdowns, which cost them a lot of games.

On top of that, their prized summer acquisition Mike Conley went down with an injury at the start of December. Conley wasn’t exactly hitting his best form prior to the injury, but he was nevertheless a mainstay in the roster, and it was expected that a lengthy absence would hurt the Jazz even more.

The team did lose their first game without Conley to the Lakers but have since embarked on an amazing run that has completely transformed their season and has put them in the Championship conversation.

Conley has recently returned to the fold and is being eased into action by coach Snyder. He has featured in three games off the bench, and his overall performances have been positive. Clearly, this approach is a temporary measure until Conley gets back to full fitness.

However, once this happens, the Jazz has a big decision to make on how they want to go forward.

So should the Utah Jazz drop Mike Conley to the bench? Below, I share my thoughts on the Mike Conley situation and how I feel it should be resolved.

But before that, let us look at how the team surprised everyone by stringing together such an impressive run without their new core piece.

The Reasons Behind Utah’s Incredible Run

Utah’s success has been engaging to watch. I believe there are multiple reasons why they’ve been able to achieve as much as they have, and I dig into some of those reasons below.

The Main Pieces

It comes as no surprise that the biggest factor in Utah’s recent transformation has been the performances of their starters. The team boasted a scary roster when the season started but couldn’t quite get the best out of it early on.

We all know that Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are the main catalysts for this team. The two are All-Star level players and are heavily involved in everything the team does on both ends of the floor.

So, to put it simply, if they don’t produce, the Jazz don’t win. Now, I’m not saying that Gobert and Mitchell were terrible, but there were some notable downward trends in their game.

Gobert was still bossing the floor defensively on most nights, although he experienced a sizeable dip in the number of blocks he made early on. Considering that’s his forte and one of the main reasons he has won Defensive Player of the Year twice, it did look a bit concerning for the team.

As did his offensive displays. The center was once again efficient in setting screens, but he saw his free-throw percentage take a big slump. This is quite important when it comes to Gobert’s game, and opponents took full advantage of it by frequently fouling him.

There are other reasons for Gobert’s early struggles, such as the departure of Derrick Favors. Favors was someone who would take away some of the defensive load, and it took time for Rudy to form the same kind of partnership with Royce O’Neale.

For Donovan Mitchell, it was always going to be a big season. His partner and mentor Ricky Rubio left the team and was replaced by Mike Conley, another great playmaker, but someone who hogs the ball much more and, unlike Rubio, can shoot it.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the new backcourt duo, as they were expected to hit it off from the start. Conley would slot into the point guard position and pull the strings, while Donovan Mitchell would concentrate on his off-the-ball movement and attempting the right shots.

It did work to a certain extent. The Jazz was electric on some nights, but that didn’t translate to much winning. Mitchell’s shooting was inconsistent, while Conley posted his worst shooting and assist numbers in years.

It was still worth sticking with because of its enormous potential, but it was just not clicking for them.

When Conley went down, Mitchell took it upon himself to run the offense, and that resulted in a flurry of impressive performances. There had always been talk about whether Donovan Mitchell could be a point guard and a leader on the court.

Sure, the sample size is small, but if this run is anything to go by, I believe he has at least shown that he has real potential for that role.

If you look at his scoring numbers without Conley, they don’t actually differ all that much from previous seasons. However, Mitchell has shown unbelievable growth in his decision making and efficiency. Yes, he’s not scoring more points, but he’s getting the best out of his shots, and his assist numbers have soared.

This has also been aided by the improved shooting form of Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic. Both are excellent perimeter shooters but also started the season slowly. The Ingles bench experiment was a complete disaster, but getting him back to the starting lineup has reinvigorated the player.

Bogdanovic was actually one of the few players that worked well with Conley, but the point guard’s absence has not hurt his game too much. He is the second-highest scorer on the team and is still maintaining an outside shooting percentage of above 40.0%.

To sum it all up, during this stretch, the key players did exactly what was expected of them at the start of the season. They were rock-solid in the defensive department, excelled at the pick and roll, and the perimeter shooters provided the ammunition when needed.

The Bench Improvement

The Jazz doesn’t have the best bench in the NBA, and that’s putting it mildly. Although there have been some bright spots, like backup center Tony Bradley and forward Georges Niang, the role players have been largely unproductive.

That is why I believe the trade they pulled off right before Christmas is one of the best things their front office has done this season. Utah finally gave up on Dante Exum and traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Jordan Clarkson.

Although the Jazz had to give away two second-round picks as well, there are already signs that they have struck gold with the deal. Clarkson came into a team that had been rolling for a while, but that didn’t stop him from immediately getting into the groove.

The guard has so far averaged 14.4 points in 14 games and is shooting 33.3% from outside. I can’t remember the last time this team had such a prominent bench figure.

It will be up to the player to continue his good form, but his addition was another step forward for the franchise and one that will help both in the short and long term.

The Coach’s Persistence

We have to also give props to coach Quin Snyder here. Naturally, he was targeted when his star-studded team got off to a bad start, but he handled the situation brilliantly.

He stuck to his guns and never lost faith in his players. The Jazz has built up one of the most intricate and exciting playing styles in the NBA, and it would’ve been a shame to lose that to outside pressure.

Thankfully, Snyder did not entertain the idea at all and has been rewarded for that. There is still a long way to go and certain things to figure out, but it’s good to see this team’s identity is not something that will be easily dismissed in the face of adversity.

The Lenient Schedule

I have to say it. For all their amazing growth and improvement, the Jazz had an easy schedule during Conley’s absence. I’m not trying to take anything away from them, but it’s true. These runs require a certain rhythm and level of confidence to take off.

If the team had lost a few games when the injury happened, I’m not sure we would be looking at the same record right now.

It’s true that they managed to overcome the LA Clippers and a 32-point performance from Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, but the rest of their opponents were mainly teams below the .500 mark.

You don’t get to pick your schedule, but the Jazz definitely got a huge boost on that front, and credit to them for taking full advantage.

Mike Conley’s Situation

After dissecting the main reasons behind Utah’s recent rise, let’s get back to the main topic.

Mike Conley returned to the roster on January 18th after spending a month and a half on the sidelines. Due to the nature of the injury and perhaps the fact that the team is cruising, he only spent 15 minutes on the floor and managed just 3 points in his first game back.

He felt much more comfortable in the next match against the Indiana Pacers, where he was given 18 minutes in which he dropped 14 points and 2 assists.

Conley spent the same time on the floor against the Warriors, finishing with 8 points.

I wouldn’t make too much of these numbers. It’s clear that the player is still not 100% fit, and these outings were mostly about him getting his rhythm back.

But it must be a very strange situation for him.

During this whole NBA career, Mike Conley has been the key figure for his team. He spent 12 years at the Memphis Grizzlies and was the face of the franchise.

Now, he’s come into a better team, and his addition was supposed to make the Jazz a legitimate contender. However, he hasn’t been able to live up to that and has spent the last month and a half watching this team brush everyone aside without him.

Conley has never experienced anything like this, and these circumstances will provide a stern test for his strength of character and quality.

So, how should the Jazz play out this one?

The team is looking like a well-oiled machine, and all the starting pieces have found their niche. Gobert and Mitchell are playing like All-Stars, Ingles and Bogdanovic are firing on all cylinders, and Royce O’Neale has become a reliable defender and a great option for spacing the floor.

Should Quin Snyder abandon his winning formula once Conley is ready to start? If that is the case, who gets left out?

I am going to share my opinion on all this below.

What Should the Jazz Do With Conley?

First of all, despite his unconvincing start to life with Utah, Mike Conley remains an elite playmaker and a great scorer. His natural athleticism and endurance also allow him to be a great lock-down defender.

In fact, there are signs that the Jazz’s defense with Conley in the team is better. Getting his offense in tune with everyone else will take some time, but I expect it will get there.

Mike Conley is a rare breed. He has been one of the best point guards in the league for years but has never enjoyed the spotlight too much. He is a hard worker who gets his head down and does the job he’s being paid for.

Substituting the somewhat bleak Memphis environment with a hyped-up team was always going to be a challenge for the player. And his misfortunes so far have not been due to a lack of effort.

Conley is a model professional, and as such, he will be determined to put things right. I am convinced that he has used the time on the sidelines to take a step back and watch how his team clicks on the court.

Of course, actually producing during the games is a whole different matter, but the Jazz has a huge chance to maximize their potential right now.

The mood in the team is great, and they have built up a good cushion in the Western Conference. So, in my view, this is the perfect time to get Conley back in the side and give that arrangement the time it needs to start working.

I guess such a move will mean that Royce O’Neale and Joe Ingles will get less time on the court. In any case, I am prepared for a lot of different Utah Jazz lineups in the coming weeks. The coach has his pick from a lot of good shooters and some sturdy defenders, so I’m guessing he will act according to the opposition.

Sure, this may result in a few losses, and if that happens, there will be a lot of people questioning Snyder for changing a winning formula. However, if the Jazz wants to really compete, they have to understand that Mike Conley is the key.

They have played great without him, but this group has a ceiling, and I don’t currently see them as a legitimate challenger to the top teams in the postseason.

Conley is the guy who can bring the X-Factor. He is already doing it on defense, and he has proven that he can be elite on the offensive side for years. The team will not be hard-pressed to win every single game now, so they can afford to sacrifice a bit in order to integrate what could prove to be the difference between a good team and a title contender.

It won’t be easy, and it will probably be a lengthy process, but if Quin Snyder and the players can weather the potential storm, they may come out looking like the real deal just when it matters the most.

Final Words

How impressed have you been with the Jazz’s recent form, and what do you think their strategy with Mike Conley should be? I’ll be happy to read your thoughts on the subject, so make sure you leave a comment below.

And if you’re looking for more analysis on the NBA, you should regularly visit the sports section of our blog.

Elias Wagner

Elias Wagner has been a soccer fan since he was a young boy. He still has a huge passion for the sport itself as well as betting on it and writing about it.

Outside of soccer, Elias also enjoys other sports including basketball, tennis, and snooker. He's been writing for GamblingSites.com since 2018.

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