Two predictions here, right off the top.
After that, maybe you can come up with your own.
Mike Conley will have the best season of his long NBA career this coming year with the Jazz. And because he’ll have his best season, Donovan Mitchell will have his best, too. Maybe not statistically in either case, but in overall efficiency and effect on the team.
That’s a lot to say, given that those two have never played together, and it typically takes time for new teammates to jell, to understand one another’s preferences and nuances. But such is the heavy impact the new point guard will have on Mitchell and on the Jazz, as a whole.
Initial impressions of Conley are … well, impressive. That impressive.
The first favorable glimpses he’d offered between the day he was traded to the Jazz from Memphis and now were substantiated further as he answered a couple handfuls of questions during an interview on my radio show with Jake Scott on Wednesday.
And … man, if he is what he seems to be, the aforementioned declaratives will be realized. The Jazz will benefit from his presence, blowing past just his talents, the physical, straight to his leadership, the mental, and his locker room effect, the social, and, more than that, his character, the principle. His principles.
Asked to describe himself, the kind of leader and teammate he is and to address winning NBA teammate of the year awards, Conley said:
“It’s a unique situation when I win those awards, it’s weird because I’m winning them for kind of being myself. I don’t know how to do anything different. I think from what I get from my teammates is they understand that I’m completely genuine and honest in everything I do. I’m all about working, all about getting better, I’m not above anybody. I just constantly go out there and try to show it everyday in practice. I think they see that I lead by example and that I’m not just talking the talk, and I kind of walk at the same time.”
He expounded on how he can help Mitchell improve, and how Mitchell, in turn, can help him:
“You don’t run across a talent like Donovan very often in this league. That’s going to be exciting to take that part in, just knowing how much I can help him — from a playmaking standpoint, of being a combo guard that he can be, his ability to score the ball so well. I think everything will be easier with another ball handler in the mix, another guy who can create shots and opportunities for him at a higher clip to where he’s not having to do so much. I’m really just trying to make sure that he understands that I’m trying to make him the best player he can be and we’re going to be the best team we can be when he’s playing well.”
Before Conley’s arrival, last season, Mitchell often was counted on to do too much, for good reason. There was nowhere else to turn at the offensive end. He was given the ball in crucial minutes, and, at times, was surrounded by opposing defenses. Now, as Conley said, he can relieve that pressure, creating alongside, hitting shots that previously could not be created and hit by the Jazz. Conley will open lanes for Mitchell, lanes that last season did not exist.
Conley also gave words to his new relationship with Quin Snyder, a coach from which he, even as a veteran, can learn.
“He’s been very open and candid with everything we’ve talked about. He’s definitely, his mind is always on basketball, he’s constantly texting and checking in and throwing different ideas out there and always trying to meet up and figure out when the next time is that we can spend some time together and go over some ideas. I’m excited for that relationship, excited to learn, there’s so much more I can learn from him.”
Conley characterized his first feelings about Utah and the Jazz organization.
“I’ve been blown away. I couldn’t be happier with the situation. The organization has been so welcoming. Salt Lake has been welcoming to me and my family. It’s just an exciting time for my family and [me], and for the Jazz organization. They’ve got a great roster in place and to know I’ll be coming into that in a season coming where everything will be wide open. It’s exciting.”
He explained why he is such a good fit with his new team.
“Deep down I’m just a winner. By my DNA, the things I do are not for the cameras or not for likes on Twitter. I just want to win. I’ll do and sacrifice and play whatever role I have to do to do that. Everything that goes into that is who I am. Being unselfish, both ends of the [floor], understanding the pace of play, understanding how to get to spots, getting the ball to people where they can be most effective, being a student of the game, high IQ plays, just being alert at all times is who I am.”
Of Jazz fans, he said: “The fanbase is unbelievable.”
As for his personal life, Conley classified it as “pretty simple.”
“I got two little boys, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. My wife, Mary, she’ll be along for the ride with me, as well. She does a lot of blogging. She’s really in the community and does a lot of things, volunteer work down in Memphis. I’m sure she’ll be doing the same in Salt Lake.”
He also made it known that he’s “addicted” to golf, sporting a 7-handicap. He’s a decent bowler, too, owning two personalized balls. On most nights, he rolls a score of around 200.
And, most significantly, he explained how he can help transform the Jazz from what they’ve already been, good, to what they can become, great.
“It’s just that mentality that a lot of the guys have had some experience in the playoffs in big moments, I’ve had a lot of experience in those moments. … My mentality is a little bit old-school in a sense; I’m very hard on myself. I demand a lot of myself and also out of my teammates. I might not be the guy who’s going to yell at you, get in your ear every second of the day, but they’ll know the kind of vibe I bring to a team, that’s a winning mentality. Hopefully that rubs off on every single person on the team and effects us in a way that allows us to be contending or competing at the highest level come playoff time.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.