Gordon Monson: Welcome back, Mike Conley

Utah Jazz fans are finally getting to see ‘Memphis Mike’ in the point guard’s hot start to the season

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley (10) passes the ball, defended by Minnesota Timberwolves forward Juancho Hernangomez (41) as the Utah Jazz host the Minnesota Timberwolves, NBA basketball in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020.

Coming off a performance — 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists — against OKC that fell that one tick shy of his first career triple-double, Mike Conley at long last has done what so many around here have been waiting for him to do — be Mike Conley again.

You’d think that would be easy — be you, Mike, right? Not Milt Palacio — but for all the reasons everybody’s pointed out about a thousand times, be they excuses or explanations, Conley has struggled over stretches to be himself.

Not anymore.

He’s … him.

Fully acclimated. Wholly adjusted.

“He made plays,” Quin Snyder said of his showing in the one-point win at Oklahoma City. “He made great decisions. … He did a lot of things real well. His poise on the offensive end really helped us.”

Help is what the Jazz have always needed from Conley.

“I wanted to come out and put my stamp on the game as best I can, play my role to the best of my ability,” Conley said.

There was considerable excitement when the vet first joined the Jazz prior to last season for a double-blast of reasons — he had an extended track record of being good and the Jazz needed a talented point guard who could shoot. There had been too many nights in previous seasons where opposing defenses had dropped away from crowding that position, confident that whoever manned it couldn’t consistently knock down perimeter attempts.

And since spacing is so important in Snyder’s preferred attack, that last bit was a problem, trouble Conley was supposed to address. It was an expensive proposed solution, the guard making in excess of $32.5 million per, this season getting $34.5 million, but one that was deemed worth it.


At Vivint Smart Home Arena

When • Thursday, 7 p.m.


In his 12 years in Memphis, Conley had played in 788 games, averaging just shy of 15 points and six assists. In his last three seasons with the Grizzlies, he put up 20.5 points, 17.1 and 21.1, along with 6.3, 4.1, and 6.4 assists. Those middle figures were skewed because of injury that limited him to just 12 games.

Conley had not only helped Memphis from the standpoint of competition, on account of his warm, agreeable, gregarious demeanor he had become an icon in that community, donating to good causes, local hospitals and such, and earning the Lady Byng Trophy, or whatever the NBA’s version of that long-honored NHL award is called — a combination of the Sportsmanship Award and the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year Award.

Dude’s a good guy.

But on the court, soon after his arrival here, he was not good.

He was the worst thing a point guard can be for a team, a team in need of a steady rudder — inconsistent. The same player who had been as comfortable as a Barcalounger in Memphis suddenly looked like a bed of nails in Utah.

Uncertain, indecisive, herky-jerky.

In his first game with the Jazz, he made one of 16 shots. Over the next three, he hit eight of 29, including an oh-fer one night. That was just the beginning. He did have games in which he’d suddenly go off, but that almost made it worse because, as mentioned, his teammates didn’t know what they could count on, the exact opposite of what they expected from their old quarterback, their most experienced guy.

After a while, injuries set in, interrupting the so-called adjustment period, and observers really wondered how long the Jazz would want to slap that kind of money down on the barrel for such a spotty reward.

Conley came along near the end of the season, fractured as that campaign was, averaging 18 points and five assists in the regular-season bubble, and he sustained that solid play, interrupted as it was by the birth of a child, in the postseason with a 20-point, 5-assist average.

So far this season, in three games: 19.3 points, five assists and 6.3 rebounds.

There were stretches in Monday night’s tight win over the Thunder when Conley appeared to be the only Jazz player who could be relied upon to take and make a decent shot, all as he attempted to set up teammates for the same.

“Gritty,” was the word Snyder settled on to describe Conley’s performance.

“[I wanted to] help these guys out,” the point guard said, “and get it done.”

Welcome back, Mike Conley.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone, which is owned by the parent company that owns the Utah Jazz.