Mike Conley is tired of being the answer to a trivia question: “Which active NBA player has had the best career without being named an All-Star?”
“I’d rather ditch that label, you know?” Conley said.
It’s true. In fact, after his next game, Conley will likely enter the top 10 of all time in terms of careers without an All-Star trip — relatively early on in his career to be doing so. Sam Perkins is No. 1 on that list, followed by Jason Terry and former Ute Andre Miller. All three spent at least 17 years in the league.
Or it could go the other way: After his next game, Conley could leave the list entirely. That’s because the All-Star reserves will be announced on Tuesday night, which is when Conley will learn if the Western Conference coaches decide to reward his stellar play this season with an All-Star nomination.
“That would mean the world to me, obviously,” Conley said.
“It would say a lot about me as a person after the year I had last year, to come back and compete at the level I competed at. I do feel like I’ve played well enough to be in that conversation and to quite frankly be one of those reserves,” he asserted. “I think that this year, everything is falling into place: We have the best record and we’ve got our coach coaching the West team.
“So it’s all falling in line,” Conley finished. “If it’s not going to happen this year, man, that’ll be tough.”
JAZZ VS. HORNETS
At Vivint Smart Home Arena
When • Monday, 7 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
Conley’s box-score numbers don’t jump off the page: only 16.5 points per game, 5.6 assists per contest, albeit some highly efficient shooting percentages. But what does stand out is his impact on the scoreboard when he’s on the court: When Conley’s on the floor, the Jazz outscore teams by 16.4 points per 100 possessions. His plus-minus is the second-best in the league behind only teammate Rudy Gobert, and the pair’s dominance on the court together has been perhaps the biggest explanation for Utah’s success.
“I’m doing it my way. Not trying to score 40 points a game, not trying to take 20 shots,” Conley said. “I’m doing in the way that I know how — I can affect the game, and play the game and be unselfish and be efficient and play defense. You know, be the two-way player I’ve always been.”
Conley’s competition is a very talented group of Western Conference guards. Teammate Donovan Mitchell is at the top of the list — will the coaches value Mitchell’s higher scoring totals or Conley’s efficiency more? They may choose to send Mitchell to his second consecutive contest.
Beyond Mitchell, Phoenix’s rise up the West means that Chris Paul and Devin Booker are sure to be considered by the coaches, though they may split votes to some extent. San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan is doing his thing once again for the Spurs, while Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox is having his best season yet, albeit on a team that isn’t making much noise. Denver’s Jamal Murray had a slow start to the season, but is making more noise recently — he just had perhaps the most efficient 50-point game of all time.
But Conley’s teammates still think he should beat out the competition.
“I definitely think he deserves to be an All-Star this year, the way he’s been playing,” Derrick Favors said. “We’ve got the best record in the NBA, and he’s been having an All-Star caliber year. So I definitely think he deserves it more than anybody.”
Also impacting the story is Conley’s hamstring injury, which caused him to miss six games. Conley has played in 24 games total, slightly fewer than Mitchell (28), Paul (28), Booker (25), DeRozan (25), Fox (28) and Murray (27).
The good news on that front is that Conley called his absence a largely precautionary one — the tightness he felt was significantly less than the hamstring injury that cost him around a month of last season.
“It was very, very, very mild. It was not bad at all,” Conley said. “It was sore here and there but, we just took some time, took a week or so to really work on strengthening it, and other parts of my body to try to help equal out the tension down there. ... As much as I wanted to play, we had to listen to the experts. And they know what they’re doing.”
The Jazz were able to continue their winning streak in Conley’s absence, though Mitchell said the team missed him more than their record showed.
“We missed his presence for sure,” Mitchell said. “We missed his game, his play.”
And, without being asked about Conley’s All-Star status, Mitchell made a plea to the Western Conference’s coaches.
“In my opinion, he should be an All-Star. I’m hoping he is. I’m praying he is.”