The majority of the Utah Jazz’s roster has some sort of playoff experience. And most of the team’s core players — including Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles — have been part of the previous four postseasons.
But there’s no Jazz player on the 2020-21 iteration of the team more post-seasoned than Mike Conley.
In his career, Conley has played 61 playoff games. He’s played in three seven-game series. In 2011, he was on the No. 8-seed Memphis Grizzlies team that knocked of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round.
So when the Jazz start their playoff run, they’ll be anchored by a player who has seen almost every scenario possible.
“His experience in those games, in big games in a playoff setting — particularly in deep runs — is something that I think is valuable,” coach Quin Snyder said. “His leadership the entire season has been an important part of what we’ve done as a group and I think that continues to happen. In that setting, it’s even more important because he’s coming from a standpoint of experience.”
Conley missed several games down the stretch of the regular season with right hamstring tightness. But in his absence, his leadership still shone through. Forward Joe Ingles said Conley regularly communicated with him and Trent Forrest during games.
“He’ll come over in timeouts and tell us what he sees or feels,” Ingles said. “He’s usually 99.9% of the time right.”
So when the NBA’s “second season” begins, Ingles expects much of the same from Conley from a leadership standpoint.
“I have no doubt that his leadership will be the same as it’s always been,” Ingles said. “He’s always vocal. He’s always helping us out. So I think it’ll be seamless, his leadership.”
[Read more: Complete Utah Jazz playoff coverage]
The bulk of Conley’s playoff experience comes from his 12 seasons with the Grizzlies. Those “Grit and Grind” teams qualified for the postseason five straight years — from 2011 to 2015. The 2013 team made the Western Conference Finals as the fifth seed in the West.
Through all those high-pressure games, Conley has learned some valuable lessons, including that where a team finishes at the end of the regular season is largely irrelevant.
“No matter what your seed is, it doesn’t matter — you have to be able to refocus and re-lock in, and take it team by team, game by game,” Conley said. “Because it’s not promised that you’re gonna get to the next round no matter how good you did in the regular season or how much success you’ve had up to that point.”
Conley is having his best statistical season as a Jazzman so far. He’s averaging 16.4 points, 6.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He’s also shooting nearly 41% from the 3-point line.
In last year’s playoffs in the Orlando bubble, Conley was centimeters away from making a game-winning shot in Game 7 of the first round against the Denver Nuggets, who went on to the conference finals. In the final seconds, he called for the ball in transition — an indication that he wants the ball in big moments.
For the Jazz to reach their goal of an NBA championship this season, they’ll have to go through the likes of the Nuggets, L.A. Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers — just to name a few. Those teams have big-name players and multiple champions.
So it helps that the Jazz have someone in Conley who can be a calming voice on the court, on the sidelines and in the locker room.
“It’s a whole new season once the playoffs start, and we have to be thinking of it as that, and get our swagger back and get our motivations in the right place and get our goals right where they need to be so that we’re ready to go for this stretch run,” Conley said.