Breathe easy, Utah Jazz fans: Mike Conley can (maybe) still play

This season, to say that Mike Conley has been a disappointment for Utah Jazz fans would be an understatement. On Friday night, however, against the Boston Celtics, Conley proved that he still has something meaningful to offer — fingers crossed.

Mike Conley is one cool-looking cat out on the basketball court.

Tattoos? Check. Shooting sleeve? Of course. Dreadlocks? You know it. Beard game? It took some time to fill in, but strong as you’ll ever see. And perhaps most impressive of all, in spite of playing for Gail Miller and the Utah Jazz, Conley still manages to confidently rock a headband.

But for as “chill” as Conley’s outward appearance might be, for the better part of the 2019-2020 NBA season, his play hasn’t warranted the $32.5 million owed him by the Jazz’s front office. In fact, from a statistical standpoint, Conley’s averaging career-lows in a number of key categories:

  • 13.9 points per game — Conley’s worst average scoring total in eight seasons.
  • 2.9 trips to the line per game — again, his worst output in eight years.
  • 40.9 percent shooting from the field — crazily, the worst output of his career.
  • All this in a mere 28.4 minutes per game — the lowest since his rookie season.

Not exactly stellar stuff, right?

On Friday night against Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics, all of that changed — well, for one game, at least. Sure, the Jazz took down the Celtics with a convincing 99-94 victory, but as far as the Salt Lake Valley is concerned, it’s the way that the Celtics were defeated that matters most.

First, you’ll need to gnaw on some quick context to fully digest this thing, peeps …

All season, the Jazz’s top scorers have been Donovan Mitchell (24.4 ppg) and Bojan Bogdanović (20.3 ppg). In spite of that, however, Mitchell went a tepid 3-for-15 from the field for 11 points.

Furthermore, Mitchell failed to score from the floor in the second half and only reached double-digit scoring, thanks to a pair of garbage-time free throws with nine seconds left in the game.

Things didn’t go much better for Bogey, either …

Come the final whistle, he’d gone 2-for-9 from the field and 1-for-5 from deep for eight points. To help further the warming of his inevitable seat next to coach Quin Snyder, Bogdanović also turned the ball over five times — a forgetful evening for the Croatian sharpshooter, for sure.

Even though the Celtics found themselves without Jalen Brown (hamstring strain) and Gordon Hayward (knee contusion), for the aforementioned reasons, the Jazz should’ve lost this game …

Conley had something to say about that, though.

Individually, this was by far Conley’s best game in a Jazz uniform. He finished the game with 25 points, five assists and three steals. Perhaps most impressive of all, however, was Conley’s three-point shooting (60 percent) last night — he alone splashed home 6-of-10 three-point attempts.

Conley’s play clearly had an impact on the Jazz’s second unit, as well.

Outside of Conley, the highest plus-minus value for a Jazz starter was Royce O’Neale at -17 — hard to believe, but true. Largely due to Conley’s ability to run Snyder’s offense without Mitchell and Rudy Gobert on the floor, the plus-minus values for each of the Jazz’s four key bench players was unreal …

Understandably, the person most relieved to see Conley finally have a breakout game for the Jazz is none other than Conley himself. As reported by Aaron Falk of UtahJazz.com, said Conley:

“I feel good, man. I feel really good. I’m in a great place. My teammates have been behind me this whole time. It’s been a frustrating road for all of us. They know how good I am. I know how good I am. I just have to sit back and let people say what they’re going to say until it starts to work. Finally, we’re turning a corner.”

Will Conley’s present level of play hold true for the remainder of the Jazz’s season?

It’s tough to say …

Over the course of the Jazz’s current four-game winning streak, he’s leading all Jazz starters in average plus-minus value (+9.6), while also contributing super meaningful minutes to one of the league’s most potent offensive lineups: Conley, Mitchell, O’Neale, Bogdanović and Gobert.

To date, Conley has played in a grand total of 39 games for the Jazz — only one of those would likely qualify as  “memorable,” and you saw it last night with your own two eyes. Recency bias is a real thing, so Jazz fans would be wise to not fully discredit his 38 games of mediocre play.

Next: Jazz great in spurts, need to be better throughout

Still, if you’re looking for something to get excited about, this could be it. Conley is (maybe) back.

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