Free agency will be a close watch for the Miami Heat this off-season, even though there seems to be a certain expectation about a certain acquisition, Kyle Lowry. It’s a position of need, he has a close relationship with Jimmy Butler, and it gives Miami a positive boost for the upcoming season.
But what if it doesn’t happen?
Many are approaching it as a guarantee, but that’s a tough way to operate in this business oriented league. If we’re acting as if Lowry slipped through their hands this off-season, it feels like Mike Conley is next in line.
Labeling him as a back-up plan definitely sells his overall abilities short. He’s coming off a pretty great individual season, which was important after he had a rough go the season prior. And with the Miami Heat, that’s a crucial part of things.
I think they’ve had enough of these short-term trials, such as Victor Oladipo, where they’re going to invest a whole lot into a guy that has question marks next to him. Not only does Conley no longer have as many question marks, he’s most likely not a short-term, or cheap, option.
This is known when discussing these veteran point guards like him or Lowry, but it’s clearly going to be the team’s number one priority. So, if things don’t end up working out with Lowry, let’s take a dive into how Conley would look in the Miami Heat’s system.
Finding a Trusted PG
The Heat and Conley will most likely be looking for similar things this off-season. Miami looking for a trusted point guard and Conley looking for a structured organization. At this point of his career, it doesn’t feel like mentor-ship is where he’s heading, but a team looking for that extra push may be enticing.
We obviously know the position doesn’t have to be harped on, due to the Heat playing a new version of position-less basketball. It’s more about the things that position generally brings to an NBA offense.
Conley and unselfishness go together like Jimmy Butler and country music. When evaluating his game, it’s clear that his passing ability will always be utilized first. And well, that exact ability is what Butler and Bam Adebayo need to truly thrive.
When looking at the clips above, that point is seen further. He’s always one rotation ahead, which is just not a teachable tactic. Focusing on him running base offensive sets, we see him running the usual double drag, and the patience jumps off the screen.
After Paul George edges the screen, he splits the defense to get ahead of the play. In absolutely no rush, he lures Ivica Zubac away from the basket, and as soon as George makes his recovery leap, he feeds it inside to the rolling Rudy Gobert. It’s simple. It’s crisp. It’s Mike Conley.
The second clip above showcases the eyes that he draws with the ball in his hands, awaiting his decision on the side PnR. He avoids the Derrick Favors screen as both defenders are focused on him, ending in an easy bounce pass to the elbow for the jumper.
You may be thinking, that’s not a big deal. But it truly is considering that entry pass to Adebayo on the elbow has been missing all year. They need an alternative distributor, and Conley gives them that.
Using the Go-To
When thinking of Conley’s scoring skill-set over his career, his “go-to” immediately comes to mind since it just never changed: the floater. Right hand, left hand, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that he’s going to get to his lifting area against drop defense, and a good portion of those are going to fall.
The reason this is important to note following the previous topic of his passing clinic is that exact ability opens up the floater. Take a look at the clip above. You see him turn his head to take a quick glance of the floor. Is he looking at Donovan Mitchell to eliminate George’s help defense? Is he giving the rolling Gobert a side eye to feel out his placing?
That’s a yes to both of those questions, since it’s the entire package of Conley’s offensive build. As I mentioned earlier, he’s always one rotation ahead of the defense, and that’s what is displayed here.
In previous pieces, I’ve touched on the exact meaning of a downhill threat that the Heat so very much need. It doesn’t just mean a guy like Butler who’s going to give you a shoulder to the chin every single drive, but it’s actually about putting pressure on the rim in some fashion.
Conley’s floater does just that, since it has become one of those player-basketball move NBA staples. James Harden and his step-backs, Kyrie Irving and his crossovers, or Trae Young and his shimmies. A bunch of players have their “thing,” but Conley’s under-the-radar type of play doesn’t allow it to be broadcasted on a greater scale.
But trust me, every NBA player is aware of it before playing him following the scouting report read.
A Major Deep Ball Skill
In this league, it’s pretty obvious that every player I’m going to discuss will have a three-ball attached to their offensive game. (Yes, that was a sign that there will be no Ben Simmons/Heat pieces moving forward)
Stand still threes are pretty much a given for veteran guards like Conley, who shot 41% on spot-ups this past season. Plenty of off-ball reps put him in line for that type of number, but I’ll dive into that a bit deeper later on.
He has a distinct skill when talking about his three-ball, and it’s actually about the pull-up triple. Among players who took 200 pull-up threes this past season, Conley ranked number one at 41.5%. For a further breakdown, that is far from an easy thing to do.
The Heat shifted into a heavy high PnR team down the stretch of the season, and that is essentially Conley’s happy place. It’s not just about the trusted jumper, but to reiterate a previous point, the interior domination with a looming floater takes a toll on a defense.
Why is it not just about the jumper itself? Well, take a look at the play above.
As Gobert comes to set the screen, he gives Reggie Jackson a mean jab step to totally take him out of defending territory. That means he can effortlessly trot into the pull-up, putting even more stress on the defense.
While we continue to connect some dots about his game, the high pick and roll effectiveness refers back to his passing. When blitzing begins to happen, pocket passes and skip passes get thrown into the queue, and then you’re just playing on Conley time.
How good is that 41.5% stat on pull-up threes? Stephen Curry ranks right behind him at number two, recording a number of 40.9%. Yeah, it’s definitely special.
Sprinkling in Some Defense
Conley on the defensive end is a fluctuating topic, due to the specifics carrying the answer to him on that end. When switches happen, he can be taken advantage of, but so could almost every other small guard in the league.
He’s not the physical defender that Lowry has shown to be, but he definitely uses his high IQ to his advantage. Passing lanes, passing lanes, and more passing lanes. That’s where he makes his impact on the defensive end.
Such as the clip above, making sure to come over for the tag before sprinting upward for the steal, flowing into transition offense. That exact type of defensive rep is what the Heat missed.
Of course they had a bunch of guys who were capable of doing so as defensive minded players, but the issue was that there wasn’t much being contributed by them on the offensive end. They clearly need more two-way guys, but in much simpler terms, they just need guys who can survive on the opposite end of their strengths.
This type of play-style just feels like something the Heat would turn into something greater, even being 33 years old, due to the fact we’ve seen this story so many times with Miami.
Picking Your Poison
Finally, it forces defenses into picking their poison. There are a couple ways to evaluate this, but for starters, Conley has an answer for basically any defense that is thrown at him, which just comes from experience. Teams must choose if they’re going to blitz him when he’s hot, ICE him when the floater is falling, or drop when he’s just putting on a passing clinic.
Aside from that, it’s about Conley picking his poison between an on-ball controller or off-ball navigator. Why is that important? Well, because he’s capable of doing both of those things at a high level.
I’ve focused on a lot of on-ball stuff in this piece, but let’s look at one last example above. After looking at a ton of stuff with ball-screens, this one showcases his scoring in isolation. No screen, no problem.
Drives, stops, and fades. Another sequence of events that became a sticking point for him when getting into the teeth of the defense. That slight fade-away that you see on that jumper gives him such an advantage as the offensive player, forcing the defender to just contest as best as he can and live with the result.
He shot 45% on mid-range pull-ups this past season on only 2 attempts a game, which is pretty low for Conley, but I’m pretty confident that number would rise back up in a Heat uniform. Why did that number go down? Well, that leads me into my final point.
Playing next to a guy like Donovan Mitchell definitely means an off-ball role must be your thing at times. And clearly, that’ll need to be the case with the Heat.
Although I’ve highlighted a ton of positive things from Conley’s game, he wouldn’t be arriving in Miami to carry the entire offensive load. Either Adebayo must be in line for another big offensive leap, or the trade chips will be utilized to acquire a scorer to complement the other pieces.
If that was the case, Conley’s off-ball movement can be used freely, such as easy give-and-go’s off back cuts like shown above, or normal off-ball screens to set him up for easy spot-up opportunities. This topic is pretty similar to Lowry, since he was also forced into that type of role at times, and thrived in similar areas.
This wasn’t meant to be a Lowry vs Conley topic, but the point is that Conley as a back-up plan would not be a let down. For relationship sake and overall need, Lowry will be number one on the priority list in the near future, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Conley slid into that spot if things went south.
There isn’t just one need for this Heat team, but a trusted point guard can’t be passed up on when Pat Riley and others reach the decision making stage.
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