Mike Conley is the most overshadowed star in the NBA. Greg Oden was his co-star from the age of 12 to 19. They played AAU ball together. After playing high school ball in Indiana, they would continue on to Ohio State. They led the Buckeyes to the NCAA Tournament Final in 2007.
But throughout, Oden was the future superstar.
Oden infamously went first overall in the 2007 draft. He was selected over future superstar Kevin Durant. Al Horford, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol were also part of that draft class. Conley and Gasol both joined the Grizzlies, rising to dominance in the 2010s. And yet, their greatest playoff run ended with a loss to the Spurs in 2013 Western Conference finals.
You can make the case that Mike Conley is the best player to have not participated in the All-Star game. But at the same time, he isn’t a snub. He is just very unlucky. He plays during an era where the point guard has become the primary scorer.
Guys like Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and James Harden have taken the league by storm. Conley’s prime has coincided with these superstars and he does not match up on the scoresheet.
When Conley first entered the league, he had to compete with Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Chris Paul. He also had to share the court with Marc Gasol, thus never quite making it out of Oden’s shadow before stepping into a new one.
Oden and Gasol were both featured more than Conley. They were the better players, but Conley has never had a chance to shine on his own. Other guards like Paul, Harden and Westbrook all had opportunities to do it by themselves and put up superstar numbers.
Gasol is older than Conley and had experience playing in Europe before arriving in 2008. The center became the focal point of the offense and was an amazing defender. However, the number of dominant centers has dwindled since the 80s and 90s. Dwight Howard was the only other superstar center in the league. Shaquille O’Neal, Vlade Divac, Jermaine O’Neal, and Yao Ming were well past their primes. Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas were also on the way out.
Conley’s competition and teammates have kept the spotlight away. Memphis doesn’t receive the same attention as New York, Texas, Florida or California teams do. Memphis has had three All-Stars — Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol, and Zach Randolph — who have made a combined six appearances during All-Star weekend.
Conley may just be an above-average guard. Maybe he was born in the wrong era. However, his time might still be coming. Gasol is unhappy, older and coming off a disappointing season. Conley, however, is reportedly healthy and did have the best season of his career two years ago — putting up over 20 points per game for the first time. He set a career-best mark in field goal percentage while every other stat was up from the previous year.
Conley is unselfish, tough and versatile, improving almost every year since he entered the league. Injuries have tarnished his productive career, but he has come back each time. And that’s why another solid year is on the cards for Conley. He’ll have to stay healthy, but if he does he will be the leader for a new core.
Time may be running out, though, and he may never make the All-Star game or the playoffs again. But there is something to be said for keeping up with the elite guards of this era. He is a star and a successful basketball player who has given everything to the city of Memphis.