Being underrated is something that most NBA prospects go through at some point in their career, and that is the most important thing to realize about being underrated. Someone who is underrated is someone whose contributions to the game and their team are overlooked, either by their front office, their teammates or their fans.
There are tons of guys for whom the case can be made. Chris Bosh, at least leading into this season, had become supremely underrated. Luol Deng, for the duration of his career, has also been underrated. The case can be made for a few contributors on the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns.
But if there was one player I would single out for being underrated, it’s Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Bosh and Deng—the argument could be made—have spent the duration of their careers playing in the Eastern Conference where the compeitition hasn’t been as stiff as out West. And unlike the Hawks and Magic, behind Conley, the Grizzlies have found sustained success.
Since his rookie year in 2008, the Grizzlies have steadily become a force in the NBA, and his contributions are a major reason why. Over the past five years, Conley has averaged a very respectable 15 points, 6.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. He has shot about 45 percent from the field and 38 percent from the three-point line.
His numbers certainly are not “eye-popping,” by any standard, but his on-court contributions far surpass his per-game averages.
On the floor, Conley does not have an immediately discernible weakness. He takes great care of the ball and consistently finds teammates when they are in a position to be successful with the basketball. He has the ability to play the game at a breakneck pace or be slow and meticulous operating out of a half-court set. Defensively, though he does give up size and strength to some of the league’s bigger guards, he is a plus on the perimeter.
Best of all, behind him, the Grizzlies have won three playoff series over the past five years and are currently winning at the highest rate in team history. Despite injuries to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph over the years, and despite the coming and going of some talented players that included both Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo, it seems like since we began talking about the Grizzlies five years ago, we haven’t stopped and Conley is a major reason why.
This season, he is earning a shade less than $9 million, which is less than Jrue Holiday is currently being paid and less than what Kemba Walker will be paid when his extension kicks in.
Lost among the sea of uber-talented point guards in the NBA today is Conley, certainly evidenced both by the fact that he has never made an All-Star team and probably never will.
There are tons of ways in which one could define “underrated,” but few outside of Memphis understand and appreciate the contributions of Conley. To me, that suffices for choosing him.
– Moke Hamilton