26. Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies
Conley is the patron saint of poise. Nothing a defense does can rattle him, in part because Conley has a great feel for which teammates offer him the simplest paths out of trouble and a robust assortment of dribble moves keep him agile. The ability to navigate the interior of a defense is contingent on ball control; to snake between defenders is to put a live dribble at risk, and Conley may have a better understanding than any guard in the league of how to control his dribble relative to encroaching defenders at every angle. Both hands, and thus both directions, are fair game at all times. Conley’s peers speak enviously of his ability to shoot a floater with either hand, knowing full well how that small distinction can throw the coverage off-balance. So much of what a defense does is rooted in expectation of where a player wants to go and what a team wants to do. Conley challenges that focus by changing directions, giving up the ball early, working from dribble hand-offs, and driving in a way that keeps his options open. It follows, then, that Conley is so effective in crunch-time situations—a point in the game at which a flexible style helps to withstand heightened defensive pressure. Take one thing away from Conley and he’ll transition smoothly to another. Little can be done to take away that freedom, thus leaving a skilled, smart point guard to his own devices. (Last year: No. 27)
+ Ranked lowest among point guards in true turnover percentage
+ A stifling perimeter defender when healthy
– Fought through injuries over the last few seasons
– Being a smaller guard takes its toll on screens, collisions, etc.