• The Western Conference runs deep with plausible All-Stars, but one of the more deserving candidates among them is Memphis' Mike Conley – a talented two-way guard doing it all for the Grizzlies this season. Aaron McGuire lays out the case for Conley in full over at Gothic Ginobili, from the team's admirable success through injury to the remarkable caliber of Conley's individual performance:
The load on Conley's back this season has been -- quite simply -- absurd. In a recent contest, Conley scored or assisted on 23 points of the Grizzlies' 31 in the fourth quarter of a close Memphis win. This isn't particularly rare. Conley is averaging his highest usage rate of his career by a large margin, and -- unusually -- is coupling that with his highest effective field goal percentage as well (50.6%, above his former sophomore-year high of 50.3% and well above his shooting in recent vintages). But usage rate doesn't fully account for things like free throws made off of Conley passes -- one of the neat little things one can find in sifting through the new SportVU data is a better sense of "true" usage for high-touch point guards. In Conley's case, he's producing 14.6 points per game off his assists directly. He also sets up one trip to the line per game, and is the secondary-assist producer on two made shots a night.
• Gary Payton has turned into a grumpy, grumbling, factually inaccurate old man.
• Hoop Dreams, revisited.
• Tom Thibodeau receives (and deserves) ample credit for the collective pluck of his injury-deprived teams, but in the process, players like Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson may not be getting their due. Rick O'Donnell looks to remedy that in a piece for Blog-a-Bull:
Noah and Gibson have been a devastating wall of defense at the rim for years, but what they're doing this season feels particularly inspired. You couldn't blame either if they felt like it just wasn't worth it this year, exuding every fiber in their body to keep the opposing team from putting the ball in the basket when the opposite end of the floor is such a struggle for Chicago. But there is no quit in either player, and the result has been a Bulls team that can overcome awful guard play and a nightly avalanche of injuries to at least keep things interesting. There's value in that when it comes to the NBA's marathon 82-game season.
Follow through to read the piece in full, particularly the bits about Gibson -- a notably underrated player having a great year.
• Read through this detailed look on the ways that Al Horford's absence is pinching Atlanta's once-solid offense.
• Tom Ziller tackles the broken logic behind calls for the Clippers to trade Blake Griffin:
The case for Griffin over any of [the other elite forwards] is not "dunks and star power;" it's his rare combination of offensive efficiency, rebounding prowess and, it would seem, ability to be a good teammate who doesn't complain about his situation. (That's something that at least Love cannot claim right now, as fair as his complaints may be.) That doesn't mean that Love or Aldridge isn't better than Griffin. It just means that simplifying the case to "dunks and star power" betrays reality and confuses the argument.
Even if Griffin and Jordan turn out not to be a match, why trade Griffin? You can find a home for Jordan. You may not get much back, but shot-blocking centers -- even at high price points -- always have some value. If you have a star and role player who don't work together, why would you focus on trading the star? Who exactly are you building around here ... Griffin or Jordan?
Brilliant down to the last details -- the double bow, the near-mistake, the sip of water. Bravo. • Former NBA player Javaris Crittenton made another life-altering mistake, the latest in a worrisome pattern. (via Tzvi Twersky)