On Sunday afternoon I was parsing through some of Mike Conley’s stats, getting ready to write a column, in which I would implore Utah Jazz fans and Conley himself to not be disappointed if he’s not named an NBA All-Star on Tuesday when the reserves are announced.
After all, the competition in the West to make an All-Star team is deep. The Jazz are playing amazing basketball and if he isn’t named an All-Star it wouldn’t take away from what the Jazz are doing and it doesn’t mean that he isn’t deserving.
But, the more I thought about it, the more I thought, that’s ridiculous.
If Conley doesn’t make the All-Star team this season he should absolutely be disappointed and Jazz fans would be completely justified in their anger.
“If it’s not going to happen this year, man, that’ll be tough,” Conley said on Friday night.
Yeah, that would be really tough.
Conley has been one of the most impactful and efficient players in the league this year. He’s led the league in total plus-minus through most of the season, only to be supplanted by teammate Rudy Gobert after Conley missed six straight games.
The Jazz — the winningest team in the NBA and top team in the West — did not have a single player named as an All-Star starter. Fine. That’s the way it played out and there’s nothing to do about it.
The starters are voted on by the fans, media and players with 50% of the weighted vote going to the fans. It’s pretty much a popularity contest. But it’s the coaches that decide the reserves, and they should know better than most who is deserving of the honor.
We’d all be lying to ourselves if we said that narrative doesn’t play a part in All-Star selection.
LeBron James is wowing in his 18th season, Stephen Curry is fighting to give the Warriors a chance at a playoff spot despite the injury plague in Golden State. Both are playing at MVP worthy levels. The other West starters are Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard and Luke Doncic.
Jokic and Leonard make sense to most people, but this was set up to be an MVP season for Doncic. It’s not that he hasn’t played well and isn’t deserving. But he’s definitely underwhelmed and the Dallas Mavericks are currently 10th in the West. And Conley might not make the team?
It seems like the consensus choices for the backcourt reserves are Damian Lillard and Donovan Mitchell. But, there are also two wild-card spots that have to be filled. The names most often brought up for those are Devin Booker, Chris Paul, De’Aaron Fox and DeMar DeRozan.
Paul George is probably going to be one of the frontcourt reserves and he’s missed 10 games this season, so any argument about the time Conley missed should be thrown out the window.
There’s a really strong argument to be made for Booker making the team this season, though if it’s between Booker and Conley I would again point to the Jazz record, and the fact that Booker has a long career ahead of him and will likely make many more All-Star teams in the future.
Paul is a 10-time All-Star, he’s been there. Fox is playing well but he’s not nearly as efficient as Conley and the Sacramento Kings are 12th in the West. There’s also a good case for DeRozan, but he’s also a four-time All-Star who is playing at a pretty consistent level compared to his other seasons.
Conley has been one of the league’s most consistent and respected players during his 14-year career and he’s having arguably his best season and doing it with the team in the league with the best record. If not now, when? If Conley isn’t deserving of being an All-Star this season, what are we even judging? What is the message we’re sending to players who rise above adversity and exceed expectations?
Many who watched Conley struggle through the 2019-20 season had all but written him off as a washed veteran and then he completely flipped the script. He was outstanding in the NBA’s Orlando bubble and has come back this season looking like ... what‘s the word? Oh yeah, an All-Star.
“That would mean the world to me honestly,” he said. “It would say a lot about me as a person after the year I had last year to come back and compete at the level I’ve competed at. And I do feel like I’ve played well enough to be in that conversation and to, quite frankly, be one of those reserves.”
I’m not trying to say that those other players don’t deserve consideration. We’re talking about the best players in the NBA, of course they deserve consideration. But do we really want to look back on Conley’s career and say that he was one of the best players that never made an All-Star team? That’s not a compliment, it’s disrespectful.
“I’d rather kind of ditch that label,” Conley said.
We should all want that label to be taken away from Conley. A much better label would be, All-Star Mike Conley. That’s what he deserves.