The Jazz traded for Mike Conley last June in hopes that he would make them a top contender in the Western Conference. Two months into the season and with Conley sidelined with injury, they have yet to get their money’s worth
While it is still too early in the NBA season to judge how a team will ultimately finish, the early returns on the Utah Jazz trade for Mike Conley this offseason have been a mixed bag. The Jazz acquired Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies this past June and gave up savvy veterans in Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver, a young project in Grayson Allen and a first-round draft pick in the 2019 draft that ultimately turned into Brandon Clarke out of Gonzaga.
The early buzz around the trade back in July hailed the Jazz as a dark horse Finals contender in the West, and on paper, this seemed logical. Mike Conley was brilliant in the pick and roll during his time in Memphis, and the Jazz surrounded him with players like Ed Davis and Bojan Bogdanovic who would seem to complement this facet of his game.
Haley O’Shaugnessy of the Ringer even lauded the team as “NBA Finals contenders,” even before the Jazz had played a minute of regular season basketball.
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This has not been the case, however. Utah has been one of the least efficient offenses in the league thus far (23rd in offensive efficiency according to TeamRankings.com). The saving grace for the Jazz has been adequate defense (11th in defensive efficiency), which has allowed them to keep games close and finish games against weaker teams.
Inconsistency on the road has also been a big storyline. The Jazz has been 9-3 so far at home, with wins over top teams like the Bucks, Clippers and the 76ers. They have been bad on the road though, going 5-8 so far and losing to teams like the Grizzlies, Thunder, and Kings. Conley’s play has been a large part of this.
It is difficult to say what the major difference is for Conley this season, whether it is the altitude playing in Utah, the offensive scheme or some other factor. Whatever the cause, he has struggled mightily. He is averaging 13.9 points, 4.6 assists and 0.7 steals per game this year, down from 21.1 points, 6.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game a year ago. His PIE (Player Impact Rating) has dropped from 15.1 in 2018-19 to 8.7 this year according to NBA.com.
With the trade deadline approaching, it would appear to make sense for the Jazz to try to make a move at a player to help out Conley in the pick and roll, but Conley’s contract has made it nearly impossible to do so. The Jazz went all-in on Conley to be the one that brings them over the hump, but the early returns on this gamble are not particularly impressive.
To make matters even worse, Conley suffered a strained hamstring against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 2 and has missed four straight games. While the season is still young and there is certainly time for Conley to get healthy and return to his 2018-19 form, the clock is ticking on this experiment. If the Jazz is bounced in the first round of the playoffs again, expect a shakeup in Salt Lake City.