clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Playoff Implications Acquiring Mike Conley and Moving D’Angelo Russell

Losing a scoring threat like Russell hurts, but with the emergence of Anthony Edwards and eventual return of Karl-Anthony Towns theoretically make up for the loss.

Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

After a win against trade partner Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves now sit at No. 8 in the Western Conference standings.

Where they finish the season is anyone’s guess, but their acquisition of Mike Conley from the Jazz has a profound impact on their playoff hopes. It’s a significant change at the starting point guard spot, one that provides the Wolves consistency and veteran leadership and takes away remarkable microwave scoring.

Utah Jazz v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Offensive Impact

Legitimately anything that happens with the Minnesota Timberwolves begs the question, “how does this affect Anthony Edwards?”

Well, the offensive impact — and overall impact — of the Conley acquisition for the budding superstar guard is relatively simple.

Edwards ranks No. 15 in the NBA in usage rate in 2022-23, which has included him taking the reins of the offense as both a ball handler and top scoring option. This team has needed a floor general-esque player for months, as the roster lacks someone who can truly run an offensive scheme.

That’s where Conley comes in, as 16 seasons in the NBA has seen him in multiple scenarios as a true orchestrator. This season he ranks in the 95th percentile in assist to usage ratio and 76th percentile in assist percentage, according to Cleaning the Glass.

The 2020-21 All-Star has the ability to play on or off the ball, allowing Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch to let Ant cook or run more structured sets, like the Rudy Gobert-Mike Conley pick-and-roll that was so successful in Utah.

Although it likely won’t be the main crux of Minnesota’s offense, being able to right the ship with a few possessions of high-level pick-and-roll between two veterans will be a nice safety valve when it matters most in the playoffs.

It’s a tremendous luxury, and while there’s no guarantee the set will be as successful as it once was, it will allow two smart veterans to make defenses uncomfortable by simply utilizing their NBA experience.

The Memphis Grizzlies’ all-time scoring leader is getting up 25% of his shots from the short midrange this season, which is anywhere from four to 14 feet from the basket, according to Cleaning the Glass. Conley has a runner/floater that Russell does not, which is a key asset in further weaponizing the Gobert-Conley pick-and-roll.

And in the case that this set isn’t as effective as hoped, Conley can play off the ball while spacing the floor as Edwards runs the show. As an 87th percentile catch-and-shoot player in 2023 — shooting 59% on corner 3s — Conley is a bit of a chameleon that can acclimate into any offense, yet another valuable trait come playoff time.

The fit with Conley should be simpler than it was with Russell, allowing Edwards to be the go-to scorer and main weapon in the offense. Conley is a high-level complimentary piece, with a much-needed addition of 16-year veteran experience. The Ohio State alum has made the playoffs in nine of those 16 seasons, a desperate injection of playoff minutes to a team short on postseason experience. Having a point guard that understands how the game changes in April/May will provide a crucial sense of stability.

Dallas Mavericks v Utah Jazz Photo by Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images

Defensive Impact

Having multiple high-level scoring threats is important come playoff time, meaning the Conley-Russell swap is a downgrade in that sense.

However, there’s a more important aspect of playoff basketball in play here.

It’s harder to hide poor defenders is April/May than it is in February.

The 6-foot-1 Conley certainly isn’t a physical on-ball presence, but has the knowledge and savvy to help make up for the 35-year-old’s physical limitations.

Conley was named NBA All-Defensive Second Team honors in 2013, and although not necessarily a standout resume feature, it signals that he’s been a solid defender.

Point of attack defense has been lacking this season, and in the playoffs the Wolves will need more than Austin Rivers and Jaden McDaniels on the perimeter.

Having a competent first line of defense allows the rest of the defense to operate as they’re suppose to.

Locker Room Impact

Perhaps the most import impact of all, the No. 4 overall pick in 2007 is regarded as one of the best teammates in the league. Conley won the 2019 Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year, “recognizing the player deemed the best teammate based on selfless play, on- and off-court leadership as a mentor and role model to other NBA players, and commitment and dedication to team,” per Wolves PR.

At times it seems this Wolves roster is just one veteran voice away from allowing the current veterans to step into a more comfortable secondary-leader voice, with Kyle Anderson (29 years old), Taurean Prince (28 years old) and/or Austin Rivers (30 years old) being forced into the role of sole leader(s). Conley can absorb the “veteran presence” immediately, and paired with 74 games of playoff experience, can mentor the young group in the postseason.

Investing in Anthony Edwards’ future is critical, and acquiring Mike Conley will certainly be beneficial in his development. If this team wants to be in the playoffs every year, Edwards will need continued guidance on how to keep getting better in the postseason.

Throwing everything else to the side, knowing Conley will have a positive impact on Edwards is enough to get excited about this trade.