A lot can be said about D’Angelo Russell’s time in Minnesota. Unlike he did, we’ll keep any displeasure we had to ourselves.
A day before the trade deadline veteran point guard Mike Conley arrived in Minneapolis alongside Nickeil Walker-Alexander and three second-round picks, while Russell headed back to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Conley brought supreme levels of professionalism and stability that were imperative in the team’s road to and throughout the playoffs.
The Offensive Fit
In 24 games with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Conley averaged 14 points and five assists per game. His 9.1% turnover percentage in those games ranked in the 93rd percentile, according to Cleaning The Glass.
His steady hand and orchestration is a seamless fit in an offense that features scorers in Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. Despite the very poor team offense we witnessed in the postseason, it was clear the Wolves had found an answer at point guard.
Kyle Anderson had been the Wolves’ safety blanket on offense, which he did a fine job at, but they needed another player to consistently act as glue on both sides of the ball.
Even in a Chris Finch offense with free-flowing roots, there was a sense of control that Conley had over the system. It had a similar feel to when Jordan McLaughlin was at his very best, but to a much higher degree, as Conley brought a significantly stronger scoring punch to the lineup.
Conley has been a good 3-point shooter his entire career, but he took his deep-range shooting to a new level shortly after touching down in the Twin Cities. In his stint with Minnesota he shot a blistering 42% from beyond the arc, which would’ve ranked No. 13 in the league had that been his season-long average. In the five playoff games, he shot just under 53%.
His scoring versatility was also invaluable, as he was content letting the offense come to him and getting his shots within the flow of the offense. That patience placed him within the 96th percentile for effective field goal percentage, as he finished with a mark of 58.5%.
When called upon, however, he was aggressive and made occasional shots off the dribble. It won’t be — and hasn’t been — a staple of his game going forward, but seeing that Conley’s still capable of some self creation is encouraging.
The Ohio State product not only brought consistency on the offensive end, but brought a level of two-way ability at the point guard spot Minnesota had been missing.
Even at 35 years old, Conley was frequently the player Finch selected to chase around other teams’ perimeter threats. In the regular season finale against Trey Murphy III, Conley contributed to bothering the Virginia standout with his defense.
Perhaps most importantly on that side of the ball, the 16-year veteran brought competent point-of-attack defense. Navigating screens and switches, perimeter handoffs, and isolation defense, Conley allowed the Timberwolves to stay in their defensive set longer instead of being forced scramble early in the possession.
The lineup of Conley, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert held opponents to 100.6 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, which ranks in the 93rd percentile, according to CleaningTheGlass. That mark was the highest of any Wolves five-man pairing that played more than 60 possessions together.
Even without McDaniels, we witnessed the Timberwolves’ half-court defense thrive in the playoffs. With Jaden returning from injury — and potentially Nickeil Alexander-Walker re-signing — Minnesota should continue to be stifling in the half-court (the same cannot be said for transition defense).
Locker Room/Veteran Presence
In dire need of another veteran, Tim Connelly and Co. went out and brought in one of the best. Conley was named the Twyman-Stokes Teammate of the Year in 2019, highlighting his ability to connect with teammates.
Mike Conley: "That's the kind of attention to detail you got to have. You can't just go home and play video games. This is the time to do a little extra work."— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 15, 2023
Karl-Anthony Towns: "We playing Call of Duty or what Mike?"
Conley: "Watch some film first." pic.twitter.com/Qyn8cPvLSk
The 2021 All-Star quickly had his Wolves teammates’ respect based on his reputation alone, but his impact soon became evident in the box score.
Conley had plenty of success during his time with the Memphis Grizzlies, reaching the playoffs seven years in row. The Grit N Grind squad made it to the second round in three of those seven years, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2013.
With the Utah Jazz, he made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons from 2020-2022.
The bottom line is that he’s a top-tier veteran who has a plethora of playoff experience, a critical aspect to the long-term development Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels. Finding a player like Conley that can contribute to winning now and also mentor the younger players is a terrific find, one that will surely get even better with a full offseason.