Player Capsules 2012, #304-306: Mike Conley, Chauncey Billups, Shannon Brown

As our summer mainstay, Aaron was writing a 370-part series discussing almost every notable player who was -- as of last season -- getting minutes in the NBA. As the summer dies down and the leaves turn, this quixotic quest of a series has happily reached the last third. But it's certainly not done yet! Today we continue with Mike Conley, Chauncey Billups, and Shannon Brown.

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Follow Mike Conley on Twitter at @mconley11.

When you list off elite point guards, Mike Conley doesn't always come to mind. There's the usual suspects. You think of Chris Paul, because as Gregg Popovich might say, "he's Chris Paul." You think of Derrick Rose and the Chicago offense's single-minded dependence on him. You think of Steve Nash and his historic offensive achievements. You think of Rajon Rondo and his enigmatic command of the floor. You think of Russell Westbrook and his obscene takeovers. Tony Parker and his cubist post play. Deron Williams and his scoring acumen. Kyrie Irving and his blitzing attack. Stephen Curry's quiet brilliance. Et cetera, et cetera. You don't tend to think of Mike Conley's contributions and think him worthy of inclusion on that list. He's good, but not quite elite. Or so the story goes.

Well, honestly? At this point? He's right about there.

I've never been his biggest fan, but watching him more last year finally converted me. Conley is elite, or at the very least tantalizingly close to it. He's an extremely good three point shooter who has always put in some incredible work on that end. Consider how poor the Grizzlies were at making three point shots last year -- Conley was their best and most consistent three point shooter by a country mile, and would almost always draw the other team's best perimeter defenders on switches. Still made 37.7% of his threes. Conley's at-rim game gets less notice, but deserves more -- on a team with Randolph and Gasol, Conley orchestrates the offense in such a modulated and pinpoint fashion that he too can make his living at the rim, and over 1/3 of his points-from-shots came from at-rim conversions in 2012.

Conley and Hollins have built an offense where Conley's three point range and the threat of a Gasol/Randolph post-up gives Conley just enough room to run plays and flash to the rim, whenever the Grizzlies decide to run a play for him (which isn't often, admittedly -- he's a low usage guard at heart, and doesn't look for his shot quite as much as he perhaps should). In general, though, it works really well. Conley has been so completely essential to the Memphis attack these last three years that it's a minor miracle that Hollins is able to keep him under 36 minutes a night -- in 2010, 2011, and 2012 merely having Conley on the floor improved the Memphis offense by 7.3, 9.4, and 10.2 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball Prospectus). This fits another one of Conley's "silent" skills -- he's gone from a point guard who can't dribble a few years back (seriously, his handle was horrible) to one of the most controlled handles in the game among point guards, and his turnover rate has gotten lower almost every year of his career. Last year, he was 3rd among starting point guards in assist-to-turnover ratio, bested only by Chris Paul and Jose Calderon. Could he shoot a bit more? Definitely. But when you make as few mistakes as Conley does, it's not that hard to look past that.

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