The Philadelphia 76ers are “scouring the market” for a wing shooter and center, per Shams Charania of The Athletic. One of the biggest names to pop up in rumors has been Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies. Let’s take a look at the ramifications of such a possible trade and provide one alternative.
Trading for Mike Conley
Mike Conley appears healthy after missing 70 games a season ago with a heel injury. This season the 31 year old 12-year vet is averaging 20 points per game 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.3 steals. The Grizzlies are free falling lately and reportedly open to a shake up.
Conley makes $30.5m in salary this year, $32.5 next year, with a $34.5 early termination option before the 2020-2021 season.
He’s very very good. He’s also paid as if he were better than he actually has been. But alongside the Sixers current core, that might be more than enough to be everything they need.
Conley would offer the Sixers many of the skills they are missing. His two-way ability has consistently allowed him to perform as one of the league’s top ten point guards over a long period of time. Known for his unselfish leadership, slithery moves, hounding team and point-of-attack defense, he’d go a long way towards plugging some holes in the team’s weaknesses.
The Eastern Conference is wide open. A player of Conley’s caliber could very well tip the scales in Philadelphia’s favor during a playoff series. Simply imagining a pick-n-roll with Conley, a tactician and Joel Embiid should send chills up every Sixers fan’s spines:
One of the great attributes of Mike Conley is his game management and playmaking in the PnR. Conley plays at his pace and rarely makes mistakes. So patient.— Shane Wood (@_shanewood) January 23, 2019
For any team that is desperate for a PG who is able to make plays off the bounce and in the PnR, Conley is their guy. pic.twitter.com/fDVVoo3G8w
And the Sixers’ greatest weakness is perimeter defense. Look how hard Conley makes Damian Lillard work for this absurd triple:
La défense de Mike Conley, Dame n'en a que faire pic.twitter.com/NDold5WpDx— Portland Trail Blazers France (@BlazersFrance) December 20, 2018
If the Sixers did not have to part with any of their stars, a big-four of Conley, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, and Embiid could potentially form as fierce a defensive front as there is in the NBA. That could be the difference between the second round and the team’s first finals berth since 2001.
As ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on his podcast yesterday:
‘You want to know my favorite Mike Conley, just the absolute most bonkers Mike Conley trade would be? To Philadelphia for expiring contracts and Markelle Fultz. And then Philly has Conley, Simmons, Butler and Embiid. You don’t, you cannot pay all four of them going forward…. Conley then gives you leverage with [Butler], a little bit.”
It’s a gamble. The implication by Lowe is that Conley’s presence could make the team so good, Butler would have a hard time walking away as a free agent, even if he could not get the absolute max (5 years, $188.7m) out of the Sixers.
It would constrain the team’s future financial flexibility and put a lot of pressure on a big-four to stay healthy and gel, both things that are far from givens with those names.
It would preclude the chance to flesh out the team’s depth or chase A-List superstars like Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, or Kyrie Irving moving forward. It would likely cost significant draft capital in the ‘bonkers’ version Lowe proposes. But it’s worth considering. It likely moves the needle in playoff matchups this April and is a semi-hedge against scary scenarios where Butler leaves and the team cannot lure any other top talents come July.
Trading for Darren Collison
Then there is a player on the Indiana Pacers who is on the near-opposite end of the price spectrum, but offers a combination of skills the Sixers need. Collison is finishing out a $10m contract and expires this summer. His name has come up in trade rumors all season long and that was before Victor Oladipo’s season ending quad injury on Wednesday.
Ruptured quad for Oladipo is fairly rare among basketball players. Tony Parker and Charles Barkley had the injury. It is threatening to his explosiveness and athleticism. It's a challenging road back. https://t.co/3nJKcjwg3J— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 24, 2019
It would benefit the Pacers to explore trading the 31 year old 10-year point guard. It’s unlikely Indiana will be able to make an extended playoff run and having drafted a point guard last summer in Aaron Holiday, it seems unlikely they’d bring back Collison for 2020.
But he’s pretty good. In fact, he has been very good at many of the things Philadelphia needs the most. He averages 9.7 points per game, 5.7 assists 2.9 boards and 1.5 steals. He’s not as good of as scorer as Conley by any means but he does a few things well.
Per Synergy Sports, Collison ranks in the 90th percentile in catch and shoot situations. He’s shooting 45.9% on 74 attempts this year. It’s not a huge sample, but in 2017-2018 he shot 47.7% on 132 attempts. That’s 47.1% on his last 206 catch and shoot 3’s since the beginning of last season. He’s shot at least 39% from 3 over the last four seasons, though he shoots under 3 attempts per game.
He’s also an excellent defender per Synergy. It’s because he ranks in the 90th percentile for his defense on a pick-n-roll ball handler and against the big when forced to switch.
He also receives high marks for defending isolations, and chasing players around screens.
Teams know not to target Collison so he doesn’t get many chances to defend an isolation but he thrives in those limited spots.
Collison ranks 16th in the league in total dimes with 267. Mike Conley is 13th with 282.
Collison is 13th in the league in total steals with 72. Conley has 63. Here’s one for Darren:
Great teamwork: Good one-on-one defense by Thaddeus Young jammed up Jabari Parker and once he tried to put a move on, Darren Collison sneaks in and makes the play.pic.twitter.com/gEfwduMMbY— 8 Points, 9 Seconds (@8pts9secs) November 3, 2018
Philly really gets punished by guards who can run a pick-n-roll. In these instances they prefer to let Jimmy Butler or T.J. McConnell take them on.
Get this: for every guard in the NBA who has defended a minimum of 200 PnR’s, Collison ranks first in the entire league with a mere .673 points per possession allowed.
That’s better than Conley’s .735 ppp allowed per Synergy.
The truth is, either Conley or Collison being called upon to defend Eric Bledsoe, Kyrie Irving, or Kyle Lowry in a playoff series would allow Butler to take on a more natural defensive matchup, and play some free-safety which he excels at. It might improve the overall D by leaps and bounds.
Mike Conley is the vastly superior player and it’s because of how good he is running a team. He’s a leader. But Philadelphia is likely to find he is exponentially more expensive than Collison; both in terms of what it would take to acquire him and then what they might lose in cap-flexibility. Furthermore, what makes him better than Collison is a combination of skills the 76ers may not need. Philadelphia has Ben Simmons.
If you sat Brett Brown down and asked him to describe what he needs the most, he’d probably describe what Collison already does best: very good catch and shoot ability, capable on a switch, not a sitting duck in isolation, hounds the opposition’s lead guard, grabs steals, and always loves to pass. Collison is also used to playing off the ball in the half-court set. Conley has always been a traditional floor general.
And if you sat Elton Brand down and asked him how excited he’d be to forgo the chance to pursue superstars this summer or flesh out his bench, and part with some juicy draft picks, or former lottery picks he might well bristle.
Collison isn’t the only player in the NBA who offers these skills:
some deeply-unsexy guards the sixers should consider acquiring: tyus jones, shabazz napier, david nwaba, yogi ferrell, raul neto, markelle fultz— Ben Detrick (@bdetrick) January 24, 2019
But he’s an example of the type of arbitrage play the team could consider.
The Sixers should seriously consider trading for Conley. When healthy, he’s a stud. But if he’s too expensive (in terms of assets and cap-flexibility) there might be at least one player who offers precisely what Philly needs at a mere fraction of the cost.