A key Timberwolves X-factor: The leadership of Mike Conley

Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Heading into the 2023-24 NBA season, most of the conversations surrounding the Minnesota Timberwolves are related to shooting guard Anthony Edwards, and how Head Coach Chris Finch will incorporate bigs Rudy Gobert and Karl Anthony-Towns.

However, the veteran point guard Mike Conley seems to be forgotten by many. Conley has always brought a calming presence to whatever team he plays for, and his play on the court has seemingly carried over to the locker room.

Mike Conley is a true pro’s pro

Conley has had a long, successful tenure as a pro in the NBA, making a lone All-Star appearance as well as an all-defensive selection. Throughout his 16-year NBA career, he’s donned three different jerseys: those of the Timberwolves, Jazz, and most notably, the Memphis Grizzlies.

On the court, Conley has proved his worth time and time again as a reliable point guard who’s willing to share the spotlight for the betterment of the team. This attitude on the hardwood seems to reinforce his character off the court.

Conley has been affectionately referred to as the “nicest player in the league” by many of his teammates, and this is shown through accolades that are rarely highlighted.

The vet has won the NBA Sportsmanship Award on four separate occasions, including the most recent 2022-23 NBA season. Conley also was honored with the Twyman–Stokes Teammate of the Year Award back in the 2018-19 season, hammering home the commitment the guard continues to show time and time again.

Conley brings a balanced mind to the floor

Now how does all of this background information serve the purpose of this article? Simple: Conley brings stability from the first tip of the season that the Timberwolves were without this time last year.

Former starting point guard D’Angelo Russell, although a talented scorer, didn’t bring the same game-to-game production and focus that Conley can provide.

When speaking about the Gobert-KAT duo, a lot of questions surface about their ability, or inability, to thrive on offense while sharing the court. While of course a large part of that is predicated on Edwards’ growth as a playmaker, having Conley to open the campaign makes me quite optimistic this year’s season will have fewer growing pains than the last.

Conley has been one of the better playmakers in the league, and although his assist numbers might not jump off the page (5.7 per game over his career) the Ohio State alum averaged a career-high 6.7 per game last season.


Mike Conley is underrated as a playmaker

The stats don’t show the true impact of Conley as a distributor. Watching him play you’ll see a player who doesn’t get sped up, gets the team into their sets, and rarely makes mistakes with the ball.

If you want to find some stats that display the true impact that Conley brings, look no further than his box plus/minus and win shares per 48. Although neither should be viewed as perfect calculations of a player’s impact, they do provide a good baseline. Of all Timberwolves players who played over 20 games last season, Conley has the third-best mark in both of these statistical categories at .158 WS/48 and a 2.0 BPM.

One area of his game that shouldn’t go unmentioned is his defense. Although not the same caliber as the player who made an All-Defensive second-team appearance in 2012-13, the vet is still a smart defender with the ability to get in passing lanes and rack up steals.

In a starting lineup that features defenders such as Gobert and small forward Jaden McDaniels, Finch and the Wolves could be a nightmare to score on.

If the Timberwolves are to make noise in a competitive Western Conference, they’ll need their savvy point guard to continue doing what he does best: run the offense and keep morale high throughout the locker room.

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