Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Nice guy Mike Conley rewarded

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 24, 2014 at 12:35 pm •  Published: April 24, 2014

Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins (5) defends Memphis' Mike Conley (11) as he shoots a basket during Game 2 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, April 21, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins (5) defends Memphis' Mike Conley (11) as he shoots a basket during Game 2 in the first round of the NBA playoffs between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, April 21, 2014. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

Memphis point guard Mike Conley won the 2014 Joe Dumars Trophy, the NBA’s sportsmanship award, the league announced Thursday. Players voted on the award.

Interesting, in that for the Thursday Oklahoman I wrote about Russell Westbrook’s matchup with Conley and that despite no how likeable Conley is, Westbrook needs to view him as a mortal enemy, since that drives Westbrook.

But it appears to be a perfectly valid award, since Conley does appear first class in every regard. And he’s a great story.

The Grizzlies were lambasted for taking Conley fourth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. The same draft in which the Seattle SuperSonics took Kevin Durant second and Jeff Green fifth.

The Grizzlies made Conley their starting point guard, and his numbers weren’t bad as a rookie: 4.2 assists, 1.7 turnovers, .428 shooting percentage, 9.4 points a game.

And Conley has gotten better and better every year. His scoring has gone up every year except one; this season, he’s averaging 17.2 points a game. His turnovers are stable, at 2.1 per game. His assists have stabilized at 6.0 per game. He shot a career high 45.0 percent from the field.

And here’s what’s the best numbers on Conley: 3-3. That’s his career record in playoff series. That’s more playoff success than Chris Paul has had.

“The thing I love about him is he’s improved every year,” said Thunder coach Scotty Brooks. “When he was picked, people said he was probably too high. He didn’t listen to all the noise out there. He just kept plugging away and getting better.

“Give credit to him, that he comes in every year a better player. He’s as crafty, as heady, as any point guard in this league. He understands how to play. He understands the angles. He understands their team’s strengths, very well. And he makes shots. His shot’s improved every year. You can’t drop off on him, because he can make 3’s, even though he hasn’t made a lot of 3’s this series. He’s a 3-point shooter off the dribble or on the catch.”

The Thunder has had trouble keeping Conley out of the lane. He made seven baskets in Game 2 Monday night. All seven came from the paint.

Westbrook has to do a better job of keeping Conley from penetrating. Brooks used Thabo Sefolosha on Conley at times, and expect that to continue.

“The thing is with Russell and Thabo, we can interchange with them,” Brooks said. “The way we run our offense, sometimes Thabo’s going to be low, sometimes Russell’s at the basket, finishing around the rim. So there’s going to be a lot of cross matchups. We really don’t care who guards him, as long as he gets guarded.

“Thabo’s done a good job on him. Russell’s done a good job on him. We have to stop (Courtney) Lee just as much. Lee got going with his penetration, with his floater. He was knocking shots over our bigs. We don’t them to be put in the position of making shots over our bigs.”

Brooks says Westbrook knows what he has to do.

“He understands what we did well last game and he understands what we did wrong last game,” Brooks said. “We have to have all our guys transfer over and lock into it. We have options we can play multiple guys on multiple positions.

“It’s not just Conley. Conley, Lee, Beno (Udrih), a lot of guys got around us. We have to play better. Every coach’s adjustment is play better. Can’t change up your philosophy after one game. We’ve never done that. I like what we do. I like how we play. But we have to do it with a lot of force.”

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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