Deep Dive: Mike Conley Is The Patience Minnesota Needs
Minnesota's new point guard knows exactly how to play alongside Rudy Gobert.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have doubled down. They needed to double down. The spectrum of opinion on the Rudy Gobert hole that the organization plunged itself into ranges from still hopeful to downright distraught, but that move is done. Gobert is a Wolf and Gobert will remain a Wolf for the foreseeable future. So they had to double down.
There is no taking back the Gobert deal. There’s no warping time and space to wind back the clock on a deal that would have to improve a metric fuck-ton to even appear in the stratosphere of good trades. If a time machine existed, President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly would sprint to that thing faster than humanly possible and none of this franchise finagling would be necessary.
But Minnesota’s reality is what it is, there are no takebacks. Gobert is an enormous piece of the pie — even if his current flavor leaves a sour taste on even the most understanding palette. So they needed to double down, at least for now. Instead of doing what we as fans would do and seeking out the sharpest pitchforks, they need to maximize their investment. Acquiring Mike Conley, shipping out a contract headache in D’Angelo Russell, and having a chance to throw some darts at Nickeil Alexander-Walker and three second round picks in the process, is a chance to maximize that investment without selling off any other of the franchise’s vital organs.
It will require patience, though. Not just off the court in the same way it does when every player enters a new situation, but on the court as well. Gobert requires more patience than any of Conley’s other new teammates. Anthony Edwards is smashmouth and mega malleable. Karl-Anthony Towns is more malleable still, a chameleon that has adapted to too many situations to list. Kyle Anderson, Jaden McDaniels, Taurean Prince and Naz Reid are role players that can morph into any system and do their thing regardless.
But Gobert requires more massaging. He needs to be prodded the right way and shoved in the right direction. For all of Russell’s on-court virtues, he couldn’t find Gobert’s pleasure points. And, where he was once thought of as the pick-and-roll playmaker who was going to unlock Gobert even further, he ended up making the integration process more onerous.
In the 1104 minutes that Russell and Gobert shared the floor this season, the Timberwolves were outscored by 0.4 points per 100 possessions. In the 267 minutes that Gobert was bumbling down the hardwood without his polarizing point guard by his side, the Wolves outscored their opponents by 1.3 points per 100 possessions, according to Play By Play Stats.
The pair just never quite clicked. Maybe it was Gobert’s struggle to acclimate himself to a new system and a new floor general and maybe Russell really didn’t have much interest in conforming his own game to Gobert’s. Whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter anymore. What matters is that Conley has exhibited the mandatory patience to augment the big man in the past. He’s waded through the muck that comes with Gobert’s adjustment period and embraced the warm sun that’s on the other side of it.
In the 2019-20 season, Conley’s first season alongside Gobert, their Utah Jazz outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions in their 1023 minutes together. Much better than the Russell and Gobert pairing, but the Jazz where better than that. They won 44 games in a shortened, 72-game, COVID-ravaged season, and Conley was heavily criticized for his ability to play next to both Gobert and Rudy Gobert.
In 2020-21, Conley’s second go-around, the Jazz outscored their opponents by 17.8 points per 100 possessions over the span of 1368 minutes. Gobert was in his absolute zenith, and Conley was his pick-and-roll wingman. Utah’s lineups with those two in it ranked in the 93rd percentile for offensive rating (120.1 points per 100 possessions) and the 99th percentile defensively (101.4). Last season, they outpaced opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions and their lineups ranked in the 84 percentile offensively and the 90th percentile defensively.
Neither player had the flourish and the flair that put them at the top of mind when considering the best pick-and-roll duos in the league. But they were exactly that. Boringly beautiful basketball. Perfectly patient. The Timberwolves need that. They are a team who thrives in chaos, but the volatility of chaos makes them unpredictable. If they’re able to get Conley up to speed quickly, they can inject some of the patience and well-drilled practice into the chaos. They can pull from the best bits of both worlds.
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