A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The difference between Mike Conley, Jr. and Russell Westbrook

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Mies-ian: Less is more... more or less

The Memphis Grizzlies just toasted Oklahoma City in Game 1 of their first round series and I believe one of the big differences was the play of Mike Conley, Jr. compared to Russell Westbrook

Now I’m in no way saying Conley is as good a player as Westbrook. Westbrook is a perenniel all-star talent and a true impact player.

However in this case I believe less is more. Conley’s job for the Grizzlies slightly resembles Rajon Rondo‘s on the champion 2008 Celtics – Running the offense without being the offense. He’s done an admirable job getting the ball to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and found the wing players OJ Mayo, Shane Battier and Tony Allen when open. On this team they don’t need Conley to do more than put up 12-15 points and 6-7 assist performance while making good decisions.

Russell Westbrook‘s role is much bigger. He has the ball the  most on the team and has been leading the team in shots more and more frequently. His usage rate in the playoffs has been much higher than teammate Kevin Durant‘s. The result is the Thunder are not playing a 5 man game offensively. It’s more of a Westbrook, Durant and then a bunch of other guys offense. James Harden in particular has been completley invisible, perhaps because of Westbrook’s ball dominance. The dominance of Westbrook and Durant in the offense has led to easy to guard predictability. Despite Westbrook being a superior player to Mike Conley, Jr., Conley’s picking spots offense led to a much more balanced, unpredictable and effective offense in the first game. Conley’s scaled back approach led to a much more cohesive team. The key to offensive success is ball movement and in game 1 it was the Grizzlies who wielded this and not the Thunder. Less ball domination by Conley meant better shots for the other players.

I picked the Thunder as my title pick pre playoffs, but I’m beginning to suspect it’s too early for them. The Thunder right now are not a 5 man team playing as one. They are not in the mindset in sacrificing shots for the fluidity of the offense – and I did not like their lack of defensive intensity in the first game. When you aren’t playing together offensively, it’s hard to expect to defensively. If the Thunder want to beat the Grizzlies, Westbrook will need to take a page out of Conley’s Game 1 performance scale back his usage for the betterment of team balance.

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