Philadelphia 76ers: Mike Conley is an ugly fit in Philly

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

While the Philadelphia 76ers could certainly use a roster overhaul before the February 7th trade deadline, Mike Conley is a horrible fit with the team.

The Philadelphia 76ers clearly need an influx of talent to elevate their roster to championship levels, but no matter how you slice it, Mike Conley is not that player.

He’s just not.

Granted, is he a good player? Sure, not quite the highest paid player in the league caliber, but he’s a borderline All-Star which is saying something in the Western Conference.

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As the owner of a 19.8 points, 6.1 assists, and 1.3 steals stat line (14.6, 5.7, and 1.5 for his career) Conley isn’t even the best point guard from Ohio State in the league right now. That would be D’Angelo Russell, the Brooklyn Nets‘ starting point guard who I publicly pined over a few months back and is almost guaranteed to no longer be available via trade after elevating his play over the past few months to all star-level.

Russell is nine(!) years younger than Conley and is a former high school teammate of both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, making his fit on the team pretty straightforward. Conley, on the other hand, is on the back-nine of his prime, is four inches shorter, and has never played alongside a player like Simmons save maybe Kyle Anderson; the Hydrox to Simmons’ mega-stuffed Oreo.

However (seemingly) every time news breaks that a well-known player in the NBA is potentially available via trade, Philly fans immediately jump to Twitter attempting to find info on that missing piece to bring a championship back to the City of Brotherly Love, and Conley is no exception.

Plenty of high-profile Philly sports writers have weighed in on Conley’s fit, with virtually all of them concurring that if the team can swing a deal, it would be beneficial.

In a vacuum, sure, there are dozens of players who can make the 76ers better right now, but in a fictitious game of ‘draft the next Sixers star’, I don’t think Conley would finish in the top 20 if not even top 30.

Spike Eskin of ‘The Rights to Ricky Sanchez Podcast‘ suggested that the Sixers trade Jimmy Butler straight up for Conley.


Butler is much younger, and a far more versatile player than Conley will ever be. Butler stands seven inches taller, two years younger, and is currently shooting 39 percent from 3 point range, as opposed to Conley’s 35 percent on three more shots. Furthermore, Butler’s versatility and scheme flexibility opens up far more options than Conley, as he would essentially be forced to take over T.J. McConnell‘s role in small-ball lineups as you really can’t justify playing Conley at shooting guard or J.J. Redick at small forward.

Others, like PhillyVoice‘s Kyle Neubeck, suggested packaging a collection of players and picks to make the deal work. This deal would be far less attractive to the Grizzlies, but is the only deal that would work, as Conley is currently making $30 million a year. In the NBA, trades have to match salary-wise within 10 percent, so to bring in a player like Conley, you have to give out at least $27 million in cap space. That means shipping Markelle Fultz ($9 million) Chandler ($12 million), Mike Muscala ($5 million), and their trade exception ($2.5 million) to even get in the right ballpark.

While it would be smart for the Grizzlies to get off Conley’s contract now, as it would all but shore up the tank and guarantee the team a top-eight draft slot (Boston owns the pick if it’s 9-30), the team would certainly want to get something back for the face of their franchise, something that one or two first-round picks simply wouldn’t justify.

No, the Grizzlies would probably want a player like Landry Shamet, Jonah Bolden, or Zhaire Smith so they could at least sell to their fan base that they added pieces for the future, not expiring contracts. That should give Elton Brand pause, as Bolden and Shamet look like they have the potential to be serious players moving forward, with the former potentially taking over Redick’s role in the starting five before his rookie deal runs out.

That’s the main problem with adding a player like Conley now; he’s just too expensive when compared to his production.

Sure, he would instantly make the Philadelphia 76ers’ starting five the best in the Eastern Conference, but does he really provide that much more value over the next one to two years than, say, Kent Bazemore, the Atlanta Hawks guard/forward who could probably be had for Chandler and one future first?

I mean, Bazemore is statistically a much better defender than Conley according to ESPN Real Plus-Minus (.57 vs. -.30), has comparable outside shooting percentage for his career (35.5 vs. 37.6) and he’s only missed 27 games over the last two years vs. 71 by Conley.

Keeping things in Atlanta, if the team is interested in adding a younger player who better fits into their current timeline, why not make a move for Taurean Prince?

According to The Ringer‘s Kevin O’Connor, Philly has expressed interest in the 6-foot-8 forward, and at 24 years old, he could conceivably fill Chandler offensive role for the foreseeable future. He’s currently under contract for the remainder of this season and through next season, providing Philly with a cost-controlled asset who would free up cap space for more roster additions in July.

Trading with Atlanta makes a ton of sense, as Lloyd Pierce was previously a Philadelphia assistant coach and clearly knows the team’s roster. He understands upside of players like Markelle Fultz and Furkan Korkmaz better than most outside observers and may find it appealing to add another young piece to his developmental corp alongside a future draft pick.

One could even make the argument that trading for a player like Tim Hardaway Jr. makes more sense than Conley, which is a statement I never thought I’d type.

Hardaway is five-years younger than Conley and currently holds an (almost) identical shooting percentage from downtown (35 percent). He’s also quietly in the midst of the best professional season of his career, averaging 19.6 points on 16 shots a night in 32 minutes of action a night. Though he’s currently miscast as a number one scoring option on a dreadful team, many, including Bill Simmons, have theorized that Hardaway’s potential could be unlocked as a third or fourth scoring option on a contender, even if his $18 million a year deal over the next three years is a hard pill to swallow.

According to the NBA’s advanced stats, Conley has the 47th highest usage rate of any player in the league at 25.8, one spot higher than Hardaway Jr.’s 25.2. That makes sense, as Conley often spends extended stretches of the game with the ball in his hand, but he currently ranks 269th in Offensive Rating, 210th in NET Rating and 49th in Player Impact Estimate. Those are not max contract numbers.

Personally, I wouldn’t do that deal, but if forced to pick between Hardaway or Conley, knowing full well that the latter will cost more to acquire and leave the team with a lighter bench, I would certainly take the former.

The Philadelphia 76ers certainly need help on the wings, and with Ben Simmons currently on his rookie contract for two more seasons, this is a perfect opportunity for the team to invest in a big money stopgap player to make them way better right now. However, Conley simply is not that player.

Conley is small, a slightly above-average outside shooter, and a slightly below-average defender. His lack of flexibility and high usage numbers would be a poor fit alongside Simmons and the rest of the 76ers starting five and could limit the number of sets the Sixers are able to confidently run to combat opposing teams in a seven-game postseason series.

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If the Philadelphia 76ers are serious about parting with draft capital to make their team better right now, it makes more sense to do so with a young player who’d control on a team-friendly salary, or a better fitting veteran with a flexible cap number. Mike Conley is neither of those things, and could potentially ruin the team’s opportunity to get better in July thanks to having two more years left on his five-year, $152 million max contract.