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Key Matchup: Mike Conley is the homeless man’s Steph Curry

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Steph Curry dominates elite PG conversation; Conley wants in

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry is the two-time Most Valuable Player, the only Unanimous MVP in league history, and the greatest shooter to ever grace planet earth. He once led the league in scoring and steals in the same season while skipping fourth quarters like Ferris Bueller ditching class. I mean, why play in the 4th when you’ve already scored 40 and your team is up 30?

He is the face of the new era of basketball. He is the living intersection where analytics and humanity’s wildest dreams meet. The Baby Faced Assassin is a fun-sized guard in the NBA’s land of giants. He’s also those giants’ worst, most sickening nightmare. Curry is what every short 6th grade hooper actually believes he or she can be if they just work really, really hard and get touched by the hand of God.

Memphis Grizzlies starting point guard Mike Conley is like a diet version of Curry.

Actually that would be disrespectful to “Unanimous” and the standard he’s has set.

Mike Conley is the poor man homeless man’s Steph Curry.

Two guards cut from the same cloth

We Warriors fans have a soft spot for Curry because he’s undersized (6 foot 3) and under appreciated (Charles Barkley doesn’t have the 2x MVP in his top six best players ). He makes up for his relative lack of physical gifts with a powerful work ethic and a brilliant mind. His insane efficiency, explosive long range shooting, fancy ball handling, and selfless passing make him a fan favorite.

Grizzlies fans feel similarly about their stalwart PG Mike Conley. Much like Curry, he’s a small guard (6 foot 1) who looks like a high schooler amongst the giants of the NBA. He too is wholly under appreciated (never made an All-Star game or an All-NBA team in any of his ten seasons). Despite this, he has personified “Grit-N-Grind,” Memphis’ hard-hat approach to winning basketball. His lockdown defense, consistent offense, and unselfishness have forced him into the elite point guard conversation. He spreads the floor with his excellent shooting and finds open teammates in rhythm for easy shots.

Conley isn’t just good "for a guy who doesn’t get a ton of publicity." He’s not just one of the best players to have never made an All-Star team, the most underrated player in the league, or a nice guy who plays the game the right way. Those qualifiers stopped being necessary years ago, and they’re even more unnecessary now. Conley is one of the best players in the NBA. He proved it throughout the entire season and has gone above and beyond in proving it in (2017) playoffs against the Spurs, averaging 24.4 points and 7.4 assists on 50.6 percent shooting.

Mark Titus, The Ringer

See! Homeless man’s Steph Curry. I know it may seem odd to label a man who at one point HAD THE RICHEST CONTRACT OF ALL TIME (seriously, the Grizz broke the bank for this guy) as “homeless,” but check this comparison out.

Steph Curry 2016-2017 Regular Season Stats: 41% 3PT, 8.7 APG, PER 24.6

Mike Conley 2016-2017 Regular Season Stats: 40% 3PT, 7.5 APG, PER 23.2

(Stats from Basketballreference.com)

In today’s wild salary cap era, based off the above numbers, the Grizz may not have overpaid for Conley after all. Yet, beyond NBA geeks or NBA2k nerds, most casual viewers don’t even know who this guy is. How does being looked over after ten years of consistent excellence affect the “grizzled” point guard?

“At first, it didn’t faze me at all, and then I got better and better as each year went on and I felt like I deserved a little more,” Conley said. “I never kind of got that spotlight — and rightfully so, because there are so many good point guards in the West.”

“It’s very frustrating, but I know my team feels like I am, I feel like I am that All-Star-caliber guy”.

—Jerry Zgoda, Star Tribune

Conley’s hungry for respect

In a world where NBA players are highly visible American athletes, a pro’s social media stock can mean millions of dollars off of the court. Their “brand” will eventually be associated with their “legacy” as pro basketballers. Curry’s brand is built on his Christian, down-to-earth, family man values...and also the part of his life where he viciously crushes whole cities’ dreams with disrespectfully excellent basketball.

I’m sure Conley is well aware that the Curry brand only grows with every ankle-shattering crossover and nuclear three. Conley knows Curry is a king among point guards. And Conley is on a desperate mission to unseat the king.

The Ohio State product competes with a massive confidence in his personal abilities, and he saves his best performances for when he shares the stage with Unanimous.

Conley forces Curry into tough shots

Curry is the ultimate one man air-raid attack. He rains threes as soon as he feels like shooting, from any distance. To foil an air assault, one would need a sensitive network for defenses to both anticipate and intercept incoming bombs. Conley’s brain acts as this hyper alert defensive system. A former 2012-2013 All-NBA Defensive Second Team selection, he is a true savant on that side of the ball.

It’s almost like an alarm goes off in his head that lets him know whenever Curry is a moment away from unleashing a triple or flashing to the rim. Conley coldly shadowing Curry like a phantasmal spectre both beyond the arc and in transition makes Curry work constantly for any fresh air. Check out Bballbreakdown deep diving into their fascinating actions and counteractions with each other.

Here’s a classic clip of Curry telling Ethan Sherwood Straus specifically what difficulties Conley presents as stingy defender.

Conley puts Curry into tough spots

Unfortunately for Unanimous, Conley is as maddening to contain on offense as he is frustrating to slip on defense. I disagree with the trolling nature of the next video clip, but it still gives a solid look at the dilemma Conley presents Curry with his buzzing, herky jerky game.

Conley, even clad in a face mask to protect his tender facial fractures, was very aggressive against Curry. The more he makes Curry work to defend his wide repertoire of deadly offensive moves, the less energy Curry would have to return fire on the other end. That’s the theory anyway I suppose.

There’s levels to this

Although I’m sure Curry is quite pleased with Conley’s vigorous challenge, he clearly is not afraid of Memphis’s PG. For all Conley’s calculations and grit, he’s still two inches shorter than the Splash Emperor. Once Curry adjusts to how Conley is sticking to him, he uses Conley’s close proximity as an opportunity instead of an annoyance.

Curry uses his lightning quick first step to get a head start on Conley to the paint. Once it’s a footrace to the rim, Curry puts his bigger body on his rival to block him off. Conley then has to ease off or he’ll be called for a foul on Curry’s layup, which is a horrendous idea because of Curry’s historically elite free throw proficiency. Curry used this technique mixed with a few contested bombs to light Conley up on a 40 point, six assist night last season.

If Curry is on, there’s nothing Conley, or any other human being on this earth can do to stop it.

Collision Course On Beale Street

Their next meeting in Memphis is sure to be a barnburner. Grizzlies head coach Dave Fizdale promised to give Conley more opportunities to freestyle in the offense last year. This led to a career year for Conley, and in light of that Memphis doubled down on the strategy.

They let go of beloved, plodding, bullyball afficionados Zach Randolph and Tony Allen in order to increase their tempo and give Conley more room to operate. His change of tempo pick and rolls with All-Star center Marc Gasol create a lethal 1-2 punch combo that can damage any defense. Fizdale has liberated Conley to develop into a new age point guard. You know, a la Steph.

"Obviously my pitch was a lot more than just 'I want you to be an All-Star,'" Fizdale said, "but I showed him how and why. He was very receptive. He's been waiting to hear that, because he's had to defend those [elite point guards] in those systems, and I want him to be able to go back at those guys. That's something he's never been given offensively."

Matt Moore, CBS Sports

That’s all well and good. I’m sure Curry and the Warriors will be more than ready to handle Conley’s transformation. I’d bet Curry eagerly awaits another opportunity to show Mike Conley up close and personal EXACTLY what the definition of an All-Star, MVP point guard is.

This is gonna be a good one!