MikeCheck: Conley accepts NBA’s invitation to All-Star Saturday Night’s Skills Challenge in Charlotte
MEMPHIS – Although the goal was to participate in the marquee Sunday game, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley will get his shot to compete during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in Charlotte after all.
Conley confirmed to Grind City Media he has accepted the league’s invitation to participate in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge as part of the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night at the Spectrum Center. All-Star Weekend is Feb. 15-17 at the home arena of the Charlotte Hornets, owned by Michael Jordan.
It will be the first time Conley, 31, has competed in All-Star Weekend events since he played in what was then the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge game in 2008 and dished a team-high eight assists in New Orleans. Despite his production this season being on par with some of his career’s best numbers, Conley was not voted a starter or selected by NBA coaches as a reserve from a group of marquee players in the West.
Mike Conley #11 of the Rookie team posts up Jordan Farmar #5 of the Sophomore team during the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam part of 2008 NBA All-Star Weekend at the New Orleans Arena on February 15, 2008 in New Orleans, LA. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein via Getty Images.
Conley had bypassed opportunities to compete in All-Star Saturday Night events in previous years because of injury rehab or scheduling conflicts. But now healthy in his bounce-back campaign from last year’s season-ending heel surgery, the 12-year veteran catalyst wanted to take advantage this time.
“I just said I might as well do it; who knows how long or how many opportunities I’ll get to be a part of something like that,” Conley said as the Grizzlies prepared for Tuesday's home game against the Timberwolves. “If I’m not an All-Star, maybe the next-best thing to it is to be a part of that weekend, take my family there and just try to have a really good time.”
The All-Star Saturday Night field of participants is scheduled to be officially announced on Tuesday night during the studio show of TNT’s double-header broadcast of NBA games. But several players have already confirmed they will be part of the field for various competitions.
Steph Curry (Warriors), Seth Curry (Blazers) and Damian Lillard (Blazers) are among those who have reportedly committed to the Three-Point Contest, while Miles Bridges (Hornets), Derrick Jones Jr. (Heat) and John Collins (Hawks) have already been linked to the Slam Dunk Contest. Conley said he wasn’t certain which other players he’ll be competing against in the Skills Challenge, essentially an obstacle course spread throughout the court that tests speed dribbling, passing, cutting and shooting in a timed session.
I’m just really going there to have fun and show the young guys that I can move with them a little bit. I don’t think many of the old vets will be in it, but we’ll see.Mike Conley
Previous winners of the Skills Challenge have included last year’s champion Spencer Dinwiddie (Nets) along with notables in Lillard, Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Jason Kidd. Conley was pushing to make his first All-Star Game this season and has played in 52 of Memphis’ 54 games, averaging 20.3 points, 6.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
In the midst of trade speculation and the most difficult stretch of the Grizzlies’ schedule, Conley raised his game even further leading up to the deadline for coaches to submit their votes for All-Star reserves. Over his last seven games, Conley shot 52.2 percent overall from the field, 39 percent on threes and averaged 23.2 points, 7.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals in 36 minutes a game.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in our league that deserves the attention or the recognition more,” Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of Conley. “There have been years where Mike has been deserving of the Sunday (All-Star) game. And I think it says a lot that the league recognizes that and went out and invited him to be a part of that All-Star Weekend.”
The Grizzlies overall record (21-33), particularly their recent struggles amid a slew of injuries, likely factored heavily in Conley being overlooked among West guards in favor of All-Star selections in Lillard, Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson – all with teams in the playoff hunt.
Mike Conley #11 of the Memphis Grizzlies dribbles past Nemanja Bjelica #88 of the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on October 24, 2018 in Sacramento, CA. Photo by Lachlan Cunningham via Getty Images.
Yet, still, Conley is one of only four NBA players to lead their teams in scoring average, assists per game, steals and free-throw percentage. Harden (Rockets), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets) and D’Angelo Russell (Nets) are the others – and all three of them were selected to play in the Feb. 17 All-Star Game.
“The West is deep and tough at that position, for sure,” Bickerstaff continued. “But Mike is a heck of a player. One of the last boxes for him to check off are ‘All-Star’ and ‘champion’ but other than that, I think he’s done it all. He’s been deserving of the All-Star nod. This conference is tough for that, obviously, but those are the last two things for him (to accomplish).”
Conley plans to make the most of All-Star Weekend by making a competitive statement to the field.
“I’m not sweating it too much,” Conley said of likely being one of the older players in this year’s Skills Challenge. “I’m just really going there to have fun and show the young guys that I can move with them a little bit. I’m not sure who else is in it yet, but I’m sure they’re younger. I don’t think many of the old vets will be in it, but we’ll see. I’m just excited for the chance to try it out and be a part of everything.”
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