John Wall has the Wizards up to 9-9. Washington is getting it all from Wall. At 19 points, 9.2 assists and 2.3 steals per game, he’s on his way to the All-Star Game. Finally, right? While it seems as though Wall’s long-awaited breakout is happening at last, there’s another point guard who’s waited even longer for recognition.
Mike Conley is only one of the best two-way players at the lead guard spot. He was only the floor general for one of the best teams in the Western Conference over the past few seasons. Right now, he’s only averaging over 18 points a night on nearly 50 percent shooting. And he’s only third among point guards in PER (22.74).
Since their styles are so different, we decided to throw down the gauntlet. Which player is better — Wall or Conley? We argue. You decide.
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Bigger is better.
No other axiom is more prevalent in the world of sports, especially in basketball. Now, this of course is a generalization, not a blanket truth. But when comparing players, if all other factors hold true, it is conventional wisdom to go with the taller, longer player.
This is the case when comparing Mike Conley Jr. and John Wall.
Both possess blinding speed and quickness, though I would argue that Wall’s top-level speed in the open floor supersedes that of Conley’s. They both possess an uncanny ability to generate steals on the defensive side and coincidentally, are scoring very well this season: they are both averaging career-highs in points per game.
This is where the comparisons end and the contrast begins.
John Wall’s physical prowess is something that sets him apart from most point guards in the league. He is a legit 6-4, with a 6-9.25 wingspan and showed off a 39-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft Combine back in 2010. He is capable of defending three positions effectively while leading the NBA in assists this season sans Chris Paul.
Now for a point guard that has always had a certain level of team success, Conley does not hand out as many assists as the casual fan would assume. He’s averaged 5.6 for his career, which is somewhat baffling considering the fact that he is a pass-first point guard. Compare this to Wall, who is averaging a cool 8.1 assists a game for his career.
To put this into perspective, the only active NBA players with a higher average assists per game are Chris Paul (9.9), Deron Williams (8.9), Steve Nash (8.5) and Rajon Rondo (8.3). Now considering that Rondo has not played yet this season, along with the fact that Nash and Williams have both missed significant time with injuries, it’s no wonder Wall is second in the league in dimes. Still, to be placed in this lofty company speaks for itself.
More importantly, John Wall exudes a certain Wow Factor that’s missing from Conley’s game. Here is exhibit number one.
And exhibit number two.
Okay, let’s not get carried away here. In all fairness, Mike Conley Jr. is a consistent and crafty floor leader that has guided his team to the postseason the last three years. But one has to wonder how much better the Grizzlies could have done if they had a different point guard.
The true test of who is actually better is how each respective team would fare if these two players would switch places. And though it is difficult to imagine a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals doing better, I do believe the Grizzlies would have given the San Antonio Spurs a much more competitive series had Wall been their point guard instead of Conley.
-DAVID JIN PARK