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Is Mike Conley the Best Player to Never Make an All-Star Team?

Unless he’s added as an injury replacement, the 14-year guard will miss out yet again. If he never makes it, would he be the biggest snub in NBA history? Let’s investigate.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Mike Conley is not on the All-Star roster, yet again. Despite unspectacular counting stats and two missed weeks due to injury, advanced metrics say the point guard for the NBA’s best team this season should be on that list: Among Western Conference players, Conley ranks fifth in RAPTOR wins, seventh in RPM wins, and seventh in EPM wins, all of which try to measure a player’s holistic impact on his team’s performance.

Of course, those stats have margins of error, and disentangling Conley’s phenomenal on/off-court differential is tricky because he’s shared the court with Defensive Player of the Year favorite Rudy Gobert for 86 percent of his minutes. It’s worth noting, though, that the Jazz are plus-54 in the 99 minutes Conley plays without Gobert.

Any All-Star snub could sting, yet there was added urgency for Conley’s All-Star case in particular: At 33 years old, this might be his last, best chance to make a roster. He clearly wants the honor. “That would mean the world to me, obviously,” he said recently. “If it’s not going to happen this year, man, that’ll be tough.”

Tough indeed: Conley’s name is not among the 24 initially selected for next month’s All-Star game. He was snubbed once again. With All-Star reserve Anthony Davis injured, Conley still has a chance to qualify as a replacement—but with Devin Booker also on the snubs list, it’s likely that one of the best point guards of his era will remain on the outside looking in.

A few different factors have conspired to prevent Conley, long a staple of successful Grizzlies teams, from ever becoming an All-Star in his 14-year career. From 2012-13 through the end of Conley’s time there, Memphis never ranked higher than 26th in the league in pace; in 2018-19, his best scoring season on a per-possession basis, the team was the slowest in the league. That style dampened Conley’s counting stats, which are the first destination for most voters.

More broadly, players who contribute in a variety of different areas and rate well by advanced metrics—like Conley—tend to receive less All-Star attention than players who excel in a couple big statistical categories. Shane Battier was only a “no-stats All-Star,” not an actual All-Star, after all.

Since 2010-11, Conley’s first big season, nine Western Conference point guards have made at least one All-Star roster. Conley is a better defender than all of them except Chris Paul, per FiveThirtyEight’s career ratings. But he lags behind almost all of them on offense. (Individual defensive stats aren’t perfect, especially for perimeter players, but this comparison certainly confirms the eye test of Conley as more of a two-way player than a supreme offensive talent.)

Best Western Point Guards, 2011-21

Player All-Star Games Offensive Points vs. Average Defensive Points vs. Average
Player All-Star Games Offensive Points vs. Average Defensive Points vs. Average
Chris Paul 8 6.9 1.5
Mike Conley 0 3.2 1.1
Stephen Curry 7 7.6 0.5
James Harden 9 (8 in West) 7.0 0.0
Russell Westbrook 9 4.3 -0.2
Tony Parker 3 1.2 -0.9
Luka Doncic 2 5.5 -1.0
Deron Williams 2 (1 in West) 2.7 -1.1
Steve Nash 1 4.2 -1.3
Damian Lillard 6 5.4 -1.5
Based on FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR player ratings, per 100 possessions

The other main factor is Conley’s competition. Look again at those names of other Western Conference point guards; it’s an absurdly deep group, chock-full of MVPs and future Hall of Famers.

That challenge extends to this season, too. More than half of the starting point guards in the West—Conley, Paul, Lillard, Curry, Doncic, De’Aaron Fox, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Ja Morant—had at least a semi-legitimate case to make the team. And that list doesn’t include 2-guards like Devin Booker and Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell. CJ McCollum, searching for his own first All-Star bid, would have joined the throng as well if he hadn’t broken his foot last month.

In the past decade, meanwhile, the East has given All-Star nods to the likes of D’Angelo Russell and Jeff Teague. That’s not to say they weren’t deserving—Teague’s 2014-15 Hawks were a marvel—but rather to note the different levels of competition between the two conferences. Through the past eight seasons, Western guards have landed all 16 first team All-NBA spots and 77 percent of the guard spots across all three All-NBA teams.

So, if Conley doesn’t make the team as a replacement this season, will he become not just the best active player never to make an All-Star team, but the best player, overall? Let’s investigate.

Because the All-Star roster size hasn’t changed while the league has vastly expanded, the game has become much more exclusive. Back in the 1960s, each team averaged multiple All-Stars; in a 30-team league, however, teams don’t even average one honoree apiece, even with injury replacements. Thus, all the best players to never make an All-Star team played in more recent decades. (Apologies to Celtics forward and future Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson, the best non-All-Star in this early period.)

This timing matches neatly with FiveThirtyEight’s player database, which begins in the 1976-77 season. We will measure players’ value by blending Basketball-Reference’s win shares metric with FiveThirtyEight’s wins above replacement stat for every player since then. (Win shares tend to overrate big men while WAR tends to overrate guards historically, so blending the two is a reasonable middle ground.)

Here, then, are the top 10 non-All-Stars in career value. Conley isn’t at the top of the list yet, but at just 33 years old, he presumably has years left to add to his total value.

Best Non-All-Stars, Career Value

Player Career Value
Player Career Value
Jason Terry 101.6
Andre Miller 100.4
Derek Harper 93.9
Sam Perkins 86.7
Rod Strickland 86.7
Shane Battier 81.5
Mike Conley 80.8
Lamar Odom 74.4
P.J. Brown 71.5
Marcus Camby 71.5
Values based on a blend of Basketball-Reference’s win shares and FiveThirtyEight’s wins above replacement

Jason Terry takes the top spot, after a long and steady career; he ranks seventh in career 3-pointers and 10th in games played. He scored 18,881 regular-season points and won a championship. But he never made an All-Star team.

Assessing total career value is one way to answer the question of the best non-All-Star, but it’s not the only method. A “compiler” with a bunch of decent but unspectacular seasons can put together an impressive career without ever making a strong All-Star case in any one season. So we can also look at the list of non-All-Stars with the best peaks, defined for these purposes as their best five seasons.

Using this peak method, Conley moves into third place on the list—and will probably jump up to second by the time this season finishes, as he’s on pace for one of the best campaigns of his career.

Best Non-All-Stars, Peak Value

Player Peak Value
Player Peak Value
Derek Harper 50.1
Jason Terry 47.1
Mike Conley 46.9
Andre Miller 45.8
Cedric Maxwell 45.7
Doug Christie 43.3
Shane Battier 43.3
Rod Strickland 43.0
Lamar Odom 42.4
Paul Pressey 40.5
Values based on a blend of Basketball-Reference’s win shares and FiveThirtyEight’s wins above replacement

This list includes a few new names, like Finals MVP Maxwell, while some big men compilers fall off. Other notable recent players who come close to the top 10 include Nene (11th by peak value), Brent Barry (12th), Richard Jefferson (15th), Mike Bibby (18th), and Hedo Turkoglu (19th).

Harper takes the top spot, though, after a career that looks remarkably similar to Conley’s. Conley made one All-Defense team and boasts career averages of 14.9 points and 5.6 assists per game; through the same age, Harper had made two All-Defense teams, with averages of 14.2 points and 5.9 assists per game. Conley played for Memphis—which peaked by reaching the conference finals before collapsing—for the first decade-plus of his career before being traded to the now-first-place Jazz; Harper played for Dallas—which peaked by reaching the conference finals before collapsing—for the first decade-plus of his career before being traded to the Finals-bound Knicks.

And like Conley, Harper’s status as the best non-All-Star of his era was known at the time. A 1998 Sports Illustrated piece by Jackie MacMullan deemed Harper and Rod Strickland the top players never to make an All-Star team.

Finally, what about the potential candidates to take Conley’s title of best active player never to make an All-Star team, if he indeed receives a replacement berth this season? Most of them are, like Conley, well-rounded players without the counting stats or transcendent single seasons to garner real consideration. By both career and peak score, no player is particularly close to Conley, either.

Best Active Non-All-Stars, Career Value

Player Age Career Value
Player Age Career Value
Mike Conley 33 80.8
George Hill 34 59.8
Thaddeus Young 32 58.7
Trevor Ariza 35 57.4
Lou Williams 34 56.9
Rudy Gay 34 56.8
JJ Redick 36 55.2
Serge Ibaka 31 55.0
Danilo Gallinari 32 54.6
Nicolas Batum 32 51.0
Values based on a blend of Basketball-Reference’s win shares and FiveThirtyEight’s wins above replacement

Keep an eye on McCollum, still in his 20s: With just one more superb season, the likes of which he was putting together this season before his injury, he can catapult into second place on the active peak chart.

Best Active Non-All-Stars, Peak Value

Player Age Peak Value
Player Age Peak Value
Mike Conley 33 46.9
Steven Adams 27 33.9
Eric Bledsoe 31 33.3
Danilo Gallinari 32 33.2
George Hill 34 32.5
Hassan Whiteside 31 32.4
Danny Green 33 32.3
Serge Ibaka 31 32.1
CJ McCollum 29 30.9
JJ Redick 36 30.8
Values based on a blend of Basketball-Reference’s win shares and FiveThirtyEight’s wins above replacement

But for the meantime, Conley remains atop this inglorious leaderboard among active players. Adam Silver, tasked with picking Davis’s injury replacement, has the last chance—perhaps—to push him off.