The "underrated" tag has attached itself to Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley for much of his NBA career, having never once been recognized as an All-Star during his previous 11 years in the Association. Although it's extremely difficult to stand out among a slew of top-tier guards in the loaded Western Conference, the veteran floor general admits his inability to join that class of player has become more disheartening over time.
"I look for respect and to try to earn the respect of a lot of people," Conley told The Athletic's Michael Lee. "If you make the All-Star team and you get the label next (to) your name, for whatever reason, people will think, 'Oh, yeah, he's good now.' But if you don't have it, it's, 'Well, he's never made it, he's never done anything, so why would you think he's any better than this guy or the next guy.' It kind of keeps me under this glass ceiling that I'm trying to bust through.
"It's gotten more frustrating as I get older. I'm 31 now. I'm 12 years in. At some point, you know the game will have to end for you. Hopefully, it's seven, eight years from now, but at the end of the day, when I look back on it, and all that I've accomplished in my career and you think about all of those things and there are so many missed opportunities for recognition, in different ways. And that's been eating at me, for a while."
Outside of a spot on the 2012-13 NBA All-Defensive second team, Conley has never received any individual accolades or hardware for his play. While the yearly snubs could've easily demoralized him, he instead chooses to use it as motivation.
"It's made me who I am, in a sense. Every year I come back and I know I'm fighting a guy every night," he added. "Guard after guard after guard, every night, you're going to have your hands full. It keeps you on your toes. It keeps you working and it keeps you not being satisfied.
"And I think I've gotten better each year because each year I've had to improve something just to keep up and compete with these guys. I think that's made me a better player."
Conley has perhaps built his strongest case yet to crack the All-Star Game, posting a career-high 21.1 points so far this season for the surprise 14-9 Grizzlies.
He's suited up for twice as many games as he did the entire 2017-18 campaign, which he sat all but 12 outings of due to a major left Achilles injury. Along with his career-best scoring output, Conley is also averaging 3.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1.1 steals in 34.1 minutes for a Memphis team approaching last season's 22-win total.