T.J. McConnell entered this season with uncertain minutes, due to a talent infusion in the Sixers' backcourt. Stylistically, he didn't quite mesh with Ben Simmons, in relation to other guards, and his ability paled in comparison. He doesn't possess Markelle Fultz's overarching skill set or Jerryd Bayless' offensive repertoire, and the inclusion of Simmons further clouded his role in Brett Brown's system.
However, with a bevy of his second unit counterparts mired in early offensive struggles, McConnell has snatched up minutes while providing valuable contributions. McConnell's responsibility off the bench isn't just clear, but also meaningful. The Process holdover is usually paired with an additional playmaker, either Fultz (prior to his injury) or Simmons, acting as an initiator to jumpstart the second unit or when staggered with Simmons.
McConnell's demanding task of stabilizing the offense when Simmons and Joel Embiid sit has been strenuous, with his teammates unable to fulfill their offensive duties. Granted McConnell's efficiency's dropped (46.1 percent last season to 38.1 percent this year), but his early shooting struggles hold less weight.
Failing to provide a scoring punch, Dario Saric, (33.3% FG, 21.4% 3PFG), Justin Anderson (36.8% FG, 33.3% 3PFG), Amir Johnson (30.4% FG, 20.0% 3PFG), and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot's (23.5% FG, 18.2 3PFG%) tepid shooting have triggered Brown to insert Simmons and Embiid for additional offense. And it's not a considerable detriment on McConnell, either. McConnell's provided scoring opportunities, whether it's swinging the ball around the perimeter or hitting his teammates near the basket.
However, against Houston Wednesday, McConnell kept Philadelphia afloat when Simmons and Embiid departed. His tireless hustle generated steals, forced turnovers and transition opportunities. Creating these events to avoid constantly setting up halfcourt offense after made baskets was a major boon, despite his teammates failing to convert.
Nonetheless, McConnell's six steals opened up some point-blank and opportunistic looks with McConnell as the engine. He even created a dunk for Amir Johnson with no big at the rim to contest. As shown in the video above, courtesy of 3ball, McConnell put Johnson in two dunking situations - shots he's rarely found thus far in Philadelphia. Wednesday, having Redick and Covington on the floor as complements, two trusted shooters, provided the floor general with outlets.
As illustrated above, it's pertinent to have another playmaker outside of Simmons who can pick up his teammates and make quick reads. McConnell's tallied 14 assists over his last two games, with six of them occurring without Simmons and Embiid on the floor. Devoid of a backup point guard who possesses exceptional passing acumen and timing, Brown might've pressured Simmons into a heightened role.
If we solely view his noisy Offensive Rating (89.5) and on/off marks, McConnell doesn't scream impact player. But digging into the film, his ball movement, fluidity and cohesion with important teammates like Redick, Covington, Embiid and Simmons pops. That's a greater indicator of his genuine impact. Despite the Sixers' 1-4 record, McConnell thriving alongside offensively gifted talents fosters optimism.
Simmons' on-ball role hasn't clashed with McConnell's passing prowess, as their dual creation ability staved off a Detroit comeback Monday and played off each other in Wednesday's crushing loss. However, Jerryd Bayless' scoring/shooting ability - averaging 12.4 points while posting a 50.0 percent clip from deep through five games - makes him the natural fit alongside Simmons in the starting lineup.
McConnell's low volume shooting (3.8 PPG this year) has a double-edged sword effect on Brown's offense. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound point guard isn't a floor spacer whose gravity commands the defense's attention, and sharing the court with Simmons only compounds that issue. Just 2-of-9 on his mid-range looks in five games, McConnell's track record gives the impression he'll see an uptick in efficiency. His recent penchant for having his shot blocked raises concerns, with four over his last two games, but he's certainly not forcing the issue when he's struggling. The Sixers' main scoring weapons appreciate his pass-first mentality.
Additionally, McConnell's coveted value slithering into the paint and creating havoc as a ball handler for potential kick-outs and pocket passes is a triumph. His playmaking and creation is certainly a worthwhile tradeoff to his shooting ability. Brown's employed a tighter backcourt rotation recently, with Nik Stauskas never leaving the bench and hitting a struggling Luwawu-Cabarrot with a DNP-healthy Wednesday. McConnell's crushed the "what have you done for me lately" maxim with flair.
Before a rejuvenated Fultz returns, commanding double-digit minutes out of necessity, McConnell's making inroads for playing time with his offensive impact.