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The Sixers are Showing How Much They Need T.J. McConnell

The backup point guard is more than just an energy player, but that’s what they’re missing the most.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Though they’re 1-2 over their last three games, it almost feels as if the Sixers are 0-25. They took a double-digit loss against one of the league’s best teams, played poorly in a win against another one of the league’s best, and got whooped by one of the worst. They were also without T.J. McConnell for all of those games, and his absence was notable.

He’s your backup point guard, sure. But he’s more than that. He’s the definition of an energy player. His grit (I hate that word but it works for him), heart, and drive keeps an often directionless Sixers second-unit on track. With TJ on the floor and Simmons off, you’ve got a hard-working player who sees the floor like a starter and knows how to get his teammates their shots. Without TJ you’re missing the league’s 5th best assist ratio.

The sample size for games when TJ was available is much larger than the three-game sample without - and a loss of Teej has come along with Robert Covington’s inconsistent stroke, a sick Ben Simmons, and point guard Nik Stauskas - but the numbers do point to something. Before TJ’s injury, the Sixers had a turnover percentage of 16.7% (still way too high) and a effective Field Goal % of 52%. In the few games since? 17.2% and 48.1%.

On the season as a whole, with TJ on the court, the team has a higher eFG% (by .013%), a higher assist % (by .6%) and a better turnover % (by 1.5). With Teej on the court and Ben Simmons taking a breather, the team scores 1.05 points per possession, shoots 34.4% from long range, and averages 14.6 turnovers and 26.5 assists per 100 possessions. With both TJ and Ben off, those numbers drop to 1.013 ppp, 30% from distance, 15.2 turnovers, and 25.3 assists. Every 100 possessions without TJ or Ben - such is the case now when Ben rests - the Sixers score 101.3 points and their opponent scores 111.4. That’s not fantastic.

Those might not seem like gigantic drop offs but - as we all know - TJ offers a lot more than the numbers show. The last three games without him included an embarrassing shellacking by one of the league’s worst teams. How different would TJ’s presence have made the outcome? We can’t know. Devin Booker was ON last night, and he dropped shots from wherever he wanted even when Redick was draped over him. Redick ain’t TJ though. Neither is Nik Stauskas, who had some minutes as the point guard that, let’s say, went terribly.

McConnell isn’t Simmons. He’s not Embiid, but - sincerest apologies to Robert Covington - he may actually be the team’s 3rd most important player. He looks on track to possibly return on Thursday against the Lakers, and it can’t come soon enough.

On/Off comparisons by NBAwowy

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