TJ McConnell is the what many would call the typical Philadelphia athlete. He may not be the biggest or strongest, but he is always the scrappiest whenever he touches the court. So far this season he has exceeded every possible expectation and become a vital piece to the Sixers success. With a healthy Jerryd Bayless in the rotation to start the year as well as the addition of Markelle Fultz, the guard depth chart looked very deep, but once the injury bug bit the future cornerstone in Fultz, McConnell took his chance for more playing time and ran with it.
Still lacking the necessary range to be a true game changer at the point guard position, McConnell knows what he does well and makes sure he does it great. His ability to find open shooters, drive the lane to collapse defenses, and pull up from the free throw line (which is absolutely money by the way), makes him an effective role player on a team where consistency is at a premium. Now in his third season, the feisty McConnell continues to grow his game and become more of a leader. Averaging a career high 7.7 points on a career high 53% field goal percentage (first in the NBA among players under 6’7” attempting 6 shots a game), McConnell is no longer the player who holds back his team on the offensive side of the ball because of his inefficiencies.
TJ McConnell running the offense off the bench gives the team a different feel than when Ben Simmons is running the point. McConnell brings a faster pace (individually, McConnell’s 105.41 pace is at the top of the NBA). McConnell takes a more methodical half-court approach, taking his time to find good shots and waiting for players to get themselves open, while Simmons is able to use his natural talent to make plays. Having both styles on different units offers unique looks depending on game flow. If a quick scoring run is needed, McConnell might be the better option.
McConnell’s so-called grittiness gives the Sixers an identity that has been missing in years past. Once Markelle Fultz returns to action (don’t worry, it’s going to happen), McConnell’s play has shown that his minutes should not decrease. This season he has transformed into a multi-dimensional player that no longer just handles the basketball. He’sshown a surprising knack for scoring and can now play next to players without a consistent jump shot, something that wasn’t possible two years ago (TJ has already made more corner threes than he attempted last season). TJ may not be the biggest or strongest, but the sense of security he offers to a young team is important. If he can continue to grow, he’ll be incredibly valuable throughout a long career.
Much like the center position in recent years, the point guard is changing. The stars at the position are the freakishly athletic guards who can also finish at the rim and also have a smooth jump shot. Pure facilitators who don’t do those other things have a decreased value.
McConnell may never be a star point guard, but if he can keep improving his game year in and year out and continue to find ways to be effective, he could be one of the most vital sixth men in the NBA.