Sixers Would be Wise to Start T.J. McConnell for the Time Being


After his team’s 107-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sixers coach Brett Brown was asked whether or not the play of rookie point guard T.J. McConnell could force him to reconsider his starting rotation. Brown responded by saying, “There’s nothing promised in our group. It’s all there. Everybody, every practice, every game will be earning a spot and especially at that point guard spot.”

The Sixers roster is constructed in such a way that fosters inter-squad competitiveness. This is mostly due to the fact that, frankly, there are a handful of players on the roster who likely would not have the opportunity to make an impact elsewhere. The Sixers provide the opportunity for players passed over by teams looking to contend to contribute at the NBA level. Having seen the revolving door of journeyman players don the Sixers uniform during the Sam Hinkie era, it’s easy to see that the organization is maximizing its chances to unearth untapped talent.

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While that has been a palatable approach over the first two years of Hinkie’s tenure, one could make a case that there are enough players currently on the roster whose future is not as unstable that providing some consistency is in the best interests of the organization. There is NBA talent on this roster. Given how young most of the key individuals on the roster are, it is imperative to provide them an environment that gives them the best chance to grow and develop together. Despite how highly Sam Hinkie thought of him after acquiring him at last year’s trade deadline, Isaiah Canaan is not capable of contributing to this endeavor.

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Canaan’s value in analytics circles is boosted by his three-point shooting ability. Given Hinkie’s background in talent evaluation, one can understand why he valued the sharp-shooting guard as a rotational piece on the Sixers who could provide some extra scoring. That being said, when a team is not constructed to contend in the present, one could make an argument that extra scoring should take a back seat to fostering a positive situation for the players who could eventually make up the core of an Eastern Conference contender. Canaan has not demonstrated the ability to do that at all through three games and is potentially stunting the development of some of the Sixers young impact players.

On the flip side, McConnell has managed to make the most of his time on the floor by making his teammates look better. It does not take a trained eye to see how much better the Sixers offense flows with McConnell running point. The Arizona product is far more adept at setting his teammates up in the best position to score and appears to have a stronger grasp on Brett Brown’s pace-driven offense. Brown knows how important the position is to the overall success of a roster. One could sense the excitement in the head coach’s comments on McConnell after Monday’s game:

"“12 assists, no turnovers…T.J. came in, how many minutes? 23 minutes and had 12 assists. He’s a spark. He plays with great heart. He plays with great pace. We have to run with him. He forces the game’s tempo on everybody else. I thought he was solid.”"

Given the healthy options at the point guard position for the Sixers, ‘solid’ is more than acceptable. Isaiah Canaan is not someone the Sixers have hitched their future to. Canaan has shown limited ability to utilize those individuals whose fortunes very much will dictate how the rest of the league views the Sixers down the road. While there is certainly a place for the type of competitiveness that makes players fight for their jobs on a daily basis, there’s something to be said for providing some consistency at the player running the offense.

After coming down to earth from their scintillating first quarter, the Sixers seemed like a different team with McConnell running the point compared to Canaan. To save the trouble of checking the box score, here’s the discrepancy.

McConnell might not be long for the NBA. Sooner or later, Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten will return from their respective injuries and bring along with them a talent upgrade over what currently resides at the point guard position. The promise of reinforcements should not serve as an excuse to not provide the player who performs his duties at a superior level the opportunity to at least make the decision a difficult one. The Sixers have enough players taking the floor on a nightly basis who factor into their future to make decisions without thinking several years down the road. Giving McConnell a shot as the starting point guard could be a decision that helps them now and in the future. It’s clear that doing so with Isaiah Canaan is helping neither.