Philadelphia 76ers: What is T.J. McConnell’s role?

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21: T.J. McConnell
MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 21: T.J. McConnell /

Fans are justifiably excited by the new backcourt options that the Sixers have this season. But, what does the addition of No. 1 picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz mean for fan favorite, T.J. McConnell?

Life isn’t bad for T.J. McConnell. A former 3-star recruit who started his college career at Duquesne, he’s now entering his third NBA season. He’s loved by his fellow Sixers, who voted him Teammate of the Year. Recently, he married his childhood sweetheart, the lovely Valerie Guiliani, in a ceremony that served as a preseason get-together for the 76ers.

As much as McConnell seems to be winning at life, there are some storm clouds on the horizon. The Sixers seem poised to make a significant jump this season, with back-to-back No. 1 picks Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz (hopefully) taking the court. Whether you agree or disagree with head coach Brett Brown’s view of the situation,, both players are considered point guards. That just happens to be the position that McConnell plays.

As the team improves, there were always going to be casualties from the “Trust the Process” days. That didn’t figure to be painful at all back in 2014 when guys like JaKarr Sampson and Furkan Aldemir were getting minutes. Now that we’re actually at the payoff, though, the decisions are a little bit tougher.

So, the real question is, does McConnell have a significant role on a good NBA team?

The Case for McConnell

Coming out of Arizona, McConnell was an after-thought in the 2015 NBA Draft. Averaging 10.4 points and 6.3 assists a game during his senior season at Arizona wasn’t exactly the kind of resume that makes scouts drool. If we’re being honest, most observers figured that McConnell, who went undrafted, was just a body for the Sixers’ summer league teams. Sure, some people gave him a shot to make the team, but that had more to do with Philadelphia’s roster than the player.

Coming from that background, what McConnell has done is nothing short of amazing. He’s hustled his way not just to being in the NBA but to being a solid, if unspectacular, starting point guard. The numbers last season (6.9 ppg, 6.6 apg) don’t tell the story. Anyone who watched the Sixers play knows that McConnell’s impact went far beyond stats.

The point guard became the emotional leader of the team, especially when Joel Embiid wasn’t available. He befriended Dario Saric and made the rookie’s adjustment to the Association (and, really, the country) as smooth as it could possibly be.

His hustle was contagious and his passing was underrated. Those six-plus assists a game look better when you take into account that the Sixers shot 44.2-percent from the field (per, putting them 27th out of 30 teams.

The biggest knock on McConnell is his shooting, but even that might be overstated.

The Case Against McConnell

Yes, McConnell’s story is heart-warming. It would make a nice made-for-TV movie. Unfortunately, that means nothing on an NBA court.

McConnell is generously listed at 6-foot-2 and he doesn’t have the foot-speed to make up for his lack of size. His moxie is great, but teammates have to stay alert to help him on defense against far too many point guards.

Some of that would be negated if McConnell were a knock-down shooter, but even if he’s not as bad as some people make him out to be, he’s still not good. He shot 46.1-percent from the field, which isn’t necessarily glaring for a point guard. He only shot 55 3-pointers, however, and connected on just 11 of them (20-percent).

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Matthew Dellavedova has been a lazy comparison for some when discussing McConnell, but the Milwaukee backup is significantly bigger than the Sixers guard and has never hit fewer than 50 3-pointers in any of his four seasons.

What Does It Mean?

Not even the most ardent McConnell supporter would argue that he should play in front of Simmons or Fultz. They might argue that he’s better than Jerryd Bayless, the free agent point guard who spent all of last season hurt. Bayless, though, is a 9-year veteran who brings some experience to the very young Sixers.

The fact that we’re even having this conversation about McConnell shows how far he’s come as a player. In the 51 games that he started last season, he was rarely the reason that the team lost.

Brown would certainly love to have McConnell on the team, since players like Embiid, Saric and Robert Covington have come to trust him as a playmaker. It’s just tough to see where the minutes are going to come from.

Perhaps the best thing that McConnell has done for the Sixers is to prove that he’s an NBA caliber player. If Simmons and Fultz are everything that the team hope they are, then McConnell could end up buried. Plenty of teams, though, could use a quality backup point guard, which the former Arizona Wildcat has proven that he can be.

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The 76ers need to make sure that their high-profile rookies are ready for the big time, but once that’s established, McConnell’s biggest value might be as a trade piece. If that happens, though, no one should feel bad for the point guard. By most any metric, McConnell is still crushing life.