Philadelphia 76ers: T.J. McConnell stakes his claim for a new deal

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

After racking up DNPs in October, T.J. McConnell is staking his claim for a new deal as the Philadelphia 76ers small ball point guard.

T.J. McConnell is about to get paid.

How much? Debateable. By who? Only time will tell, but after racking up DNP-CD’s over the first month-plus of the 2018-19 NBA season, it’s clear McConnell is going to be in the NBA for a long, long time.

Why can’t he spend that tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers?

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While it’s understandable that McConnell often gets overlooked and undervalued by talent evaluators, as he was effectively trapped on the bench during the ‘Markelle Fultz at backup PG’ experiment, the People’s Champ just isn’t going away anytime soon.

Even though he’s not the fastest, strongest, or most gifted player in the league, McConnell is an all-effort player who brings everything he has everytime he steps on a basketball court.

And in the Sixers’ monster blowout win over the Washington Wizards, T.J. unlocked his inner 3.J., knocking down his second shot from downtown of the season.

But McConnell didn’t stop there. As the 76ers second-leading scorer behind Joel Embiid, McConnell hit 6-10 shots for 15 points to go along with a pair of rebounds, a pair of assists and a pair of steals in easily his best pure performance of the season so far.

Now granted, it’s not like Washington put up much of a fight, as the team essentially imploded in on themselves like Veterans Stadium by the mid-way point of the third quarter, but still, in a game with Bradley Beal, John Wall, Austin Rivers, and J.J. Redick all saw the court, a 6-foot-2 undrafted free agent point from Arizona was the most effective guard statistically.

Is McConnell now all of a sudden going to start scoring in double digits night after night? Probably not, as he is still limited on the offensive end of the court, but if McConnell can inch his current 4.7 point-per-game clip up closer to 8.5, about two points higher than his career average of 6.4, while continuing to average 1.3 steals and five assists a game, then the 76ers could be in business.

Honestly, that’s all the team really needs from their backup point guard.

Because of how, shall we say unique the Sixers starting five is, Brett Brown‘s squad needs a true backup point guard more than a lot of teams, who can often get away with a flexible combo guard like Austin Rivers coming off the bench. When the team decides to go small, with either Ben Simmons shifted to power forward, or on the bench, they need a, well small, tenacious playmaker capable of holding down the court and making good decisions with the ball in his hands.

McConnell is that player.

Would it be nice if Markelle Fultz was that player? Sure, as Fultz brings improved athleticism, defensive versatility, and (once upon a time) a better shot over the ‘McConnell baseline’, but T.J.’s heart is why he keeps finding his way onto the court, and making plays when he probably shouldn’t. That’s why other teams like the Phoenix Suns have made called to try to pry the 26-year-old out of the Sixers rotation, and why McConnell will undoubtedly earn a new contract next season; in the NBA effort matters.

And in a rough-around-the-edges, blue-collar city like Philadelphia, effort counts just a little bit more.

You see, fans in the City of Brotherly Love really don’t care if their players are the biggest, fastest, or most talented guys around, sure, it’s nice when they are, but that’s not a requirement. For fans in the 215, all that matters is if a player gives it their all day-in, and day-out.

Some of the most heralded players in our city’s fair history, like Allen Iverson, and Charles Barkley, never won a championship, or even really came close, but because they gave it their all and put their adopted city on their backs, they remain beloved icons of Philly to this day.

While I may be the only person in history to compare T.J. McConnell to Charles Barkley, their commitment to playing hard cannot be underscored.

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So, will the 76ers continue to look for a dynamic combo guard to pad out their roster, either in Fultz, or a future acquisition? Sure, but if recent memory is of any indication, the Philadelphia 76ers simply find a way to win when T.J. McConnell is on the court, and with the team firmly in win-now mode, it may be wise to retain his services for the foreseeable future.