Philadelphia 76ers: T.J. McConnell has become indispensable

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

After racking up half a dozen DNPs for the Philadelphia 76ers in November, T.J. McConnell has become an indispensable part of Brett Brown’s 2019 rotation.

T.J. McConnell is the kind of player that’s seemingly always on the trade block, and yet remains steadily employed; He’s tough, hardworking, and resilient, but also slow, ineffective, and scheme inflexible.

Season after season a new, younger crop of athletic college point guards enter the NBA vying for a chance to take a player like McConnell’s spot, and yet, season after season, he has the last laugh, and remains gainfully employed with the Philadelphia 76ers, while others opt to continue their basketball playing career in Europe, China, or the G-League.

But on one fateful day back in November, that narrative became stale.

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After watching Markelle Fultz, the prestigious former first overall pick out of Washington struggle against the lowly Phoenix Suns, going 0-2 from the field in seven minutes of action, Brett Brown went off script down 62-57 and replaced the 6-foot-5 combo guard with McConnell in what would go down as the team’s 12th win of the season.

And since then, McConnell has been on a roll in his new role; padding out the stat sheet with seven points, four assists, and a pair of steals while averaging 25 minutes of action a night

Sure, he’s still a bit of a non-factor from a shooting standpoint, as McConnell is only averaging 5.2 shots from the field a game, but that number has risen from 3.8 to 6.1 since his reinsertion into Coach Brown’s regular rotation.

And the shots he’s taking are much improved as well.

Since the Phoenix game, McConnell is shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3, marked improvements from his first quarter averages. And best of all, McConnell has finally found his shot.

Well, technically McConnell has always had his shot, the ‘TJ ‘, a last-second spinning jumper he first deployed in a buzzer beater against the New York Knicks, but so far this season, McConnell’s mid-range game has been lethal, leading the team in field goal percentage from 5-9 feet at 60.9.

Furthermore, from a decidedly non-statistical standpoint, the Sixers just seem to play better when McConnell is on the court.

Blame it on his charisma, effort, or correct proportions for someone playing the point guard position, but the 76ers just play differently, better, when McConnell is running the show, either alongside Ben Simmons a la Matthew Dellavedova and LeBron James in Cleveland, or in relief of the 6-foot-10 position-less wonder, even if his Real Plus-Minus numbers leave a bit to be desired at -1.74. McConnell’s a calming presence in crunch time, always looking to procure his teammates a better shot than he could find for himself, setting for a midrange J when the clock winds down.

No wonder first-year GM Elton Brand has officially removed McConnell from the trade block; he’s an invaluable part of this season’s squad.

Jimmy Butler likes him, J.J. Redick likes him, Joel Embiid likes him. Really, the only player on the roster who may have a bone to pick with the 6-foot-2 Pittsburg native is Fultz, as he stole the former’s role on the team, but based on their interactions on the bench; it would appear the duo get along just fine.

McConnell is such a good dude, he even dragged Butler, a player six inches taller making $20 million more a season away from a potential scuffle in what may very well go down as his best game of the entire season.

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But that’s just the kind of player McConnell is; a scrappy floor general with a selfless disposition. And on a team like the Philadelphia 76ers, with more egos than they have allotted playing time, he’s an invaluable cog on a top-flight roster.