Since Brett Brown took over as head coach of the 76ers three-plus seasons ago, players have come and gone in droves.
Some have stayed since the start like Nerlens Noel.
Others came and went quickly like Casper Ware.
During the Brown era, there have been a remarkable 17 – count ‘em 17 – point guards donning a Sixers uniform. Think about that for a minute.
Somehow, T.J. McConnell continues to march on and prove his worth. Now in his second season, the undrafted 6-foot-1, 190-pound point guard from the University of Arizona finds new ways to lead the Sixers.
McConnell hit the game-winning 12-foot turnaround baseline jumper to beat the New York Knicks at the buzzer Wednesday night. In Friday’s 102-93 win over the Charlotte Hornets, McConnell knocked down a very similar spinning baseline jumper to give the Sixers a 99-91 advantage with 58 seconds remaining.
McConnell finished with four points, eight assists and three steals for the suddenly surging Sixers, who improved to 12-25 following a three-game winning streak. Without Joel Embiid, the Sixers did fall to 12-26 after a 109-93 loss at Washington Saturday night in a back-to-back situation.
The unheralded McConnell has led the team in assists 19 times this season.
“When you know you’re going to be out there for a certain amount of minutes, whether you make mistakes or not, it’s a great feeling,” McConnell said.
McConnell started his college career at Duquesne, then transferred to Arizona after two years. Despite flourishing for a highly-successful program, McConnell went overlooked by NBA scouts. So he worked out for 16 NBA teams, hoping one would give him a look.
Once he got to Philadelphia, everything fell into place. There’s no cliché here: this is truly a dream fulfilled.
“He’s a (Pittsburgh) Pennsylvania kid that nobody gave a chance and tripped on an opportunity with a program that’s in the rebuild mode on my 17th point guard,” Brown said. “You go through that massive volume of point guards and you have somebody that doesn’t go away. … There’s an injury, and so you give him the ball. He seized the moment, grabbed an opportunity and he ran hard with it. The preparation prior to that opportunity happening for him was A-plus. … To see him be rewarded, it’s a great story.”
The Sixers are now 6-2 with McConnell in the starting lineup. With Jerryd Bayless out for the season and prized rookie Ben Simmons likely out for at least another month, the Sixers will continue rolling out McConnell.
“I just try to do what this team needs,” McConnell said matter-of-factly. “I think I could be a little more aggressive offensively. But when you have a guy like Joel, you’ve just got to give him the ball. I just try to be the point guard out there.”
McConnell never tries to do too much on the court. He has all the skills a point guard possesses – good court sense, ability to spot the open man, taking the shot when it’s there, etc.
Being put in this position last season was a start. Being inserted into the starting lineup is another major step forward.
“It’s two different feelings to know that you’ve accomplished your dream – there’s no feeling like it,” McConnell said. “But there’s also no feeling like winning. They’re both great. I just can’t really compare the two.”
No need to do that. Winning takes care of everything.
“It certainly helps,” McConnell said. “When you’re winning, it makes everything better. It just gives us more confidence to keep playing the way we’re playing.