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T.J. McConnell a Bright Spot for Struggling 76ers

Mike Groll/Associated Press

As most realists expected coming into the year, the offense for the Philadelphia 76ers has fallen somewhere between inconsistent and a real-world embodiment of the Springfield Tire Fire. The team’s offensive rating is currently 94.3, second-worst in the NBA ahead of just the Brooklyn Nets, a team who at this point is just a way for Boston Celtics fans to feel like they bought Apple stock in the eighties. Yet, when one Sixers’ rookie is on the court, the team’s offense has transformed into–dare I say it?–a good unit.

No, I’m not talking about the leading scorer in the NBA among rookies, Jahlil Okafor. Instead, this remarkable X-factor of a man is the recently entrenched starting point guard, T.J. McConnell. When the undrafted rookie out of Arizona is in the game, the Sixers have an offensive rating of 102.1, a mark that would be 9th-best among NBA teams.  In the process, McConnell has been putting up some numbers never before duplicated in league history.

A lot of eyes probably rolled when word spread of T.J. McConnell’s text in the preseason to Nerlens Noel, “We can be like Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire on the pick and roll.” Sure thing, nice to dream. But one thing that’s been very much a reality is the chemistry the two have shown together. Noel is 54.1% from the field when McConnell is on the court, as opposed to just 31.4% when McConnell is on the bench. In all, 12 of Noel’s 31 made field goals on the year have come via an assist from McConnell.

That kind of result is fairly consistent for McConnell’s teammates up and down the roster, as the team’s eFG% plummets from 53.4% to 38.7% when T.J. is on or off the court. He has shown tremendous court vision and a knack for getting his teammates the ball in a position to succeed. As a result, among players who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game, McConnell is 7th in the NBA in AST% at 37.9%, sandwiched nicely between Mike Conley and John Wall. Not bad company for a player many expected to be playing overseas after failing to be selected in June’s draft.

Granted, the Sixers are only five games into the season, which is where the less optimistic among us will scream SMALL SAMPLE SIZE from the rooftops. After all, it was just two years ago that a much more highly-touted Sixers rookie point guard was leading the team to a 3-0 start, and less than 18 months later, the franchise had already moved on from Michael Carter-Williams.

However, what more could you ask from a guy who, when the door of opportunity opened a crack for him, kicked it wide open and announced he’s here and has no intention of leaving. McConnell will almost certainly never be Steve Nash, but as angsty tweens like to say in their online profiles, “Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” McConnell has landed among the stars, and for now, he’s shining just as brightly as many of them.

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