ARIZONA BASKETBALL

Former Arizona PG T.J. McConnell continues surprising in NBA for Pacers

May 6, 2024, 7:35 PM | Updated: 8:57 pm

T.J. McConnell #9 of the Indiana Pacers attempts to pass around Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York K...

T.J. McConnell #9 of the Indiana Pacers attempts to pass around Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks during the first half in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 06, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Former Arizona Wildcats point guard T.J. McConnell is approaching a decade in the NBA, an unlikely journey that has even seen McConnell become a playoff X-Factor for his Indiana Pacers. He was a huge part of Indiana nearly pulling off the upset in the first round versus the New York Knicks in a 121-117 Game 1 loss.

McConnell had 18 points, three assists and three steals on 9-of-16 shooting in 22 minutes.

McConnell went undrafted in 2015, not thought of as much of a NBA prospect. He was not a shooter at the time and hasn’t developed into one since. He’s generously listed at 6-foot-1, lacks explosive movement and didn’t score too much as a Wildcat, either.

What McConnell can do, however, is read the floor at an expert level and use his quickness from there to shift it, mostly to set up his teammates. This got him a shot at making the Philadelphia 76ers roster, which he did, and he has been a near-constant as a rotation player since.

This season, McConnell’s ninth in the league, has really seen him break out as a bucket-getter. Yes, you read that correctly. From Feb. 6 on, McConnell off the bench averaged 13.3 points per game while shooting 58.2% from the field. Again, that’s while taking less than one 3-pointer a game, and for the season he knocked down 56.8% of his 2s.

McConnell’s quite honestly weird midrange game at Arizona consisting of 12-foot fallaways and other odd touch shots at the rim is now something he’s able to activate more frequently with confidence and a high level of understanding for where the real estate will be. On a spaced-out roster built around floor general Tyrese Haliburton, McConnell has the room to scoot around and take his goofy shots.

He’s even got a little bit of shake to his handle despite dribbling like someone from a half-century ago.

 

Defenses just aren’t used to defending someone like him. Looking at guards around his size, McConnell was the first to put up at least 10 points a game with under one 3PA/G since Derrick Rose in 2016-17 and Tony Parker in 2015-16, per Stathead. New York was understandably trying to get away with either Jalen Brunson or Miles McBride defending McConnell without using its best perimeter options on him before changing that late.

One of McConnell’s signature attributes is his pace of play, which will help the Pacers tremendously against the Knicks. McConnell always wants to get the ball up quickly and is rarely going to waste dribbles, looking to at least threaten for the paint whenever possible, like one of his all-time favorites Steve Nash. Defensively, he will pick guys up fullcourt to do some pest work and moves like a guy who never runs out of energy.

The Knicks play a short rotation and commonly put starters in the low-to-mid 40s for minutes, and Indiana was deliberately speeding the game up on both ends to play the long game of wearing New York down. McConnell will be a key part of that effort, with his importance in a second-round series still being hard to believe.

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