Jan. 12, 2017
Why The Sixers Have Been Winning When TJ McConnell Starts (And Why It's Not Even Remotely Sustainable)
All I keep hearing recently is how "the Sixers are 4-1 when TJ starts". Well, in this piece I'll show you exactly why that narrative is a myth and the stats are a mirage when it comes to this kid.
First of all, let's take a look at those four wins, shall we?
The first at Detroit came against a team that was missing starting shooting guard -and one of the best two-way players in the game- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and had just recently gotten franchise point guard Reggie Jackson back from injury.
I remember that game distinctly. As has been the case with nearly every one of those wins, a few things happened.
First, Ersan Ilyasova and Nik Stauskas majorly bailed out TJ's bad play offensively.
Ersan hit multiple shots off of just awful passes from TJ and was pretty much not human offensively. (Robert Covington also hit a three early off of a bad pass from TJ but his shooting has not been something that has been necessary in every one of these four wins so we'll ignore that for now.)
Nik Stauskas flat out took over at times offensively -just like in the win over Minnesota and today's win over Brooklyn- and as has been the case in every one of the three wins with Sergio out was flat out amazing as the backup point guard and his influence on the game in that capacity was the reason the Sixers were able to maintain and even extend their lead in the game and hold on despite TJ's piss poor point guard play and unbelievably lazy defense.
Second, Ersan Ilyasova was flat out amazing defensively and the combination of him, Dario Saric, and Richaun Holmes held a very, very potent offensive player in check in Tobias Harris.
Unfortunately Robert Covington was not quite as great defensively, and Marcus Morris flat out went off and almost singlehandedly won the game for Detroit. Luckily Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot more than held his own defensively and helped stop the bleeding along the wings.
Jahlil Okafor was aggressive offensively and played very tough in the paint dictated the game down low on both ends. As Embiid has been in the other four games TJ started, Okafor was a problem for Detroit from the time the ball was tipped, and he gave Drummond problems on both ends of the floor.
Richaun Holmes -like Nerlens has been in these other four games TJ has started- was a problem for Detroit every second he was out on the floor, and he made an impact on the game pretty much immediately.
Lastly, as has been the case with every game where TJ started or even just played major minutes, the Sixers blew a big lead entirely thanks to his unbelievably lazy defense and atrocious point guard play. He was however somewhat deliberate with the ball in his hands as a scorer and had some decent drives.
As has been the case with pretty much every game TJ has started or played major minutes, at least one -and often multiple- point guard got going offensively in the second half thanks to TJ not even bothering to stay with him defensively.
In this game, it was Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith. They almost combined with Drummond and Marcus Morris to take the game back and win it for Detroit, and their unabated penetration opened up holes in the defense which they exploited to set teammates up with open looks.
So why have the Sixers won these four games?
First, it's important to understand that sometimes timing is as important as anything else.
The dumb stuff TJ does when he's out on the floor like gamble for steals and play off his man defensively to play the passing lane works in the first quarter against teams that aren't quite elite. This would not ever work against a disciplined, serious team like the Spurs but it works early against teams like the Celtics and Pistons and can work all game long against poor teams like Denver and Minnesota who are built around ball-dominant combo guards.
This -combined with the ability of hyper-athletes Nerlens, Richaun, and even Embiid to outrun the defense by a mile on the fast break and adjust to bad passes to finish close attempts made much more difficult than they should have been- allows the Sixers to get off to a lead or at least stay in these games early. However, whenever TJ is on the floor at pretty much any point of the game, it leads to a blown lead or even bigger deficit more often than not. Look it up if you don't believe me.
Second, TJ starting games means he's playing during a period when opposing teams are being taken by surprise not just by the starting frontcourt of Embiid and Ilyasova but by Henderson and Covington but especially Ilyasova offensively.
After that happens, they become overwhelmed by athletes Nerlens, Holmes, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and offensive studs Dario Saric and Nik Stauskas. It's often a lethal one-two punch that leaves teams reeling until TJ comes back in and inevitably lets the team back into it with his atrocious play on both ends.
Third, playing with TJ forces the Sixers' best offensive players to look out for themselves/each other and be more aggressive and assertive offensively rather than trusting the point guard to put them in positions to succeed and run the offense the way they know Sergio will.
There's such a thing as being too unselfish offensively, and that's exactly what the Sixers are sometimes when Sergio starts at point guard. These are very unselfish, unpretentious, team-first players and they don't look for their offense most of the time with Sergio on the floor -which can lead to inefficient, indecisive offensive possessions where players do the "dribble drive and kick" over and over.
People who don't know basketball will say this makes the offense more efficient when TJ starts or that him starting is good for the team but in reality what it means is that playing with TJ has forced every player -Embiid included, who looks spastic at times when playing with TJ rather than under control- to get so used to playing off the ball and waiting for TJ to maybe pass it to them then adjusting to his inevitable bad passes and converting attempts that TJ's passes make more difficult than they would've otherwise been that they're unable to play in an offense where they receive crisp, on-target passes exactly when they need to be thrown or get the ball with time/in a position to do more than just put up an attempt to get TJ an assist or pass the ball. This is the absolute worst thing that can ever happen to a young team and it could hamper or even kill the development of the Sixers' most important young players.
People said after the game against Boston that the Sixers lost despite TJ's 17 assists. In reality, they lost because of his 17 assists.
Almost every single one of those assists came off bad, off-target passes from TJ that the recipient of said pass had to adjust to and convert a much more difficult attempt than it would've been otherwise. They also all came after TJ looked for his own offense, overdribbled, and/or drove the lane then threw an often unnecessarily flashy overthought of a pass entirely to get an assist.
This is the opposite of offensive execution, and it's is exactly what every player the Sixers "developed" during the Iverson era had to deal with. It's the reason why the vast majority of them either didn't pan out or stayed flawed players for their entire careers.
In every single one of the Sixers' wins with TJ McConnell as the team's starting point guard, Nik Stauskas has bailed him out with just flat out amazing play as the backup point guard.
First of all, Nik Stauskas is a far superior point guard to TJ in every single way. It's not even close.
He's more deliberate with the ball in his hands, more efficient, more unselfish, and such a far superior passer it's not even funny. I've lost count of the amount of times I've seen Stauskas make those flashy passes that TJ loves to throw almost every possession look easy and do so in an incredibly efficient manner. He gets his teammates going -often getting them back in rhythm with crisp, on-target, perfectly timed passes after TJ has taken them out of rhythm with his awful passes- and makes the offense hum smoothly the same way Sergio Rodriguez does as the starting point guard, albeit often as more of an aggressive driver to the hoop.
If not for Stauskas doing such an excellent job as the backup point guard, the Sixers flat out don't win the first three of these games, as we saw when his being unable to bail out TJ in that capacity the other night led to the close loss in Boston.
Lastly, in all four wins the Sixers have gotten with TJ as the starting point guard, at least one player flat out can't miss early despite playing next to TJ, whether because he does such a great job overcoming and adjusting to TJ's atrocious passes like Ersan or Dario Saric do or he looks for his own offense and is aggressive like Embiid and Gerald Henderson do. This carries the Sixers while the rest of the team is "off" thanks to TJ, and allows them to play without being under so much pressure on either end.
In the game against Detroit, it was a combination of Ersan, Covington, and Gerald Henderson. If not for their scoring early, the Sixers flat out don't win that game.
In the Denver and Minnesota games it was Ersan, who flat out couldn't miss against Minnesota due to being so ridiculously good at adjusting to TJ's awful passes and drilling the shot anyway. If not for that, the Sixers don't have a chance in hell in those games. (In fact, he didn't really miss much until he got a pass from TJ when standing behind the arc that was so atrocious that it almost came up and hit him in the face off the bounce! That pass completely took him out of rhythm, and he's struggled shooting ever since. What's worse, he got used to adjusting to bad passes by TJ that he was unable to convert or hit shots when playing with players who actually gave him crisp passes exactly where he needed them exactly when they needed to be thrown. This caused him to miss the huge jumpers he usually drills with regularity, which cost the Sixers late after TJ coughed up their lead with his atrocious point guard play and lack of even trying to defend any of Boston's guards.)
Against Boston, it was Gerald Henderson who almost singlehandedly got the Sixers back in the game. He flat out couldn't miss late, and his aggressiveness on the offensive end was a major problem for the Celtics defenders.
In today's win over Brooklyn, it was Dario Saric early -who flat out carried the Sixers in the first half- and Nik Stauskas and then Robert Covington -who flat out took over in the second half- that carried the rest of the team offensively.
The way TJ McConnell plays is exactly the way Allen Iverson played, except Iverson was a first overall pick and had more talent and skill in his pinky finger than that undrafted scrub will ever have in his entire body. Putting together a lineup based entirely off of how you can fit TJ into a lineup and still win is not only incredibly shortsighted, it's detrimental to every single other player on the team and to The Process in general.
Don't believe the hype, Sixers fans. Nothing about this kid, his numbers, or the Sixers' record with him as a starter having anything to do with him is for real.