With Jimmy Butler recently signing with the Miami Heat in free agency, Philadelphia 76ers fans lament the loss of the great swingman. But there was another less-heralded player some of their fans may be more upset about losing.
His name? Backup point guard T.J. McConnell.
T.J. McConnell’s achievements with the 76ers
McConnell was signed by the team before the 2015 season after going undrafted. At first glance, his stats with the team seem a bit underwhelming. Let’s take a look at some of McConnell’s accomplishments while playing with the Sixers:
- 6.4 points per game
- 4.7 assists per game
- .768 free throw percentage
- .335 three-point percentage
Pro Basketball Reference puts together “similarity scores” for the purpose of comparison. Players with comparable similarity scores in years 1-4 in the league included Dana Barros, Speedy Claxton, and Jamaal Tinsley. That’s not exactly a Murderer’s Row of legendary basketball talent.
None of those facts point to someone the Sixers faithful would embrace. And yet that’s exactly what 76ers fans did.
T.J. McConnell’s greatest moments in Philadelphia
During that time, McConnell emerged as a fan favorite. Prior to drafting Ben Simmons and trading for players like Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler, the Sixers regularly struggled to compete. As Embiid battled injuries, McConnell was one of the few bright spots on what looked like a hopeless Philadelphia squad.
McConnell had some memorable moments during his time in a 76ers uniform, including:
- A thrilling buzzer-beater to lead the team over the New York Knicks
- Scoring 19 points in a 2018 playoff game against the Celtics
- Entertaining the fans with his pregame dancing ability
McConnell gave the fans no shortage of great memories during his time in Philly.
Why T.J. McConnell’s free-agent departure has 76ers fans upset
76ers fans loved McConnell’s attitude, toughness, and hustle. He’s also emblematic of the Sixers’ Process era and everything the city stands for. Fans of the team went through difficult times, following a team built on nothing but promise and potential.
Now that the promise has been fulfilled, the fans can look back on that era with a certain degree of fondness as all the losing and hardship paid off. Saying goodbye to the players who helped make that promise a reality – namely, players like McConnell – must be difficult.
From a purely basketball-related perspective, it also hurts the team to lose McConnell. He was an adept and reliable backup point guard the team will now need to replace.
Right now, ESPN has the 2018 second-round draft pick Shake Milton as the Sixers’ number two option at the point guard position. Milton only averaged 4.4 points per game during his rookie season – not a huge dropoff from McConnell, but also without the experience of his predecessor. Given that Milton is also listed as a shooting guard by trade, they’ll likely need an upgrade before the offseason concludes.
As much as Jimmy Butler’s exit stings, many fans have more of an emotional connection to McConnell. Butler leaving was unsurprising – he was a hired gun that was one of the top free agents on the market – but McConnell’s role as a dark horse and underdog has endeared him to Sixers fans over four years.
T.J. McConnell’s departure is a stark reminder of the reality of the transience of NBA rosters. No matter how much loyalty one player has earned from a team or fan base based on their play, it’s still a business and will always operate as one.