Position: Point Guard
Status for 2017-18: Guaranteed -- $1,471,382
McConnell in 2016-17
Entering his second season as an undrafted free agent signing out of Arizona, T.J. McConnell was expected to be at the back of the Sixers' bench in 2016-17. With the team's signing veterans in free agency for the first time in a while, McConnell projected as the third-string point guard behind newcomers Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez. If Ben Simmons was healthy, he could have been even further down the depth chart.
Obviously, things didn't go as planned. Bayless played just three games and Rodriguez dealt with injuries at times. That opened the door for McConnell, who moved into the starting lineup in mid-December. He seized the chance and held on for dear life, turning into a solid starting point guard and one of the bright spots on an improving Sixers team.
McConnell played all but one game this season and started 51 games, increased by 32 starts from 2015-16. In 26.3 minutes per game, McConnell averaged 6.9 points, 6.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. He struggled from three-point range, yet his field goal percentage stayed about the same year-over-year (47 to 46.1 percent). The 25-year-old point guard became a leader and a spark to the team, leading the team's impressive January alongside Joel Embiid. He also provided perhaps the moment of the season with his game-winner against the Knicks (see below) and proved to be unshaken in the clutch.
The Arizona product had 13 games with at least 10 assists, including 17 in Boston in early January. He averaged 9.3 assists per game in January and finished the month with five double-digit assist performances in six games. McConnell impressed enough that, according to reports, the Cavaliers inquired about his availability in hopes of making him Kyrie Irving's backup on the defending champions.
There were plenty this season, so I'll offer two.
First up is his first start. Bayless, Rodriguez and Joel Embiid were all out when the Sixers traveled to Detroit on Dec. 11. McConnell rose to the occasion with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, just an assist shy of a triple-double in the Sixers' 97-79 win.
And the other signature game would, of course, be against the Knicks. He took just six shots and had eight points on Jan. 11 but his final shot was a big one, his game-winning jumper as time expired to beat the Knicks, 98-97. He also had seven rebounds, six assists and two steals in the home victory and produced a fist-pump for the ages in celebration at the end of the game.
Looking ahead to 2017-18
McConnell established himself as an NBA point guard in 2016-17, but he probably won't retain his starting role to begin 2017-18.
With Simmons and Bayless returning to health, McConnell will likely be relegated back to the bench, albeit in a larger role than the start of last season. His performance from his first start to the end of the year earned him a rotation spot assuming the Sixers don't spend big on one of the top point guards on the free agent market.
McConnell also has developed strong chemistry with each returning player for the Sixers, so he can fit in seamlessly as the point guard for any lineup. How he works alongside Simmons remains to be seen. His lack of three-point shooting could mean that he is forced to the bench when Simmons is in.
"The point guard in Philly, the kid from Arizona. He's a pure point guard, he makes their team better. ... [McConnell's] kind of overmatched in a lot of ways but he's smart, he's tough and he plays. He's a pure point guard, and there's still tons of value in that."
- Former MVP point guard Steve Nash
"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. 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."
- Sixers head coach Brett Brown after his shot vs. the Knicks
"He certainly represents everything that this organization represents and this city represents in terms of grit and tenacity and that fierceness that we’re looking for."
- Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo