T.J. McConnell Should Start Over Sergio Rodriguez

Oct 11, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard T.J. McConnell (1) looks to pass as Memphis Grizzlies forward James Ennis (8) defends in the first quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard T.J. McConnell (1) looks to pass as Memphis Grizzlies forward James Ennis (8) defends in the first quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

T.J. McConnell has proven over the course of last season and this preseason that he is the point guard most worthy of starting for the Philadelphia 76ers.

When T.J. McConnell was named to the final roster last season for the Philadelphia 76ers, many were surprised. He had performed well in training camp and the preseason, but his efforts didn’t seem to be necessarily NBA worthy.

Still, a year later, there’s massive questions surrounding his ability as a basketball player and whether he deserves to be a starting NBA point guard.

The situations the Sixers have found themselves in throughout the last few seasons have almost always been cloudy in the backcourt. This year is no different. The Sixers have huge question marks at the point guard spot thanks to Ben Simmons — who is a point-forward — and Jerryd Bayless both being out with injury.

Because of those injuries, McConnell will almost certainly make the 15-man roster again this season, and will even have a solid shot at the starting job when opening night comes around. The general consensus is that it’s between Sergio Rodriguez and McConnell.

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What I’ve observed and gathered statistically is that McConnell deserves the starting job over Rodriguez, at least to start the season.

Now, as a disclaimer, I should say that McConnell starting the first few games does not mean that’s how it’s going to be for the rest of the season. This roster is so freshly put together and so unique in its characteristics that Brett Brown is going to have to move some pieces around throughout the year just to figure out what works. But his first few nights of lineups will be what he’s most confident in, and McConnell should be included.

For this situation, we will consider per 36 minute stats. While this isn’t always a great measure (it can show that a player who has played just 5 minutes is a better player than some of the All-Stars) it is generally okay to use for preseason, and especially okay for Sergio and McConnell, since they played on the same roster against the same teams, and also played in the same ballpark of minutes.

Sergio — as of Monday — has logged 129 minutes, while McConnell has logged 142.

Sergio, per 36 minutes, is averaging 8.9 points, 9.8 assists, 5.0 turnovers, and 1.7 steals.

McConnell is averaging 11.4 points, 5.8 assists, 4.3 turnovers, and 2.3 steals per 36 minutes.

Right off of the bat, we can see that McConnell has had more of a focus on scoring and less on passing compared to Rodriguez this preseason. Some might say that with pass-heavy player Ben Simmons out indefinitely, passing is more important. That may be true, but to think that McConnell can’t be a passer based off of some preseason games is foolish.

McConnell showed us last season that what he does best is pass. I think the best explanation for the dip in passing and the spike in scoring is that he’s realizing he can’t just be a one-trick pony, and he has to begin diversifying. It’s clear that he’s been working on his scoring game, and that’s good to see.

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At the same time, it would be naive to think that Rodriguez can’t up his scoring once he gets i na regular season groove. So I would consider the two players similar and fairly even when it comes to passing the ball around and scoring, so their points and assists I’m really not considering all that much.

As for the rest of the stats, T.J. seems to take care of the ball better, but only slightly. Besides that, T.J.’s intense on-ball defense is paying off, as he’s getting over 2 steals per 36 minutes, .6 better than Rodriguez.

At the same time, Rodriguez makes up for those missed stats in the intangible column. The things we can’t count, we rely on the eye test for. Things look a bit more cohesive with Sergio on the floor it seems. He’s certainly got a bit of pep in his step, and a bit of swagger. Despite his poor shooting percentage in the preseason (below 30 percent from both the field and 3-point zone) he plays with confidence, and he seems to make everyone around him better.

Still, for a few reasons, I think McConnell deserves the start. For one, McConnell is showing growth in so many areas, and that should be rewarded. He is upping his steals and making his intense defense more effective, and he’s improving his shooting and knack for scoring which was his major flaw last season.

Every time it seems like there’s an issue large enough to keep McConnell off of his next move forward, he fixes himself and adjusts his game to keep himself alive. You want to reward efforts like that and positively reinforce what McConnell has been able to do.

The entire mantra of the Sixers, after all, is to show progress from year to year. He also looks to be a point guard that can get the ball rolling for Joel Embiid (but Rodriguez could as well. Really, any point guard cold).

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Additionally, McConnell knows the coaches, knows many of the players from last year, and is familiar with Brett Brown and his system. Beginning the year with McConnell running point will make Brown and some of the other players much more comfortable, and it just seems logical to have him make the start with the race being cut so close.