Is T.J. McConnell the Better Option as Starting Point Guard?

Dec 6, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard T.J. McConnell (1) dribbles in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Philadelphia 96-91. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard T.J. McConnell (1) dribbles in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Memphis defeated Philadelphia 96-91. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers started T.J. McConnell over the recovering Sergio Rodriguez in a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. Is he the better option?

It’s never good when your point guard goes down with an injury. For the Philadelphia 76ers, losing their point guard was even more devastating considering that they had no other point guards on their roster behind the backup guard, T.J. McConnell.

With McConnell generally looked at as a guard that isn’t a true NBA caliber point guard, the games played without Sergio Rodriguez — who recently sustained a sprained ankle — looked as if they had potential to be disasterous. The team would have to not only start the game without their regular starter, but they would have to play portions of the game without any true point guard running the show, putting someone like Nik Stauskas or Gerald Henderson at point, players not used to calling plays and running floor general.

That’s not to say Stauskas and Henderson aren’t competent, they are, and actually did an okay job handling the ball in the few games that Rodriguez missed.

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With all of that in mind, a person who hasn’t been able to watch the Sixers this year would assume that the team hasn’t done too well with Rodriguez out and McConnell starting. Surprisingly, that’s far from the truth, as the Sixers have gone 4-1 with McConnell in the starting lineup and Rodriguez sitting out this season.

So what gives? Why is McConnell regularly looked at as a bad point guard — and one of the players that won’t be around next year — when he is the point guard that has been in the coveted starting position when the team has won games?

Now, before we dive into the analysis of whether or not McConnell is the real deal, let’s not completely discredit Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been a big part of the six other wins that have occurred this season with the Sixers. Still, there were 21 losses underneath the leadership of Rodriguez.

So, is T.J. McConnell actually good as a starter? Well, the numbers usually don’t lie, and McConnell’s stats have been pretty darn good as a starter for the Sixers.

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When T.J. comes off of the bench, he shoots 41.3 percent from the field, 18.8 percent from beyond the arc, and 69.6 percent from the free-throw line. He averages just 4.0 points and 4.5 assists per game.

With T.J. as a starter, he shoots 44.7 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from beyond the arc, and 75.0 percent from the free-throw line (those are increases of 3.4, 19.5, and 5.4 percent, respectively). He scores 9.6 points and dishes out 9.6 assists per game as well. The numbers individually for McConnell are vastly improved when he starts.

This improvement can likely be attributed to a boost of confidence when he’s given the nod as a starter. The only thing that is kept as a control in the experiment when McConnell is a starter and a reserve is the free-throw line, and he shoots significantly better from there when he plays a game with the starting unit. That’s probably a result of the confidence boost as well — he’s going into games with a bit more pep in his step, it seems.

The team generally looks better — at least as of late — when McConnell is put in as a starter as well. His increased confidence when he’s in as a starter leads to him playing better and improving his teammates. The team is 4-1 when McConnell starts, and 6-21 when he comes off of the bench. That’s an 80 percent success rate when McConnell is the starter, compared to just a 20 percent success rate when he comes off of the bench.

Without a doubt, McConnell has been decent over the last four games that he has started. McConnell started in the most recent game despite the fact that Rodriguez was cleared to play, but that may or may not be a sign that he’s going to be used as the starter moving forward.

The first three starts were because Rodriguez wasn’t playing at all, and the last one was because A. McConnell was doing well, and B. Rodriguez was still likely a bit sore coming off of his injury.

So this puts the Sixers in an interesting predicament — do they keep McConnell in the starting lineup since he’s working as the floor general for now? Or do they put Rodriguez back when he’s feeling fully healthy?

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The question is less whether or not McConnell is good as a starter (he’s proven as much so far), and more so whether or not McConnell can do what he has been doing with longevity. The sample size of him starting at the moment is small, and small sample sizes often lead to unrealistic paces and skewed numbers that will level out as the season progresses.

That said, there’s really only one way to see whether or not the starter effect is real with T.J., and that’s to play him more often from here on out. The Sixers are going to have to dedicate to McConnell as the starter until there’s proof that he doesn’t work in that role better than Rodriguez.

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Rodriguez, thankfully, seems to understand what’s best for the team, and will gladly accept a reserve role if that’s what’s bringing in wins, and seems to be more consistent than McConnell — that is to say, Rodriguez will give you the same production whether he’s starting or coming off of the bench. That said, McConnell might be the better option, but we really can’t say until he gets more time as the starter.

Give him the nod, Brett, at least until it stops working.