T.J. McConnell continues to show his worth to a young Sixers team
From last season to this past offseason and then to this opening week of the season, T.J. McConnell's role on the Sixers has been as ambiguous as ever.
Most people, including myself, were unsure of what McConnell's role would be heading into this season, especially after the team drafted Markelle Fultz with the first overall draft pick in 2017.
With Fultz out with a shoulder injury for most likely the next two games now, McConnell has already absorbed those minutes from Fultz and used them wisely on Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets.
McConnell looked poised and ready to go with a fire in his game that we haven't seen since games last season when T.J. spent his minutes in the starting lineup.
He's not going to be a starter this season, he already knows that. It's not something that's going to come easy, but I think McConnell is adjusting to his bench role nicely, and with certain circumstances every once in a while , he'll get opportunities to contribute and shine when Markelle Fultz is unable to go.
In my personal opinion, it's going to be a lot more than the next couple games that Markelle Fultz is going to find himself on the injured list, but we'll save that for another time.
In 28 minutes on Wednesday, McConnell had six points, nine assists, six steals, and five rebounds. Those six steals were crucial to the success of the Sixers during the game, especially up against James Harden. Harden just didn't have an answer for McConnell while he had the ball.
McConnell's standout defense was a main reason why Harden had eight turnovers on the night. And T.J.'s teammates and coaches had very positive things to say about the point guard on his stellar performance on Wednesday.
Sixers center Joel Embiid, known himself for being the best player on the court game in and game out, thought McConnell deserved much of the credit this time around.
"T.J., I thought was the best player on the floor," Embiid said. "He was all over the gym. Getting steals, playing defense. Setting up the team as a point guard. He found me, we've had that relationship since last year, but I thought he was the best player on the floor."
Sixers head coach Brett Brown has been a big mentor towards TJ since he entered the NBA as an undrafted free agent. Brown called McConnell's Wednesday performance "inspirational" and "game-changing stuff."
When McConnell is out on the floor, playing his heart out for the Sixers, they're a much different bunch all playing together. They tend to do things together they may not normally do when McConnell isn't out on the court, the same way Joel Embiid changes the way his teammates play when he's inserted in the lineup.
Through just five games so far, McConnell is already second in the NBA in steal percentage at 4.8 trailing only the Clippers' Patrick Beverley at 5.1.
McConnell has always been efficient in two main stats, steals and assists.
Jerryd Bayless has been the better shooting option for the Sixers this season at point guard, but in some ways for this team, solid defense, especially from McConnell pumps this team up more than anything else.
While his shooting still needs some improvements, the intangibles McConnell possesses is a major reason why he's so important to the overall success of the Sixers team and the bench as a whole.
It's likely he'll see less of the court once Fultz comes back to full strength, but hopefully these next few games with more of McConnell will show the Sixers that they made the right choice in keeping him around for the time being.
McConnell brings an element to this team that no other player can really bring in his position: heart and hustle. You can't teach that, but McConnell lives by it every minute he is out in uniform.
Josh Liddick is Sixers managing editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshLiddickTalk.