On the Beat: Rodriguez's Return Restores Depth at Key Spot

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

CAMDEN, NJ - For the first time in four games, Sergio Rodriguez was back in 76ers’ red, white, and blue. At Barclays Center, the 30-year old Spaniard came off the bench in a back-up point guard role to produce four points (2-6 fg) and three assists in 12 minutes.

Heading into the contest, Rodriguez said his left ankle was doing “much better.” He sprained the ankle in the third quarter of a December 29th game against the Jazz, and was hopeful to be cleared Friday in Boston. The ankle, however, didn’t feel strong enough yet.

“I felt in Boston was a little bit too early,” said Rodriguez. “I worked very hard after the game, with the trainer.”

While Rodriguez was out (and even in his return Sunday), T.J. McConnell - the only true point guard left on the Sixers’ roster - was able to fill in effectively, both from an individual and collective standpoint. He has guided the club to three wins in its last four games.

During this span, McConnell has averaged 9.8 assists against just 2.0 turnovers.

Nerlens Noel, who has formed a productive pick-and-roll partnership with McConnell the past year and a half, feels the undrafted Arizona graduate is coming into his own.

“I remember training camp [last year], I really vowed for him, saw his potential as a floor general,” Noel said Sunday, while the Sixers were in Brooklyn. “He’s grown tremendous leaps and bounds. He’s really coming into shape as a true NBA point guard. I think he should get the recognition he deserves.”

That recognition comes a little more readily when you manufacture an eye-popping 17 assists, as he did Friday at T.D. Garden. The number has been exceeded by only three players this season. They go by the names of Wall (18), Paul (18, 20), and Westbrook (22).

“Not any point guard can do that,” said Noel.

“Just finding the open man” was how McConnell simply summed up his success versus the Celtics.

“Got to give credit to my teammates, though,” he deflected. “They were the ones making shots.”

While watching from the sidelines, Rodriguez has liked what he’s seen from McConnell.

“He’s stepping up, he’s playing great,” said Rodriguez. “He’s been working really hard during the whole year. He’s doing a great job. I’m very happy for him. We’ve got good chemistry. We talk a lot during practice, during the games. For us, being successful and the team feel comfortable playing with us is a big thing for both of us.”

As disappointed as Rodriguez was to go missing in action for a week and a half, he didn’t want to return prematurely, and aggravate the situation further.

“It’s always hard when you have an injury,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve been out for eight days, but it seems like a lot. It’s part of the game. Sometimes you’ve got injuries. You have to take advantage, rest your body, and be ready for play the longer season.”

Now back and healthy, Rodriguez will bring welcome depth to the position that Brett Brown considers to be the most important in basketball. More than that, Rodriguez’s return is accompanied by good timing. The Sixers are in the midst of what is arguably their strongest stretch of the season.

“We are playing great,” Rodriguez said. “The way that we are competing last games is very proud for everybody. We are working hard the whole year in practice, and it shows in the games. We could easily have five or six more games. It’s part of our growth. We have to keep working the way that we are, and try to get better in some games and get the wins.”