Postgame: Pacers Locker Room - Oct. 15, 2019

Oct. 15, 2019 - Goga Bitadze, T.J. McConnell, Myles Turner discuss Indiana's 119-111 preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

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Postgame: Pacers Locker Room - Oct. 15, 2019

Oct. 15, 2019 - Goga Bitadze, T.J. McConnell, Myles Turner discuss Indiana's 119-111 preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Oct 15, 2019  |  01:38

Postgame: McMillan Press Conference - Oct. 15, 2019

Oct. 15, 2019 - Pacers head coach Nate McMillan speaks with the media following Indiana's 119-111 preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Oct 15, 2019  |  06:57

Goga Bitadze Scores His First Points for the Pacers

October 15, 2019 - Pacers first round pick Goga Bitadze drains the basket in the paint to score his first points as a member of the Indiana Pacers.
Oct 15, 2019  |  00:07

McConnell Lobs to Turner

October 15, 2019 - T.J. McConnell finds Myles Turner at the rim for alley-oop conversion.
Oct 15, 2019  |  00:06

Domas and Warren Connect for the Basket

October 15, 2019 - Domantas Sabonis and T.J. Warren run the give and go for the easy bucket inside.
Oct 15, 2019  |  00:07

McConnell Shaking Up Pacers Backcourt

by Mark Montieth
Pacers.com Writer
@MarkMontieth

T.J. McConnell doesn't seem the disruptive type. He's the ultimate "good guy" type of player, the wholesome coach's son who always tries to say and do the right thing, the undrafted humble one just happy to be here, the undersized scrapper who hustled uphill all the way into the NBA.

He's going to make things awfully interesting in the Pacers backcourt, though.

McConnell, signed in the offseason after four seasons in Philadelphia, where he started 72 of his 314 games, was told upfront he would enter training camp as the No. 3 point guard behind Malcolm Brogdon and Aaron Holiday. He accepts that. But he also accepts his role of bringing energy and production to every practice and game, which is a relief to coach Nate McMillan and a threat to the playing time of anyone ahead of him not getting the job done.

McConnell gave a typically invigorating performance in the Pacers' final preseason game on Tuesday, contributing 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, eight assists, three rebounds, two steals, and even a blocked shot in 20 minutes off the bench. He was, in this particular exhibition game, the best point guard on the court.

McConnell, though, doesn't have a goal of rearranging the depth chart seating — that wouldn't be proper, after all. Asked afterward if he's fighting for playing time, he deflected the question.

"I feel like we all are," he said. "The main focus here is to stay ready every night. Just be a team guy, and we have a bunch of team guys here."

Still, McMillan took notice. And McMillan has proven himself to be a coach who's willing to go with the flow of the game when doling out playing time, rather than adhering to a pre-arranged substitution pattern. McMillan also is judged foremost by wins and losses, so naturally will play whomever most ably contributes to that cause over the long haul of the season.

Goga Bitadze

Photo Credit: Matt Kryger

That could bode well for McConnell, who played three more minutes than Holiday against Minnesota. He earned them by making hustle plays, such as by beating defenders off the dribble for layups and by twice stealing an inbound pass after the Pacers had scored — a specialty of his. He also showed veteran patience and poise in the halfcourt offense, such as by finding Doug McDermott for 3-pointers on consecutive possessions early in the third period and then passing up a shot on the left baseline to dribble into the lane and feed Goga Bitadze for a timeout-forcing 3-pointer midway through the quarter.

McMillan said his players were dreary heading into the game, a point Myles Turner corroborated. Training camp has reached the dog days phase, the Pacers had won their previous three preseason games, the regular season opener is still a week away and colds are going around the locker room. McConnell, more than anyone, lit a spark that avoided a blowout.

"We needed him in a bad way," McMillan said. "I thought we were flat, both units, in that first half. He brought energy, and I'm looking for that.

"Nothing is in stone with our rotation. Those minutes are going to have to be earned. And I liked the energy and tempo that he brought to the floor."

McConnell averaged six points while hitting 67 percent of his field goals in the preseason, along with five assists and 1.8 turnovers in 16.3 minutes per game. Holiday, who missed last Friday's game against Chicago with an illness, averaged 9.3 points while hitting 36 percent of his shots, along with 3.3 assists and 1.3 turnovers in 15.6 minutes per game.

Holiday enters the season higher on the depth chart based chiefly on his status as a first-round draft pick coming off a rookie season in which he played well enough to instill intrigue for his future. He needs more opportunity to prove himself, certainly, but he also needs to prove he deserves to play ahead of the guy who once managed a triple-double off the bench for Philadelphia (10 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), who contributed 19 points, seven rebounds, and five assists to a playoff victory in 2018 and who has the far more impressive highlight reel.

McConnell also is a devoted coffee drinker. Over the course of an 82-game season there are bound to be plenty of games that need a dose of caffeine, and he's a natural for it.

"His energy is infectious," Myles Turner said. "The way he plays in practice, the way he plays in games, it doesn't change. It brings an extra push to the team."

That kind of push can shake up a preseason plan as easily as a game. It might threaten Holiday's playing time, but ideally competition brings out the best in everyone and McConnell has offered nothing but support for the younger player seated in front of him.

"T.J.'s a great dude," Holiday said at the start of training camp. "He's very professional in everything he does, on and off the court. He's helped me a lot in the little time he's been here. I really appreciate it."

The chips will fall as they may, and injuries and illness will have their say regarding playing time. But no matter what happens, it's abundantly clear that McConnell's presence will be felt.


Have a question for Mark? Want it to be on Pacers.com? Email him at askmontieth@gmail.com and you could be featured in his next mailbag.

Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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