T.J. McConnell 2021 Season Review

Pacers guard T.J. McConnell reflects on his career year, discusses how the Pacers missed the fans this season, and shares why he loves being in Indiana.

McConnell 2021 Player Review

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T.J. McConnell 2021 Season Review

Pacers guard T.J. McConnell reflects on his career year, discusses how the Pacers missed the fans this season, and shares why he loves being in Indiana.
Jun 2, 2021  |  03:36

T.J. McConnell 2020-21 Season Highlights

Check out some of the top plays from T.J. McConnell's 2020-21 season.
Jun 2, 2021  |  00:55

2021 Exit Interview: T.J. McConnell

May 21, 2021 - T.J. McConnell discusses why this was the best season of his career, the success of the second unit, and entering free agency for the second time.
May 21, 2021  |  02:37

Mic'd Up: T.J. McConnell

Jan. 13, 2020 - Pacers guard T.J. McConnell was mic'd up for the FOX Sports Indiana broadcast of Indiana's 101-95 win over the Philadelphia 76ers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Jan 15, 2020  |  03:13

McConnell posts rare triple-double with 10 steals

T.J. McConnell records historic triple-double with steals
Mar 3, 2021  |  00:04

Player Review 2021: T.J. McConnell

by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

Age: 29
Years Pro: 6
Status: Unrestricted free agent
Key Stats: Averaged 8.6 points on 55.9 percent shooting, 3.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.9 steals, all career highs. Came off the bench in all but three of 69 games. Led the NBA in total steals with 128.

T.J. McConnell has made a living off of being underestimated.

The undersized guard went undrafted in 2015 despite helping lead Arizona to the Elite 8 in each of his two seasons on campus. He nonetheless earned a roster spot on a Philadelphia 76ers team that was embracing "The Process," tanking multiple seasons to acquire high draft picks. There, McConnell proved to be more than just roster filler, endearing himself to Sixers fans with his all-out style and lasting four years before hitting free agency.

Again, the demand wasn't great for McConnell's services, but he signed a two-year deal with Indiana. He continued to prove himself with the Pacers, quickly winning the backup point guard spot in his first season with the Blue & Gold. And this season, McConnell was absolutely invaluable to the Pacers.

PHOTO GALLERY: T.J. McConnell's 2020-21 Season in Photos »

The little point guard that could flourished in 2020-21. One of the few players on the roster that did not miss significant time due to injury, McConnell was a bona fide candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award. He set new career highs across the board: 8.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.9 steals per game.

On the court, opponents continued to underestimate McConnell. And he continued to make them pay.

After made baskets, he routinely snatched away lazy inbounds passes. One would think scouting reports would have made teams well aware of McConnell's fondness for that maneuver by now, but he seemingly pulled it off once a week at minimum, sometimes even multiple times in the same game.

On the offensive end, defenders sagged off of him, knowing he wasn't a big threat from 3-point range and that he tended to look to pass when he drove. So McConnell started to look for his own shot more and did so extremely effectively, shooting 55.9 percent from the field, a remarkable percentage for an undersized guard who plays below the rim.

Just like he's always done, McConnell spent the season proving his doubters wrong.

"I feel like people thought I hit my ceiling six years ago when I came into the league," McConnell told the media during recent exit interviews. "I just keep improving in each area and I feel like I have so much more to give...(Even after) having a career year, I feel like I could play better."

T.J. McConnell

Photo Credit: Matt Kryger

Two major achievements stand out from McConnell's 2020-21 season. The first is his historic performance in Indiana's 114-111 win in Cleveland on March 3.

There were signs early that something special might happen. After checking in midway through the first quarter, McConnell came up with steals on five consecutive possessions. By halftime, he had nine steals, the most ever by an NBA player in a single half.

And while he had just one steal in the second half, it was a big one. After Justin Holiday's 3-pointer gave Indiana a 108-106 lead with a little over a minute remaining, McConnell intercepted Dylan Windler's pass, creating a fastbreak that resulted in a Malcolm Brogdon layup that gave the Pacers a cushion they would not give up.

McConnell's final stat line was one of the most unusual in NBA history: 36 minutes, 16 points on 8-of-8 shooting, 13 assists, and 10 steals. It was just the sixth points-assists-steals triple-double in NBA history, the first since Mookie Blaylock in 1998, and the first ever by a player coming off the bench. He was just one steal shy of tying Larry Kenon and Kendall Gill's single-game NBA record.

"T.J. was phenomenal tonight," Brogdon said after the win. "That's as good as a game that you're going to see from a player — honestly in the NBA, that you're going to see."

As remarkable as his performance was that one night in Cleveland, McConnell's season-long performance on the defensive end was arguably more impressive.

McConnell led the entire NBA in total steals during the 2020-21 season with 128 and was second only to Miami's Jimmy Butler in steals per game (Butler had 2.1, McConnell 1.9). On the offensive end, he led the Pacers in total assists with 456 and was just behind Domantas Sabonis for the team lead in assists per game (Sabonis dished out 6.7 per contest, McConnell had 6.6).

Just how impressive is that? Only one other time in NBA history has a player averaged that many steals and assists while starting five or fewer games. That player was Hall of Famer John Stockton (the NBA's all-time leader in both steals and assists), who averaged 8.2 assists and 2.2 steals despite starting just two of 82 games in 1986-87, his third NBA season.

McConnell now heads to free agency for the second time and there figures to be significant demand for his services this time around. The Pacers would certainly love to have him back. Pacers President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard said as much at his end-of-season press conference, though he acknowledged that Indiana likely won't be the only suitor for his services.

Teammates love McConnell, both for his relentless hustle and also his encouraging voice on the sidelines and in the locker room. Fans adore him and he is perhaps the best at hyping up a crowd in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the post-Lance Stephenson era, a gift that could be fully utilized again next season if and when the building is cleared to return to full capacity.

While free agency is often unpredictable and McConnell said he hadn't really started thinking about it during exit interviews, he definitely seemed open to returning.

"I'm obviously going to sit down and talk about it with my wife, talk to my agent, but I would love to be back here," he said. "I absolutely love it here. Love the organization, love the fans, love the front office, teammates. I don't have a bad word to say about anything or anyone. This is a first-class organization. Love being a part of it and hope to be a part of it in the future."

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