By Brendan Rourke | Pacers.com Contributor
Years Pro: 7
Status: Entering the second year of a four-year deal
Key Stats: Appeared in 27 games (eight starts). Averaged 8.5 points, 4.9 assists, and 1.1 steals per game.
For the first six years of his career, T.J. McConnell appeared in an average of 76 games during the regular season. In each contest, his energy levels and tenacity remained the same. The underrated point guard pushes the pace, fires dimes, and fights for every hustle play when he steps on the court.
After an extremely successful 2020-21 season with the Pacers, which included setting career-highs in points per game, field goal percentage, and steals per contest, McConnell was excited for new growth in his seventh go-around in the NBA.
Unfortunately, that sentiment ended abruptly on Dec. 1, 2022.
PHOTO GALLERY: T.J. McConnell's 2021-22 Season in Photos »
McConnell appeared to be his usual self through the first 24 games of the season – facilitating and providing energy for the Pacers’ second unit. He posted a double-double in game eight, tallying 10 points and dishing 10 assists in 26:27 of action. It was also one of four games this season in which he snagged three steals.
After an assist-heavy night during game nine against the New York Knicks, McConnell made an incredible run of four consecutive road games, scoring 16 points or more versus several tough Western Conference foes. The impressive road trip culminated in his highest-scoring game of the season. On short rest after playing in the high altitudes of Denver, McConnell took to the court against the Utah Jazz and dropped 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting in 30:25 of game time. He also hauled in eight boards, dished out five assists, and committed just one turnover.
Even though his scoring reverted to his normal average as the Blue & Gold returned home, McConnell continued to play a pivotal role with the squad. Over the next several games, he continued to be the bench’s sparkplug and a leader for the Pacers’ youngsters on the second unit.
But when December hit, McConnell’s season came to a sudden halt. Playing against the Atlanta Hawks, he noticed something wrong with his right wrist and headed straight to the locker room. He played just 3:16 of action.
Questions loomed of McConnell’s availability for the next few days until Dec. 7. The Arizona product underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament. While the surgery was successful, he missed 55 games while working back to full health.
With the number of games dwindling and the Pacers out of the playoff hunt, nobody would have blamed McConnell for remaining sidelined the rest of the season. However, the persistent guard was not satisfied with sitting. Feeling the desire to play again, McConnell returned to action in game 80 of the regular season to test his repaired wrist. He then started the final two games for the Blue & Gold and finished in double figures in each. And, as in his typical scrappy fashion, he completed game 82 with 14 points, five assists, and three steals.
“I had a ton of fun,” McConnell said in his final media availability. “You don’t know how much (joy this game brings) to you until it’s taken away from you for a little bit.
“I wouldn’t change me coming back for anything.”
Perhaps McConnell’s highlight of the season was not that stretch of four 16+ point games. Instead, one could argue it was his final three games of his injury-plagued 2022 campaign. He showed Pacers fans that giving up is not an option. And he proved to many that he has the right mentality to be a leader next year for this new-look Pacers squad.
2022 Pacers.com Player Review Schedule
April 18: Tyrese Haliburton
April 19: Buddy Hield
April 20: Chris Duarte
April 21: Isaiah Jackson
April 22: Oshae Brissett
April 23: Malcolm Brogdon
April 24: Goga Bitadze
April 25: Myles Turner
April 26: Duane Washington Jr.
April 27: T.J. McConnell
April 28: Jalen Smith
April 29: Lance Stephenson
April 30: Terry Taylor