Seltzer's Notebook | McConnell & His Motor; Embiid-Holmes Pairing Produces
McConnell Answers Call
When making initial assessments about young prospects, Brett Brown usually starts by asking himself the question, “What is this player’s identifiable NBA skill?”
Back in the spring of 2015, Brown conducted this very internal exercise in respect to T.J. McConnell, who, at the time, auditioned for the Sixers while trying to scrap his way onto a team’s draft board.
McConnell, of course, ultimately had to go the rookie free agent route in order to get a roster spot, but Brown was still instantly attracted to the point guard’s motor. That trait, the head coach felt, held the key to the Arizona product’s ability to break into the league.
“You fell in love with the tenacity, but what stood out immediately was he had a motor,” Brown said Saturday, before McConnell went out and pumped out 15 points, 13 assists, and 7 rebounds in the Sixers’ 130-111 win over the Orlando Magic.
McConnell’s teammates were impressed with his efforts, especially on a night Ben Simmons (left elbow swelling) was unavailable. The motor was definitely running high.
“He was amazing,” Joel Embiid, who joked he was angry at McConnell for not being selfish and going after more rebounds for a triple-double. “The ball was just moving.”
“I think T.J. stepped into Ben’s role,” said Dario Saric. “T.J. was taking care of the ball. Ben pushes the ball, and T.J. did that kind of stuff. I hope he continues to play well.”
JJ Redick thought McConnell’s pace was important, too.
“He was pushing in transition,” said Redick, who scored 29 points on 8 threes, and was the beneficiary of 5 of McConnell’s dimes. “You have to give T.J. a lot of credit. We all feed off his energy.”
A Modest Big-Big Success
It was only for a brief moment Saturday, but for the first time this season, we saw an instance in which Brett Brown decided to pair Joel Embiid with another one of the Sixers’ traditional centers.
Due to Ben Simmons being out, there were minutes to be had at the 4-spot. So, at the outset of the second quarter, the head coach decided to give the tandem of Embiid and Richaun Holmes a try.
The duo played together for 6 minutes, and it was productive, as the Sixers outscored the Orlando Magic by two points. Also of note during this stretch was that Embiid seemed to get into a groove, scoring 9 of his 18 points in the segment he played alongside Holmes (Holmes even assisted on Embiid’s lone 3-pointer of the night).
“I liked it. I thought it looked good,” said Brown, who felt Holmes was agile and mobile enough to hang with versatile Magic forward Aaron Gordon. “I had to keep the package clean and simple, and we did. I thought those two guys were really good together. I feel like we didn’t miss a beat.”
Embiid Wants to be Available Whenever Possible
Because of a cold, Joel Embiid stayed off his feet for most of Saturday morning and afternoon, the symptoms bothersome enough to keep him out of that day’s shootaround.
Nonetheless, with the Sixers striving for a third straight win, the big man wasn’t about to take a sick day.
“I want to play,” said Embiid, after finishing with 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists. “I missed two years of basketball. I don’t ever want to be in a type of setting where, because I’m sick, I’m not being able to play.”
In the end, after shaking off a 1 for 5 start, Embiid found his way, and made a big difference.