Seltzer's Notebook | McConnell Makes Return; Simmons Handling Minutes

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

McConnell Makes Return

A strange sight it was the past two weeks for games to go by, and not see T.J. McConnell in uniform. The point grinder sustained a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder in the Sixers’ November 29th win over the Washington Wizards, and subsequently went on to miss five of the club’s next six games.

McConnell, who had missed only two contests total his first two seasons prior to this year, was back in action Tuesday in Minneapolis, subbing in after just four minutes had been played in the first quarter.

Within 20 seconds, he recorded a rebound. Moments later, the feisty spark plug had grabbed another, then hit a pair of jump shots on back-to-back possessions.

Yes, McConnell came out with purpose.

“It was good to get back in the swing of things,” he said. “Got into a rhythm in the first half, and just tried to play my game.

“I feel like they were allowing me to score. When I was driving, they were staying with their man. I was just letting my game come to me.”

McConnell gave it a go last Thursday versus the Los Angeles Lakers, but soreness in his shoulder returned. He sat out the Saturday-Sunday back-to-back in Cleveland and New Orleans, but still traveled with the Sixers, in hopes of, at some point on the road trip, being healthy enough to suit up.

That opportunity came Tuesday at Target Center, where he produced 7 points (3-4 fg), 6 rebounds, and 2 assists in 26 minutes.

While he was on the shelf, McConnell found it valuable to watch games from a seat on the sideline, “kind of being a coach on the bench.” Having the company of his peers and coaches was beneficial, too.  

“To be with the team, and go through the battles with them, it certainly helps.”

Simmons, the Durable Difference-Maker

Tuesday’s three-game road trip finale required overtime, so it probably shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise that Ben Simmons logged even more minutes than usual.

Entering the 76ers’ pairing with the Minnesota Timberwolves, which ended in a 118-112 victory, the point man was averaging just north of 36 minutes per game. Not only was the mark the highest mark among this year’s rookies, but 10th overall in the NBA. He moved up to ninth after spending 40 minutes on the court against the Wolves.

That Simmons, through two months, has remained so steady and durable hasn’t been lost on his head coach.

“He’s handled this season with an incredible amount of poise, given that he’s never really played the position, or never played in the NBA,” Brett Brown said Tuesday. “There are times when I’m coaching him, he really doesn’t give the impression he’s fatiguing.”

Viewing Simmons as a “high-level athlete,” Brown is constantly conscious of managing the 2016 No. 1’s playing time accordingly. The objective is to try and avoid any sort of “proverbial rookie wall.”

“I’ve been fine,” said Simmons, who Tuesday delivered several pivotal dunks en route to finishing with 7 points, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds. “I’ve been pretty good overall.”

In fact, Simmons feels that, in the broader context of his playing career, a decent workload is nothing new. He averaged 34.9 minutes per game his lone season at LSU.

“I’ve honestly been like this most of my life,” said the 21-year old. “I’ve been playing a lot of ball over my years.”

 All Sixers, All Day

If the leading sports media outlet in the country offered you, the 76ers fan, day-long, wall-to-wall coverage of your favorite professional basketball team, is that something you might be interested in?

Well, you’re in luck. This Friday, ESPN will be debuting its brand new “All-Access” content campaign, and doing so by going all in on the Sixers, which later that night host the Oklahoma City Thunder in a nationally televised game on the network.

Ben Simmons, set for an interview Friday with respected analyst / reporter Doris Burke, called the World Wide Leader’s interest in the up-and-coming Sixers’ “awesome.”

“I think it’s great for the team,” he said of the exposure the team will be receiving. “We’re getting back to where we want to be.”