76ers

T.J. McConnell makes history with splash-worthy night

T.J. McConnell makes history with splash-worthy night

BOX SCORE

T.J. McConnell has established his NBA career with the mentality that every game is an audition. So when he became the first Sixer to record a triple-double off the bench, his modesty was no surprise.

“It was an awesome moment,” McConnell said. “But you’ve got to move on from it.”

This was a game McConnell should pause and take some time to enjoy.

The underdrafted-underdog-turned-feel-good NBA story posted 10 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and six steals in the Sixers’ 108-92 win over the Knicks on Monday (see observations). He became the 25th player in NBA history to record a triple-double off the bench since 1963-64.

The final piece appropriately seemed the most difficult for the 6-foot-2 backup point guard: the rebound, which he grabbed with 1:05 remaining. McConnell led the Sixers on the boards and had the second most in the game, behind only Knicks 6-foot-11 center Enes Kanter (13).

“Joel (Embiid) just wouldn’t let it go,” McConnell said. “After a rebound or an assist, he kept telling me. When I had nine rebounds, he said go get another one. I just went up, someone blocked out the big guy and it kind of just fell into my hands. It was like it was in slow motion.”

The Sixers’ bench went wild as did the fans. The Wells Fargo Center crowd broke into a “T-J” chant. When McConnell entered the locker room, he was doused in water by his teammates and presented with the ceremonial postgame bell-ringing honors. 

“It was amazing,” Embiid said. “I really wanted him to get it. I’m happy for him. I’m glad that he did it. He’s a key piece into our team. Him and Dario (Saric), I think to go where we want to, those two, they’re going to be one of the main reasons.”

McConnell has a knack for knocking down the Knicks. Last January, he drained the game-winner in one of the most memorable moments of the season.

“I’m just trying to play hard,” McConnell said when asked of a possible connection. “You can call it what you want, but just trying to go out there and do my job and help us win any way I can.”

The Sixers will be back to practice on Tuesday. There’s little doubt McConnell will continue his routine of arriving early and staying late. He put on a show in a gutsy performance, but there’s always more work to be done.

“You respect him, you really respect him,” Brett Brown said. “He just plays so hard. He’s a wonderful lesson for so many basketball players in relation to what determination, perseverance, toughness can bring you to. We’ve seen him grow, he continues to get better, and tonight he was incredible.”

NBA draft profile: Bosnia F Dzanan Musa

NBA draft profile: Bosnia F Dzanan Musa

Dzanan Musa

Position: Forward

Height: 6-9

Weight: 190

Team: Cedevita Zagreb (Croatia)

You hear stories all the time about what prospects in different sports sacrificed to chase their dreams. Few of them can match Dzanan Musa.

At 11 years old, the Bosnian Musa moved from his hometown of Bihac to capital city Sarajevo (a nearly five-and-a-half-hour drive) to attend a basketball academy. Musa lived in an apartment by himself and trained several times a day until he turned professional at age 16.

“I know how to manage myself,” Musa said after a recent workout with the Denver Nuggets. “Especially when you’re from a small town as I am and you go in the main city, you have people looking at you like you’re nothing. You have to fight through that, so I fight. I fight all the time.” 

That hunger has placed the offensively-gifted wing among first-round talents in the 2018 draft class even if it takes a couple more years for Musa to suit up in the NBA.

Strengths
Musa has been getting buckets since he picked up a basketball. Look no further than his prolific scoring numbers with the Bosnian national team. 

In the 2014 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship, he put up 23.0 points a game and followed that up in the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship with 23.3 points a contest. Musa took it up a notch in the 2016 FIBA Under-17 World Cup when he racked up 34.0 points a night en route to being named tournament MVP.

Of course, that was against players his own age. But Musa has held his own against grown men in the professional ranks as well. In 71 total games for Cedevita Zagreb this past season across the Croatian Leagues and EuroCup, the 19-year-old averaged 12.3 points on 47.0 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 from three-point range in addition to 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 23.1 minutes (see highlights).

Overall, Musa is an offensive-minded player that can score in bunches at all three levels when on his game and handle play-making duties as a point-forward.

Weaknesses
Like plenty of European prospects before him, Musa has two huge areas to focus on if he wants to make it in the league: physique and defense. 

“In Europe, we don’t have people around here who are these kinds of athletes,” Musa said after a recent workout with the Indiana Pacers. "I have to develop myself into that kind of player to finish through contact.”

Notice he didn’t mention bulking up to help play defense. That’s because Musa apparently isn’t all that concerned with that end of the floor, which will be a major problem when the talent level spikes in the NBA.

Also, Musa apparently has a competitive side that boils over on the court and gets the best of him at times. That works when you’re someone like Draymond Green, an All-Star and multiple-time champion. Not so much when you’re a young player from overseas trying to find his way.

NBA comparison
While Musa would love to be compared to idol Manu Ginobili, we’re not about to make that link. Sorry, kid. 

However, another recent European prospect that was versatile offensively and was confident in his ability to the point of being cocky is Magic forward Mario Hezonja. That seems like a much better pairing. Like Hezonja, it will take time for Musa to adapt his body and game to the league before he is ready to contribute.

How’d he fit with Sixers
Offensively, Musa would appear to fit in pretty well with the Sixers. He likes to get out on the break and can knock down shots. He also would be able to take over ball-handling duties at times if needed.

On the defensive end, the Sixers have studs in Robert Covington and Joel Embiid that can cover up some deficiencies from others, but even they can only do so much.

Draft projection
Musa is projected to go anywhere from the late teens to near the end of the first round. With the Sixers holding the No. 26 pick and already having 11 players under contract for next season, he could be a serious candidate for a draft-and-stash selection.

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Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Brett Brown knows only one way to go about his business in the basketball world: attack.

That is evident from his pace-and-space style of play the Sixers have displayed since he took over as head coach. Now he has vowed to do the same thing as the team’s interim general manager.

“We are completely exploring aggressively all options, and I think we just know we need a little bit more,” Brown said Friday.

It’s evident the Sixers need help to become a championship-level team, but we’re not so sure it should come in the form of a man wearing black and silver hitchhiking his way out of San Antonio.

Kawhi Leonard sent shockwaves around the NBA when he reportedly made it clear he wants a split from the Spurs. Per the reports, Leonard has Los Angeles — specifically the Lakers — as his top destination for a trade.

And while there’s no guarantee the Spurs send the former Finals MVP and two-time All-Star to Hollywood, the Sixers would be better served to stay out of the hunt. That’s because if the quiet superstar has proven anything over the past year, it’s that he can do a lot of damage to an organization without saying a word. 

Leonard missed the first 27 games of 2017-18 with a right quad injury. He returned on a heavy-restriction plan only to play seven contests before suffering a tear in his left shoulder. The swingman played one more game before being shut down indefinitely because of the nagging quad. 

After more rehab and eventually being cleared by the Spurs’ medical staff, Leonard opted to leave the team for a second opinion in New York. He stayed away from San Antonio while getting treatment, which allegedly caused friction within the organization that eventually blew up in a players-only meeting.

That didn’t deter Leonard from his plan. He didn’t suit up again nor did he show support for the squad in its first-round series against the champion Golden State Warriors. (Oh, by the way, Leonard has missed time in three straight seasons because of his right quad and reportedly still isn’t 100 percent).

Now if that’s enough to shake up the locker room of arguably the most stable franchise in all of sports, what impact do you think Leonard’s methods would have on the Sixers’ impressionable roster?

Could it be that Leonard just reached his tolerance level with the legendary head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs and simply needs a change of scenery? Of course.

But that’s not a risk the Sixers should be willing to take. Not for virtually the only player in recent memory to ever clash with the highly-respected Spurs. Not for a guy that’s willing to potentially walk away from a $219 million supermax extension for a $188 million maximum just to escape to his hometown of L.A.

Certainly not when it could mean parting with key pieces of your core (Dario Saric, Robert Covington and/or Markelle Fultz) in addition to the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. All for what could be a one-year rental player, as Leonard is able to opt out of his current deal after next season.

Surely the Sixers would want a guarantee Leonard plans to stay before pulling the trigger on a trade, but that’s not a handshake agreement they should be willing to trust. Even if old buddy Brown is the one shaking hands with “The Claw.”

“He’s a great guy,” Brown said. “I’ve spent years with him, as you know, in San Antonio. I’m reminded of the recruiting process we went through to identify him and the sort of pain we went through to give up George Hill to move up and target him. He’s good people, he’s obviously an elite talent and I enjoyed my time with Kawhi in San Antonio.”

Things could be even more painful for Brown this time around if he’s not careful.

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