Sixers

T.J. McConnell thinks Simmons is 'receiving some unfair criticism'

Sixers

Seven of the top 13 players in the NBA for total steals this season were current or former Sixers.

T.J. McConnell led them all, picking up 128 steals and averaging 8.6 points, 6.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds in his second season with the Pacers.

McConnell tends to be one of the first names that come to mind when folks think about the Sixers’ “Process.” Undrafted out of Arizona, McConnell got his start on the 2015-16 Sixers, a team that went 10-72.

On the latest episode of the Takeoff with John Clark podcast, Clark asked McConnell for his thoughts on The Process after the Sixers’ second-round series loss to the Hawks.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a failure, because we went from winning 10 games — and even before that, just kind of being in mediocrity, getting to the first round and losing,” McConnell said. “But being a bad bounce away from going to the Eastern Conference finals against the Raptors and a game going differently in this round for the Sixers … but you get guys like Joel (Embiid) and Ben (Simmons) who are generational talents. I think that’s what The Process was all about, getting a core group of guys and having Finals aspirations every year. I feel like that’s what The Process was all about.”

McConnell grew close with Simmons and Embiid during his time with the Sixers. With the Pacers eliminated in this season's play-in tournament, McConnell watched the Sixers fall to Atlanta and is aware of the criticism Simmons has received for his lack of offensive impact. He thinks it’s been excessive. 

 

“It’s hard,” he said. “I think he’s receiving some unfair criticism. Could he have shot more? Yes, of course. But I feel like people are kind of throwing it under the rug that he had 13 assists (in Game 7) and did what he’s done all year on the defensive end and held Trae (Young) to 5 for 23 from the field. And he can get 13-plus assists on a nightly basis. He does other things — he makes his teammates better, he defends one through five — and I just feel like people want him to shoot more.

“And he could shoot more. I think a lot of people could shoot more. But coming out of college, did people expect him to average 28, 30 points a game? He gets people involved — that’s what he does. He’s a pass-first point guard. That means he’s going to pass the ball first, which he does. And he defends one through five, and he does that better than almost anyone in the NBA.”

Why has it remained rare for Simmons to take in-game jumpers? 

“I don’t know,” McConnell said. “Someone like myself, I don’t shoot a ton of threes either. When I think about it, I could take threes when I’m open or I could get someone a better shot — someone that shoots a three at a higher level. And I feel like that’s how he thinks. He’s always thinking about his teammates and how he can get them going and get them open shots. … I feel like that’s what he wants to do.”

According to McConnell, Simmons is anything but apathetic and will “work extremely hard” to return as a better player next season. 

“The people that think that he doesn’t care, they just quite obviously don’t know him,” he said. “That guy cares about basketball, his teammates, winning, the organization more than anyone. If people are saying he doesn’t care, that could not be further from the truth.”

You can listen to the full podcast here.