You love T.J. McConnell and I love T.J. McConnell. Coaches all over the country love T.J. McConnell and Sean Miller really, really loves T.J. McConnell. T.J. McConnell's parents love T.J. McConnell and my parents love T.J. McConnell. What I am getting at here is that virtually everyone that cares about basketball and has seen T.J. play loves him and would absolutely want him on their team. The only people that may disagree with that statement are unfortunately, the people who are about to decide how McConnell's basketball future plays out -- NBA Scouts and General Managers.
As I watched this year's NBA Finals, all I could think about while watching Matthew Dellavedova go off was: 'this is definitive proof that T.J. McConnell should be in the NBA'. Delly's biggest advantage over McConnell are those two extra inches of height that unfortunately can't be taught. However, they have many similarities in their game and I can't help but think McConnell is actually the superior player. The bulldog defense, the toughness, the willingness to sacrifice their body for their team, and the fairly ugly shot that goes in more than you would expect are all traits that clearly apply to both men. Much like the rest of Wildcat Nation, I'm just hoping T.J. gets a chance like Dellavedova did in the NBA.
But there are a lot of knocks against McConnell as well. He's 23 years old, his wingspan is the same as his height (6'2), and neither of those are impressive for an NBA point guard. His vertical and his quickness are not elite, and he has not proven himself to be a reliable 3-point shooter. All of these may well be true, but McConnell is not in the running to be the next Stephen Curry. McConnell will never be an MVP candidate or potentially even an NBA starter, but those who have watched him play the past two seasons know that he can play with anyone and that your team is always better with him on the floor.
He has harassed many NBA lottery picks like D'Angelo Russell into terrible games, and he has beautifully orchestrated offenses with his shot-making and play-making abilities against plenty of top teams. He has proven himself to be clutch, and he wants the ball in the big moment. Plus his leadership, decision-making, and basketball IQ are second to none in comparison to this draft class. In fact, his basketball IQ is so high that he is one of the rare point guards that is truly deserving of being described as a 'a coach on the floor'.
How does he project at the next level?
I know I am a big homer on this topic, but I think the NBA has evolved a great deal in the past few years, and all of the recent changes are going to be helpful for McConnell. The Warriors and the Spurs have taught the basketball world a lot in these past two seasons and the trends may be enough to give T.J. a legitimate shot to make an NBA roster.
The Warriors and the Spurs have shown that pure size doesn't always win. Going small in the NBA is fine now as long as you fill the floor with team-first players with high basketball IQs. T.J. McConnell is the epitome of a team-first player with a high basketball IQ.
The Warriors and Spurs have also shown that playing team defense, being smart on defense, and buying into a defensive system are all incredibly important. The days of being a pure one-way player are numbered and ending shortly. The guys that 5-10 years ago would have been drafted strictly because of their offensive prowess and explosive athletic ability may not be making rosters any more if they can't give maximum effort on defense and if they can't be extremely coachable. T.J. McConnell is the epitome of a guy who always tries on defense and is extremely coachable.
The Warriors and Spurs have both shown the importance of a good bench. With the grind of an 82-game season, it's important to not run your stars into the ground. Having deep and capable back-ups that know their role, and will happily sacrifice individual glory for the team and bring their absolute best effort every night is no longer a nice bonus, it's a necessity. T.J. McConnell is the epitome of a player that knows his role, will happily sacrifice individual glory for team success, and will always bring his absolute best effort every night.
I realize that McConnell not getting drafted does not mean he will never make it. McConnell is a guy who could really, really shine in a Summer League or training camp setting and if his name isn't called Thursday, I will not think this is the end of the line for his NBA career.
With that said, just like every other Arizona Wildcat fan, I will be rooting hard for T.J. to get picked in the Draft, and I hope at least one GM out there is smart enough to know that if you put the ball in T.J. McConnell's hands, good things will happen.
Per ArizonaWildcats.com: Cousy Award finalist (2014, 2015), NCAA West Regional All-Tournament Team (2015), First-team All-Pac-12 (2015), Second-team All-Pac-12 (2014), Pac-12 All-Defensive Team (2014, 2015), Pac-12 All-Tournament Team (2015), Third-team All-Atlantic 10 (2012), Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team (2012), Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year (2011)