It wouldn’t take much effort to argue that T.J. McConnell was the Pacers most valuable player last season.
Availability and effort are quite valuable and in large part the availability of key rotation players for the Pacers was a struggle last season. Effort? Let’s just say, McConnell was among the team leaders the let it go at that.
TJ Macs missed three games last season to greet his newborn son to the world, but was always primed and ready to play in the remaining 69 games on the schedule. After a couple of preseason games, it looked like McConnell was a square peg for the round hole of Nate Bjorkgren’s efforts to modernize the offense with more three pointers and layups.
But it didn’t take long for McConnell to seize the opportunities granted him by chronic injuries to the roster and in the process earn the trust of Bjorkgren to become not only a key reserve point guard, but a player who could finish a game when he had it rolling.
Now a free agent, the Pacers would no doubt like to re-sign McConnell, but with little salary cap room the deal would have to be team friendly and maybe double the $3.5 million he made last season or a bit more with the midlevel exception.
However, McConnell may have played himself into a bigger contract which may be too rich for the Pacers’ plans. The Athletic’s John Hollinger recently broke down the available free agent point guards into tiers with estimated salary value and he slotted T.J. McConnell seventh among all point guards, in the “more than midlevel, less than max” tier with an estimated salary of $12,171,529.
Assuming, McConnell’s role would remain with the reserve unit, there is a point of diminishing returns for every player in the league, and the Pacers could certainly use that much of their cap more efficiently unless other big changes are made. Here’s what Hollinger had to say.
T.J. McConnell was low-key really good as a spark off the bench for Indiana last season, leading the league in steal rate by a wide margin and, more surprisingly, racking up 58.3 percent true shooting despite his lack of a 3-point shot.
At 29, this is probably about as good as it gets, and the question is whether that’s good enough to pay him starter money. I’m guessing his market ends up slightly lower than this, and teams signing him would do so as a high-level backup. A return to Indy is certainly possible, although the Pacers are close enough to the tax line that they can likely only keep one of their second-unit “Mcs” (McConnell or Doug McDermott).
Hollinger admits the salary would be salty for a non-starter. Regardless of where he ends up or how much he makes, it was fun watching McConnell earn this payday he certainly deserves. Of course, McConnell may not get what he’s worth on the open market and if so, let’s hope the Pacers are in the mix. That will likely depend on Doug McDermott’s value on the market, as well. Should be interesting to see where Hollinger slots McDermott among his free agent forwards.