As expected, after trading Aaron Holiday to the Washington Wizards on Draft Night, the Indiana Pacers have reached agreement on a four-year, $35 million contract for T.J. McConnell, age 29, to remain with the team, reports The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
McConnell, who was signed two seasons ago as a third-string point guard, won the reserve spot with Aaron playing as an undersized combo guard under Nate McMillan before putting together a career season as a full-court pest within Nate Bjorkgren’s fast-paced, aggressive schemes. Leading the league in total steals while dishing out 10 or more assists in nine games last season, McConnell proved key as a table-setter for both the second unit and some hybrid units, allowing Malcolm Brogdon to gain in-game rest playing off-ball and relieving some of the playmaking burden from Caris LeVert.
Though not typically known as a scorer, the baseline menace also showed his worth pinch-hitting in closing lineups while the team was short-handed, particularly in San Antonio when he drilled a flurry of short, mid-range jumpers, which he hit at the fourth-best rate in the league this past season (minimum 400 attempts), to secure victory in overtime.
Overall, between that win over the Spurs and the steals triple-double he notched in Cleveland, there’s no shortage of games where his role, whether getting to his spots or providing a spark with his energy, proved critical — especially as non-threat to pull-up from deep.
Consider this possession against the New York Knicks, for instance. For a team that was schemed for with opposing teams ducking under at various points throughout the season, notice how McConnell plays the cat-and-mouse game, attacking and faking the drive before rejecting the screen, so Rose can’t meet him on the other side, and engaging Nerlens Noel to open up the shot under the rim.
No matter what, when he has the ball in his hands, he’s going to make teams guard him and that’s why, along with his contagious energy and passing vision, he can be a game-changing, in spite of his weaknesses.
“T.J. had a special season this year,” Caris LeVert said this week while guesting on J.J. Redick’s “The Old Man and the Three” podcast. “We made the play-in, but we wouldn’t have been anywhere close to that without (McConnell). His contributions on both sides of the basketball, his willingness to pick-up full-court. He expanded his game offensively this year, too. It was good for everybody on the inside to see because he works extremely hard each and every day on his game.”
For the season, McConnell made 15 threes compared to five a year ago, but that isn’t exactly going to hold the attention of opposing defenders, especially in the playoffs, when he doesn’t have the ball. Still, that’s of less concern when he’s cutting and if the roster is healthy, allowing him to have a less prominent role.
With McConnell returning at an annual average value of almost $9 million (not quite the non-taxpayer MLE) and Doug McDermott off to San Antonio on a hefty raise (three years, $42 million), the Pacers have also made quick work of adding 30-year-old, defensive-minded wing Torrey Craig on a two-year, $10 million deal, per Adrian Wojnarowski.