Lost in the Markelle Fultz drama is the fact that T.J. McConnell isn’t a monumental boost to the Philadelphia 76ers’ production.
The Philadelphia 76ers are without Markelle Fultz through at least Monday, when he’s scheduled to meet with a shoulder specialist in New York. How the Sixers proceed will depend on the result of that diagnosis — is it something serious, or can Fultz return to playing?
A recent report from The Athletic detailed recurring issues with Fultz’s shoulder, wrist and hands, all linking back to the scapular muscle imbalance the former No. 1 pick dealt with in his rookie season.
For the time being, the Sixers will roll with T.J. McConnell as the backup point guard. Brett Brown has been more comfortable with T.J. all season, going to the 26-year-old late in close games. He’s someone Brown trusts.
In the Sixers’ loss to Cleveland on Friday, though, McConnell struggled. He still kills the Sixers’ spacing, seldom attempting shots outside the short mid-range. Even Markelle takes some longer pull-ups.
McConnell, albeit more solid on defense, lacks the physical tools to consistently contend with opposing guards — especially those with a size advantage. He’s also a smart playmaker, but turnovers are historically an issue with McConnell on the floor. Not so much with Fultz.
Against high-level teams, neither McConnell nor Fultz does much good for the Sixers. The latter’s complete unwillingness to shoot and youthful mistakes on defense are hard to swallow for some. McConnell, again, is probably the ‘safer’ player. He just doesn’t provide much. He’s basically a net zero.
When he’s aggressively attacking the rim and looking to create offense, Fultz provides more dynamism than McConnell. The 20-year-old doesn’t fit next to Simmons, but he’s excellent in the second unit. Giving him the non-Simmons (especially the non-Simmons and non-Butler) minutes still has benefits.
Depending on the state of Fultz’s shoulder, there’s a strong argument for holding him out for an extended time period. Whether it’s the G-League or straight rest, letting Fultz train and look for answers outside the NBA spotlight makes sense.
Given recent statements from Brett Brown and Fultz’s agent, it’s unwise to take the trade rumors too seriously. The Sixers have preached patience throughout the Markelle saga and, for now, that’s still their approach.
With all that in mind, Fultz might have more value — if not more upside — than McConnell when he’s healthy and with the team. Even without a functioning jumper, we’ve seen glimpses of Fultz’s talent. He also does the little things, hustling for boards and avoiding high turnover rates.
The overarching point here is simple: McConnell, despite being a fan favorite, doesn’t provide a ton of value. He’s not the answer to Philadelphia’s prayers, no matter how inconsistent Fultz can be. The Sixers need to look elsewhere for more stability.