INDIANAPOLIS – Every young basketball team needs useful veterans to teach young players the basics and provide stability on the court. For the Indiana Pacers, their lead veteran was 30-year guard TJ McConnell.
McConnell is a natural coach and teacher – his father, Tim, is a basketball coach at a Pennsylvania high school. While McConnell was out for four months last season while recovering from right wrist surgery, he became a coach light in the Pacers drills. He helped his teammates with drills as much as he could with just one hand. He has excellent leadership skills that come with his talent.
That makes him a natural leader for a younger Indiana team this season, and several inexperienced players have been drawn to his leadership throughout the Pacers’ current season.
“He is positive and brings a competitive character to every day. You can see it on the pitch, he always gets the crowd going with his plays,” said rookie winger Kendall Brown. “It’s just an overall good team-mate to play with.”
McConnell possesses the perfect blend of competitiveness, optimism and the ability to encourage others to improve on his teammates. It helps that he’s talented, which alone earns him the respect of younger peers. The Veteran Guard has the ideal makeup to be a leader.
At training camp, that meant telling Tyrese Haliburton to shoot more and be more aggressive. Those moments contributed to Haliburton’s newfound, improved style of play. In training it means being a tough matchup on defense that gets the guys working and building their skills.
“100%,” said rookie guard Andrew Nembhard when asked if he hated being guarded by McConnell at practice. It might be annoying, but it improved Nembhard’s game.
“He has a certain understanding and level of experience that just allows us to feel comfortable when he gives us those tips and gives us that confidence in us,” Nembhard said of McConnell. “He’s a very selfless guy and tries to put others first. He always tried to help me in any way on and off the pitch just to make me feel comfortable. I think the biggest thing he’s done for us is make us feel comfortable.”
Scroll to Next
In games, McConnell is the ultimate motivator and occasional master of strategy. He sees the game well and that allows him to tell other guys what they need to do to be successful.
Sometimes him helps mediate in games to keep his team’s spirits up. Sometimes he just knows the right gesture to raise his squad. In between, he helps blue and gold with solid perimeter defense and playmaking – the Pacers defensive rating is better when McConnell is on the court than off pbpstatsand he’s dishing out 7.4 assists per 36 minutes this season, up from last year.
“TJ is a guy who makes the game super easy for other people,” said Nembhard. McConnell can clearly create a boost on the pitch during games, but that effect doesn’t go away once he moves to the bench.
“TJ was in my ear the whole time. Pretty much every time I get a little space, let it fly. TJ makes sure I bring them up,” freshman pacer Aaron Nesmith said of McConnell’s leadership. Nesmith is taking 6.0 threes per 36 minutes and has added three points to his career so far this year.
The Pacers have several effective leaders and veterans, and have created an environment that’s great for growth in this campaign. But McConnell stands out as the voice for the Pacers, both from observation and from the number of young players who have praised his leadership this season.
“TJ, it’s easy to like him because of his approach to the game and how hard he plays. He’s really had a dominant training camp. He’s been really great defensively and offensively. I think those are some of the obvious reasons,” said Head Coach Rick Carlisle on McConnell receiving praise earlier this season.
“We really need him, he’s an important part of what we do,” added the head coach. McConnell may not be the Indiana Pacers’ best player or the one with the brightest future, but he still offers a lot of value to the construction team on and off the field. That’s what talented vets do, and that’s what McConnell did. And some.
“He taught me how to operate and how to get better, how to just keep working. I feel like I’m not doing him justice, really. He was a big help to me,” Nembhard said, and he said it perfectly. Words don’t do justice to TJ McConnell’s impact on the Indiana Pacers. It’s immense.
- Oshae Brissett puts together his best game of the season to help the Indiana Pacers beat the Toronto Raptors: ‘He’s doing it on a high level’ CLICK HERE.
- Bennedict Mathurin continues his impressive rookie season with an 18-point quarter, 30-point game against the Denver Nuggets. CLICK HERE.
- Jalen Smith’s former coach and teammate explains how he grew from the Phoenix Suns to the Indiana Pacers. CLICK HERE.
- Indiana Pacers Mock Trade Review: Watch Four Deals From Bleacher Report. CLICK HERE.
- Follow Allpacers on Facebook: All pacemakers SI
- Follow on Twitter: @ SIPacer