TJ McConnell is masterful, like a renaissance painter. He’s deliberate and thoughtful, always with the bigger picture in mind.
Back in 2002, Rick Anderson likened Luke Walton’s passing to Liberace’s creativity after a brilliant 8 assist game in the Pac-10 tourney final.
In a similar vein, McConnell would be Rembrandt.
We could talk all day about the good things McConnell does, and how Arizona loses their sense of offensive purpose without him on the floor. There’s a legitimate argument that he is the best point guard in all of college basketball.
But he’s not a complete player yet. And until he is, that will be Arizona’s Achilles’ heel.
The mythology of Achilles is relevant. For all of McConnell’s hoops virtuosity, for all the demi-god vision and decision making, he has one vulnerability that could unravel it all: his offensive game.
It’s not that McConnell is offensively untalented. Before transferring from Duquesne, he shot over 50% from the field and 43% from three point distance — if you aren’t aware, those are crazy good numbers. Of course, those numbers dipped to 45% and 36% as a Wildcat, though still very respectable marks.
But playing at Arizona, McConnell has taken on a vastly different role than his Duquesne days. Surrounded by NBA Draft picks, McConnell naturally eschewed his own scoring for setting up his teammates. That’s what any smart, team-oriented player would do in his shoes. And it worked to the tune of 33 wins last season.
The flip side, though, is that it’s resulted in a sort of offensive hesitancy for McConnell, not a loss of confidence, but rather a loss of comfort. When you are that unselfish and are always looking to pass, it can be uncomfortable to put up a shot early in the shot clock, and that often results in players being a little gun shy when it comes to scoring the ball.
Kind of like Walton during his first two years at Arizona.
Walton wasn’t just a little gun shy during his first two seasons, there were times that the McKale crowd had to yell “SHOOT” to coax him into taking open looks.
But as a junior, when he was asked to do more offensively, Walton’s entire game flourished.
The same could be true about McConnell if he can make a similar leap in his offensive game.
McConnell doesn’t need to go out there and start hunting shots, but he has to be respected by the defense just like any other player on the court. Opponents shouldn’t even think about sagging off and playing the pass.
It’s only a small tweak to his floor game, but it’s a big shift mentally. One that could pay huge dividends for Arizona as the season wears on and scouting reports get sharper.
McConnell is a smart player, which is why there’s no doubt that he’ll adjust his game to next year’s roster accordingly. And with a year of experience, the comfort level should rise just as it did for Walton.
In today’s era of basketball, it’s rare to find a player who is so devoted to the team concept that he needs to become less unselfish for the good of the team. But McConnell is a rare player.