TJ McConnell has gotten a great deal of attention over the past year. Many believe that he will step into the point guard role at Arizona and take the reins without missing a step. The truth is it’s difficult to predict the production of a player that hasn’t played any games yet with his team, and we have no way of knowing how McConnell will fit in. All signs seem to point to a hard worker who has earned the respect of his teammates over the last year, and now we just need to wait and see if McConnell can hit the ground running.
While we wait, here’s a teaser on how McConnell’s production might look based off of his years at Duquesne.
In his freshman year on a team that went seven deep and made the CBI tourney, McConnell averaged 31 minutes per game. He then averaged over 34 mpg in his sophomore season on a guard heavy team (Duquesne’s starting center was 6’5).
On a much deeper Arizona team with many players capable of playing minutes in the backcourt, it may be important to allow some of the shooting guard corps’ minutes to overflow into McConnell’s playing time.
The following graph illustrates how the minutes might be further distributed. As you can see, this looks like it will shape out to be almost identical to last year, but with the opportunity for York to as much as double his minutes, or for Pitts to take some. Either way, it doesn’t look like their playing time will have a direct effect on McConnell getting his.
The reason fans are so excited about McConnell is due to his ability to make teammates better. To understand McConnell’s positive impact on his teammates, take a look at this graph. It shows the production of McConnell’s teammates while he was at Duquesne compared to when they did not have McConnell to create for them. Included are the years each player was at Duquesne to show that it’s not just normal player development. For reference, McConnell played from ’11 to ’12.
So we see that every single player that McConnell has played with in college has done better with him on the team from an efficiency stand point.
It should also be noted that as a team, between the years of ’09 and ’13, Duquesne averaged 1.8 more assists and 1.8 turnovers less per game during the years that McConnell was on the team.
The conclusion here? Obviously McConnell is going to make Arizona a better team. There is just no question about it. He takes care of the ball better and makes his teammates better.
Let’s be honest. We’re not looking for McConnell to be Arizona’s main scorer. However, neither was Duquesne. McConnell only took about 17% of his team’s shots, which was fifth highest on his team.
However, TJ’s shooting percentages were so stellar that he was third in scoring at 11.4 ppg. His eFG% was 58.1%. To compare, of all Arizona players besides Derrick Williams who played at least 24 minutes per game in the Miller era, the best eFG% was Solomon Hill during his junior year at 56.1%. And even Williams’ freshman year was “only” at 58.2%.
So now the question is what will change for McConnell at Arizona? He will probably shoot less if anything. He clearly doesn’t need to be the leading scorer, but is also clearly not afraid to take an opportune shot.
Based on assist percentages, Johnson will be the best passer McConnell has ever played with. And taking into account the nature of Arizona’s offense, the ball should rotate its way back to an open McConnell plenty of times.
With the overall high IQ of Arizona’s squad next year, I believe the drop in shot attempt percentage for McConnell should balance with the higher percentage looks that he will get. Taking into account the change in minutes, I would expect McConnell to average around 10.6 points. That’s frankly higher than I’ve been expecting, but his excellent consistency should not and can not be denied.
McConnell has also been lauded as an elite defender. During his time at Duquesne, he averaged 2.8 steals per game during each year. For reference, Gilbert Arenas holds the Arizona record for career steals, averaging 1.9 spg. Jason Terry holds the single season record with 2.8 spg.
McConnell was also assigned to locking down the opposing team’s best guard. I don’t have the hard numbers on this, but I guarantee that this was a major problem for Arizona last year. Any time Arizona came across a team with more than one talented guard, they suffered greatly. Do not expect that trend to continue.
Arizona will benefit from McConnell’s presence on both sides of the ball. The fact that he’s had a year to gel into the system is only another reason that we can expect an instant impact.
Remember, all of the stats that I reference from his time at Duquesne were from his freshman and sophomore years. While some would argue that Atlantic 10 isn’t the Pac-12, the A-10 just went 6-4 in the tourney this year compared to the Pac-12’s 5-3. Just food for thought.
McConnell is for real. I for one can not wait to see him lighting it up at McKale.