NEW YORK – At this stage in the careers of T.J. McConnell and Markelle Fultz, McConnell has been a more productive point guard for the 76ers than Fultz.
However, McConnell is an undrafted fourth-year veteran in the final year of a non-guaranteed contract. Fultz is the player the Sixers gave up the 2019 Sacramento Kings' first-round pick to move up two spots to select first overall in the 2017 NBA draft.
So while Fultz is getting opportunities to regain his confidence and rhythm, McConnell suddenly was been relegated to the bench. He played the final 5 minutes, 37 seconds of garbage time in Sunday's 112-97 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. However, McConnell received "did not play, coach's decision" in the previous two games.
"As a competitor, I know it's hard," McConnell said of not playing. "But I have to continue being a good teammate and work hard in practice and get better and stay in shape. I'm not going pout about it. I'm just going to be ready when my name's called."
McConnell is averaging of 3.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 0.9 turnover and 13.4 minutes in nine games played. Meanwhile, Fultz is averaging 9.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists 1.4 turnovers and 1.1 steals in 24.1 minutes in 11 games. He starts at shooting guard before playing most of the game as the backup point guard.
Fultz, however, was shooting just 39.4 percent despite opponents sagging off him, all but daring him to take open jump shots. McConnell had the team's second-best shooting percentage at 55.6. The Sixers also appear to have more confidence in McConnell in second-half situations.
That was evident in the team's 133-132 overtime loss at the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 23. Fultz started at point guard due to Ben Simmons missing the game with lower-back tightness. McConnell played the final 10 minutes, 12 seconds of the fourth quarter and all five minutes of overtime.
Now, he's yelling encouraging words to Fultz from the bench.
"He's a tremendous teammate," Brown said. "Look at what he does now when he doesn't get in the game. He is Markelle Fultz's biggest fan … He has sacrificed in order to allow us, allowing me to coach Markelle Fultz and try to grow him.
"But from a human standpoint, it is disappointing."
The situation was disappointing for the coach, because McConnell is one of his all-time favorites.
"And it's a long year," the coach said. "Things play out normally the way that they should and the last few games they have not and I am aware of it."
It appears that Joel Embiid is heeding his coach's advice.
The 76ers center has openly discussed his desire to become the 2019 NBA Most Valuable Player. Brown wants the all-star center to focus more on becoming the Most Valuable Person. Brown wants Embiid to excel in taking a leadership role that will make the team successful.
Perhaps that's why Embiid said Saturday's 39-point, 17-rebound, two-block performance in a win over the Detroit Pistons wasn't a showcase for MVP voters. His focus was the team having a 6-4 record heading into Sunday's game against the Nets.
"That's not an MVP-type of team if I want to get there," Embiid of the record. "So I got to win games, and I got to keep doing whatever I've been doing, helping my team win.
"But at the end of the day, it's all about the wins. If we do that and whatever I've been able to do, I'll be in that position."
He headed into the Nets game ranked second in the NBA in scoring (29.6 per game), sixth in blocked shots (2.3) and seventh in rebounding (12.4). Embiid has had seven games with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. In all, he recorded double-doubles in nine of the Sixers' first 10 games.