While it’s beginning to look as if Kemba Walker will possibly yield the Oklahoma City Thunder a bigger return than he did the Boston Celtics, the latter are likely grateful that they were simply able to rid themselves of the veteran’s ill-favored contract. Getting out from under the near $74 million owed to Walker through 2023 can be chalked up as a win for Brad Stevens’ first major move as the team’s president of basketball operations. Not to mention, Al Horford once again donning Celtics Green isn’t a bad sight — as Jayson Tatum would surely attest to.
With that said, the Walker move doesn’t come without its potential drawbacks, mainly who will assume the starting point guard role in Beantown due to the four-time All-Star’s endless absence.
Is Marcus Smart primed to inherit the gig? Could Yam Madar live up to the lofty hype following him? Will Payton Pritchard continue to trend upwards in year two? All three of these possibilities theoretically have the chance to come to fruition in 2021. If this were the case, the Celtics would find themselves with a more than serviceable point guard rotation playing off ball-dominant wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Yet, rather than leaving things up to chance, Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz believes the Cs should instead dip their hands in the free agency pool to fill their starting point guard vacancy.
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McConnell, the Celtics’ ‘Ideal’ Starting Point Guard?
While many Celtics fans have been clamoring for their team to make a run at Malcolm Brogdon this summer, Swartz envisions Boston making a run at a different Indiana Pacers point guard. “Based on available cap space, team weaknesses and positional needs,” the B/R columnist deemed veteran TJ McConnell as Boston’s “top target in 2021 free agency,” ideally slotting in as the team’s “starting point guard” next season.
“The Boston Celtics have a vacancy at point guard after trading Kemba Walker to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Al Horford, one that could be filled internally by Marcus Smart or via free agency with T.J. McConnell,” wrote Swartz.
“Boston is virtually destined to go into the luxury tax this offseason if it re-signs free-agent shooting guard Evan Fournier. While chasing someone like Mike Conley or Kyle Lowry in free agency would be nice, the Celtics likely won’t be able to lure them with their $5.9 million taxpayer mid-level exception,” he added. “The Celtics have to hope this near $6 million amount is enough to land McConnell, one of the NBA’s better passers and defenders at the guard position.”
What Would the Celtics Be Getting in McConnell?
There’s a lot to like about McConnell’s game. The question is, is he actually starter material? Coming off a season where he tied a career-best with 6.6 assists per game, the 29-year-old is clearly a sound distributor. Over his six-year NBA career (two seasons with Indiana and four with the Philadelphia 76ers), he averages 8.2 assists and just 2.6 turnovers per-36 minutes, via Basketball-Reference.
As a scorer, he’s shown well as a pick-and-roll player and is also fairly efficient as a mid-range shooter, evident by his personal-best 55.9% shooting from the field in 2020-21. Yet, he doesn’t do much to stretch the court, shooting just 30.4% from 3-point range over the past two seasons. In reality, bringing McConnell on board with the expectation that he’d take over lead-guard duties is likely a bit of a stretch for a player who has started just 78 of his 454 career regular-season games. More realistically, McConnell is a scrappy defender who offers a nice scoring punch and a commendable-skillset as a distributor — ideally best suited to head a second unit. Problem is, that sounds a whole lot like a number of current in-house options the Celtics already have at their disposal.
Nonetheless, Swartz seems pretty fond of the idea of bringing McConnell to Beantown.
“Indiana’s backup point guard finished first in steal percentage (3.4 percent) and 11th in assist percentage (34.3 percent) this past season and is a high-efficiency shot-maker from inside the arc,” he noted. “Boston finished 27th in assist percentage this season (56.6 percent) and could use a pass-first point guard like McConnell in a starting lineup that features Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.”