Why We Haven't Seen Much T.J. McConnell in Sixers' Preseason Rotation

Brett Brown understands it's not going to be a seamless transition as the Sixers implement new defensive concepts.

That doesn't mean he's pleased with what he saw from his defense in Monday's 120-114 preseason win over the Magic.

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"Defensively, I thought that we were poor in the second half," Brown said. "I give a lot of credit to Orlando, some of those guys made tough shots. … But we have to play better defense in the second half."

Joel Embiid was also less than thrilled with the defensive performance. The Sixers allowed the Magic to score 29 third-quarter points. 

"Third quarter, I just thought we sucked," Embiid said. "We were really bad. We just have to follow the concepts defensively. Need to follow the game plan. I thought we were lazy as far as switching and getting over the screens. They got a lot of threes at the start of the third quarter. And I gotta be better around the rim, making sure that I communicate because I see everything." 

Brown has placed a lot of responsibility with Embiid to anchor the Sixers' defense. It's a job he thinks Embiid's more than capable of, in part because of his physical skills, in part because of off-court factors like Embiid's refusal to accept mistakes from himself and his teammates, even in a preseason game. 

"He's the commander-in-chief, he's the voice, he's the eyes and ears behind our defense," Brown said. "He sees all. And he has that spirit, that personality and skill package, I think physically and intellectually, to deliver some defensive environments that we're trying to grow." 

‘I know what T.J. is'

Landry Shamet, Furkan Korkmaz and T.J. McConnell. When Wilson Chandler went down with a strained left hamstring, Brown said Jerryd Bayless was also "amongst that possible ‘now what?' group."

But with Bayless himself now sidelined for at least 3-4 weeks with a sprain of the posterolateral corner in his left knee, Brown's attention shifts to those three names at the edge of his rotation.

"You would have seen [Monday] that I went with Landry, and he was in that mix, that legitimate rotation," Brown said. "Then Furkan came in a little bit after that, and we looked at him. That assessment will continue. I think that T.J. also needs to be in that consideration - it's just I feel I know what T.J. is. I really don't know what Landry is, and I'm learning more about Furkan as he comes back from a very successful European tournament, so the sort of method to the madness as I sub the group is driven out of that."

Still, expect to see a bit more of McConnell in the Sixers' preseason games in China. While McConnell has played exclusively at the point so far, Brown said he'll use him more at the two these next couple games alongside Ben Simmons, an effective alignment for him in the Sixers' postseason series against the Celtics. 

As for Shamet and Korkmaz, both have shown glimpses of the shooting they can provide off the bench. Shamet's constant off-ball movement and ability to slither around screens were impressive Monday, and he didn't look lost defensively. He scored 12 points on 3 for 6 shooting (2 of 4 from three-point range) and was a plus-8.

At this point, there's little doubt about Korkmaz's ability to score. It's just a question of whether he can do it against regular rotation players, and whether he has enough strength or athleticism to not be a defensive liability. Fourteen of his 18 points Monday came in the fourth quarter when both teams had moved to the periphery of their rotations. 

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