In some obvious ways, Myles Turner and TJ McConnell can no longer differ as basketball players. Turner is a 6-foot-11 center that does much of its best work over the edge. McConnell is a 6-foot-1 point guard who plays a more earthy brand of the game. Turner shoots shots while McConnell picks bags. The one is a ominous presence in the paint; the other, a self-described “plague” wandering around the perimeter.
But in a challenging season for the Indiana Pacers, Turner and McConnell came together to push, strip and stop opponents, a two-man misery machine. In the process, they could become the first few teammates to block and steal the NBA since the 2000-1 season, when Theo Ratliff (blocks) and Allen Iverson (steal) of the Philadelphia 76ers did it.
“The defensive end is just about an attempt,” said McConnell, who came off the bench to score a leading 1.8 steals per game. ‘That’s what it’s about, and that’s something I can control. I can always make as much effort as possible. ”
Turner, who scored a league-leading and best career-best 3.4 blocks per game, gave the Miami Heat enormous problems with rugby games this past weekend, blocking a total of ten shots. On Sunday, he had two of them overtime to help the Pacers clinch their 109-106 victory.
“No shot is safe around him,” McConnell said.
They say they made each other better players – ‘Knowing that you have someone who will match or even strengthen your intensity only helps you,’ Turner said – and they probably played a role in each other’s leading totals. to increase.
McConnell feels he can jump into passing lanes and be even more aggressive, he said, because he knows Turner is behind him as a safety net. Turner went so far as to encourage McConnell and the other guards of the team to funnel players in his direction.
“He always talks to me about how we can get each other going,” McConnell said. “He even gives me corners to send players to the edge. If I offend someone, he will come out like, ‘Hey, don’t get mad. I have you. I’ll block the shot. ‘”
Anything can happen before Thursday’s deadline, especially for a struggling team like the Pacers, which fell to 19-23 after losing Monday night to the emerging Milwaukee Bucks. Several teams are reportedly interested in Turner, though the price would be high.
For now, Turner and McConnell continue to cultivate their rise in court – one that began to take shape in 2015 when they found themselves in three of the same training sessions before the draft, including one for the Pacers. They already knew each other because they both played college basketball – McConnell in Arizona and Turner in Texas.
In their training session for the Pacers, they teamed up in a three-on-three game – and dominated, McConnell said. The Pacers select Turner with the 11th pick that year. McConnell is undefeated.
“He always jokes about it, ‘It’s me who set you up here,'” Turner said.
McConnell eventually signed with the 76ers, blowing through the thick weeds of their infamous tank period. It was an experiment that gave McConnell the opportunity to prove himself in the 2015-16 season, one he did not waste. In addition to acting as a first-round pick – he averaged 4.5 assists in 19.8 minutes per game – he also stole 95.
He stuck with the 76ers for four seasons, occasionally bumping into a well-known figure: Turner, who quickly emerged as one of the most fearsome domestic defenders. McConnell happily considers himself never to have one of his shots blocked by Turner. And in a way, McConnell could have Turner once upon a time by stealing one of his passes when they were freshmen.
“I’ll make sure he’s aware of the stat,” McConnell said.
In their second season, however, Turner wiped out a potential assist for McConnell. The 76ers were playing the Pacers when McConnell ran out in transition and hurled a lob at his then-teammate Robert Covington for what almost everyone in the arena had to assume was an easy drive. But at the last minute, Turner came from behind to swing through the track. rejects Covington on the edge.
“A lot of people in the situation will be afraid of being dipped,” Turner said. “But I do not care if I am immersed. You have to develop the mentality as a shot blocker. All the big shot blockers are dipped. ”
McConnell, who signed with the Pacers before the start of last season, and Turner, who spent his entire career in Indiana, both say much of their defense cannot be learned. Turner describes his shooting block ability as a gift. “McConnell said his type of defense is an attitude.
“I want to make it just as difficult for guys to get into their offense, for them to get over half the court – anything,” he said. ‘You come into the game, and I’m not physically impressive or that fast. But I’ll push you. ”
Relying on instinct, timing and effort, they have honed their skills. Turner said at university he was often more athletic than the players he defended. But as he enters the NBA, he discovers a league populated by decathlon athletes like Russell Westbrook – players who can ride with him or over him. Turner thus polished his positioning with the help of Dan Burke, a former assistant coach for the Pacers, who now works for the 76ers.
“You have to be in the right place at the right time,” Turner said. “You have to get there first.”
McConnell was involved in basketball from an early age. His father, Tim, was his coach at Chartiers Valley High School outside Pittsburgh, where the players occasionally defended while holding bricks.
“We would not do that so often,” McConnell said. “But we certainly did.”
As he got older, McConnell would study Chris Paul’s defensive prowess – ‘he makes it just as hard for guys,’ McConnell said – while earning him the same kind of NBA decision. Turner says McConnell is often underestimated by opponents.
“Especially by the young guys who get into the league,” Turner said. They look at him, like, ‘Who is this white boy in front of me? ‘But TJ, it’s like he takes it to heart. He likes the challenge – the challenge of people looking at him like that. ”
Earlier this month, before the All-Star break, McConnell had one of the best games of his career, with 16 points, 13 assists and 10 steals in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. During an extraordinary piece of the first quarter, he stole five straight possessions. He set an NBA record with nine steals in the first half.
“It’s as good of a game as you’re going to see,” said Pacers Malcolm Brogdon.
McConnell too leads the league in deviations, although he does not want to know his score during games in real time, he said, because he is worried that he may become ‘overzealous’.
At the same time, McConnell managed to block 14 shots. Every time it happens, it’s a total surprise. And for the briefest moment, he gets a glimpse of what life should be like for his longer teammate.
“It’s like, ‘Did I just do it? “” McConnell said.