The Smoothest (Basketball) Criminals Are in Indiana


In some apparent methods, Myles Turner and T.J. McConnell couldn’t be extra totally different as basketball gamers. Turner is a 6-foot-11 heart who does a lot of his best work above the rim. McConnell is a 6-foot-1 level guard who performs a extra earthbound model of the sport. Turner swats pictures, whereas McConnell picks pockets. One is an ominous presence in the paint; the opposite, a self-described “pest” who roams the perimeter.

But in a difficult season for the Indiana Pacers, Turner and McConnell have come collectively to press, strip and thwart opponents, a two-man distress machine. In the method, they may grow to be the primary pair of teammates to steer the N.B.A. in blocks and steals because the 2000-1 season, when Theo Ratliff (blocks) and Allen Iverson (steals) of the Philadelphia 76ers did it.

“The defensive end is just about effort,” mentioned McConnell, who has come off the bench to common a league-leading 1.eight steals per sport. “That’s truly what it comes down to, and that’s something I can control. I can always give as much effort as possible.”

Turner, who’s averaging a league-leading and career-best 3.Four blocks per sport, gave the Miami Heat huge issues in back-to-back wins over the weekend, blocking a complete of 10 pictures. On Sunday, he had two of them in time beyond regulation to assist the Pacers seal their 109-106 victory.

“No shot is safe around him,” McConnell mentioned.

They say they’ve made one another higher gamers — “Knowing that you have someone who is going to match or even amplify your intensity only helps you,” Turner mentioned — and so they have most likely performed an element in boosting one another’s league-leading totals.

McConnell feels that he can bounce into passing lanes and be much more aggressive, he mentioned, as a result of he is aware of Turner is stationed behind him as a security internet. Turner has gone as far as to encourage McConnell and the crew’s different guards to funnel gamers in his path.

“He’s always talking to me about how we can kind of get each other going,” McConnell mentioned. “He’s even giving me angles to send players toward the rim. If I foul someone, he’ll come up and be like: ‘Hey, don’t foul. I got you. I’ll block the shot.’ ”

Anything can occur forward of Thursday’s commerce deadline, particularly for a struggling crew just like the Pacers, who fell to 19-23 after shedding to the surging Milwaukee Bucks on Monday evening. Several groups are reported to have curiosity in Turner, although the value can be excessive.

For now, Turner and McConnell proceed to domesticate their on-court bromance — one which started to take form in 2015 after they discovered themselves in three of the identical pre-draft exercises, together with one for the Pacers. They already knew of one another, having each performed big-time faculty basketball — McConnell at Arizona and Turner at Texas.

In their exercise for the Pacers, they teamed up in a sport of three-on-three — and dominated, McConnell mentioned. The Pacers chosen Turner with the 11th choose that yr. McConnell went undrafted.

“He always jokes about it: ‘I’m the one who got you drafted here,’ ” Turner mentioned.

McConnell ultimately signed with the 76ers, who had been wading by the thick weeds of their infamous tanking epoch. It was an experiment that gave McConnell a chance to show himself in the 2015-16 season, one which he didn’t waste. In addition to working as a pass-first distributor — he averaged 4.5 assists in 19.eight minutes a sport — he collected 95 steals.

He caught with the 76ers for 4 seasons, and infrequently discovered himself bumping in to a well-known determine: Turner, who had shortly emerged as one of many league’s most fearsome inside defenders. McConnell considers himself lucky that he by no means had any of his pictures blocked by Turner. And in a manner, McConnell might have one-upped Turner by stealing one among his passes after they had been first-year gamers.

“I will make sure he is aware of that stat,” McConnell mentioned.

In their second season, although, Turner erased a possible help for McConnell. The 76ers had been enjoying the Pacers when McConnell ran out in transition and tossed a lob to his then-teammate Robert Covington for what almost everybody in the sector will need to have assumed was a straightforward alley-oop layup. But on the final second, Turner got here from behind to swoop by the lane and rejected Covington at the rim.

“A lot of people in that situation would be scared to get dunked on,” Turner mentioned. “But I don’t care if get dunked on. You have to develop that mentality as a shot blocker. All the great shot blockers get dunked on.”

McConnell, who signed with the Pacers earlier than the beginning of final season, and Turner, who has spent his total profession in Indiana, each say that lots of what they do on protection can’t be taught. Turner described his shot-blocking potential as “a gift.” McConnell mentioned his kind of protection was a mind-set.

“I just want to make it as hard as possible for guys to get into their offense, for them to get over half court — anything,” he mentioned. “You come into the game, and I’m not physically imposing or all that quick. But I’ll pressure you.”

While they lean on intuition, timing and energy, they’ve refined their abilities. In faculty, Turner mentioned, he was usually extra athletic than the gamers he defended. But when he entered the N.B.A., he found a league populated by decathletes like Russell Westbrook — gamers who may sure previous him or over him. So Turner polished his positioning with the assistance of Dan Burke, a former assistant coach for the Pacers who now works for the 76ers.

“You have to be in the right spot at the right time,” Turner mentioned. “You have to get there first.”

McConnell was round basketball from an early age. His father, Tim, was his coach at Chartiers Valley High School exterior Pittsburgh, the place the gamers sometimes did defensive slides whereas holding bricks.

“We wouldn’t do it that often,” McConnell mentioned. “But we definitely did it.”

As he received older, McConnell would research Chris Paul’s defensive prowess — “He just makes it so hard on guys,” McConnell mentioned — whereas incomes his manner into the N.B.A. with the identical type of resolve. McConnell is routinely underestimated by opposing gamers, Turner mentioned.

“Especially by the young guys coming into the league,” Turner mentioned. “They look at him, like, ‘Who is this white boy in front of me?’ But T.J., it’s like he takes that to heart. He loves the challenge — the challenge of people looking at him that way.”

Earlier this month, earlier than the All-Star break, McConnell had probably the greatest video games of his profession, ending with 16 factors, 13 assists and 10 steals in a win towards the Cleveland Cavaliers. During one extraordinary stretch of the primary quarter, he had steals on 5 straight possessions. He set an N.B.A. report with nine steals in the first half.

“That’s as good of a game as you’re going to see,” the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon mentioned.

McConnell additionally leads the league in deflections, although he doesn’t wish to know his tally in actual time throughout video games, he mentioned, as a result of he worries that he may grow to be “overzealous.”

At the identical time, McConnell has managed to dam 14 pictures. Every time it occurs, he mentioned, it comes as a complete shock. And for the briefest second, he will get a glimpse at what life should be like for his taller teammate.

“It’s kind of like, ‘Did I just do that?’ ” McConnell mentioned.



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