Monday, March 7, 2011

Assessing McGrady's Historic Position

Yahoo! featured a great article yesterday about Tracy McGrady's career, focusing on his failure to develop his natural talents to excel as contemporaries like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett have. Halfway through the piece, author Dan Devine notes in passing that it could be "argue[d]" that McGrady has compiled a "Hall of Fame-caliber" career. I would like to advance the negative side of this proposition.

As Devine noted, McGrady won two scoring titles with Orlando. For the greater part of the decade just completed, McGrady was a true superstar, making seven All-NBA teams (variously first team, second team, or third team) and putting together spectacular highlights (notably, his thirteen points in 35 seconds to beat San Antonio in late 2004). However, his career as a top player basically ended after the 2007-08 season. He was injured throughout 2008-09, then had microfracture knee surgery around February '09, against the wishes of Houston management. When he returned in the middle of 2009-10, the Rockets traded him for strategic reasons (to acquire some draft picks from New York), and he played sparingly for the Knicks to close the season. After signing with Detroit last summer as a free agent, McGrady showed a couple months of nice point guard play for the Pistons, but since the "player boycott" a couple weeks ago, the coach has benched him.

Let's not forget that this guy never won a playoff series. In a 2003 first-round series, Orlando went up 3-1 on Detroit, but lost the series. In 2005, Houston won the first two games on the road of a first-round series against Dallas. But somehow the Mavericks won the series in seven. In 2007, the Rockets won the first two games of a first-round series against Utah, but lost Game 7 of that series. [Utah then inherited overmatched Golden State as a second-round opponent and skated into the Western finals, winning the Warriors series in five.] With Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo, the Rockets could have matched up well with the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, and would have been favored in a potential NBA Finals matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers of LeBron James and Larry Hughes. But in the event, none of that happened.

McGrady's Rockets lost again to Utah in 2008. Houston finally won a playoff series in 2009, without McGrady.

For all his talent, McGrady could never deliver in April (let alone May or June). The Hall of Fame tends to favor winners of questionable individual greatness (James Worthy, who was good but never an MVP candidate) over lovable losers (Chris Mullin, who has been unsuccessfully nominated for the Hall in every year since 2007). Even putting aside that rubric, I do not find McGrady's individual merit to be enough for the Hall of Fame. Eight seasons (2000-01 through 2007-08) of high-level play is not enough.

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