In this week’s “Chasing the Goat”, we compare the Bulls shooting guard to one of the greatest “what-if” players in the NBA, and recently inducted Hall of Famer, Tracy McGrady.
The story of the small forward phenom is considered one of the biggest tragedies the NBA has ever seen. This is largely due to the lingering injuries he faced after his spectacular 02-03 season with the Orlando Magic. Even while constantly battling knee issues, the 9th overall pick in the 1997 draft was still able to put together a solid career and be considered one of the best scorers to play the game.
It’s very difficult to compare the two because of the small sample size that McGrady is working with. Throughout his entire career, the dominant scorer was unable to complete a full 82 game season, and only came close to doing that once with 79 games while he was with the Toronto Raptors. That’s why he’s considered one of the most tragic stories, right next to Penny Hardaway.
The expectations were high for McGrady after being paired with Grant Hill, another player who had his own injury issues. The season was sidetracked by Hill’s ankle injury just four games in, and the weight fell solely on McGrady to produce.
McGrady put together quite a stat line averaging 32 points while also grabbing around 6.5 rebounds on the season. He also was able to average 5 assists, putting him in an exclusive club that only players such as Oscar Robertson and LeBron James are in.
This was a guy, who even Kobe Bryant admitted to in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, was a handful to guard on the opposing side. The 6”8 forward was the Kevin Durant in his days, lighting up defenses for over 24 a night through seven seasons and appearing as an All-Star in each of them.
Only die hard fans of the NBA will remember the constant debate of “T-Mac or Kobe” in the early 2000’s. He was in constant MVP races with some of the best players of the time, such as Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, and captured two scoring titles during his prime.
McGrady also is remembered for one of the greatest scoring sequences in NBA history while he was with the Houston Rockets. In just 35 seconds the small forward sank four three-point shots, and converted a free throw to stun the San Antonio Spurs in a comeback for the ages.
It is performances like that, and the seven All-Star seasons that you attribute to his great career. This is the small sample size that you choose when you talk about Tracy McGrady against Michael Jordan, or any of the greats for that matter.
There’s no doubt that McGrady was a transcendent talent, but with so many reoccurring injuries he became known just as Vince Carter’s cousin. It’s disappointing that his career was overshadowed by his injuries, but T-Mac had that killer instinct that you see in players like Jordan, Bryant, Westbrook, etc.
He even rose to the big stage during his time in Orlando and Houston, being one of the main focal points for their offense in the playoffs. One thing that also didn’t help McGrady was his lack of support from teammates, whether it was due to injury or lack of production.
When McGrady joined the Rockets the hope was that he and Yao Ming would form a dynamic one-two punch similar to that of Shaq and Kobe. That vision was never fully realized as both battled off and on injuries.
It’s hard to compare such a short-stinted career with so many question marks to an almost perfect resume like Jordan’s, but this whole series is about “what-if’s”. I’m sure if
McGrady had stayed healthy throughout his entire career he would have put together more 25 point seasons. He also would have had more back and forths with future Hall of Famer, Kobe Bryant, and perhaps knocked off the Lakers in the pursuit of their 08-09 championship.
It’s one of the biggest “what-if” careers to have ever unfolded in the league, and we’ll never really know just how dominant Tracy McGrady could have been if he had stayed constantly healthy. Just like we’ll never know if Jordan’s Bulls could have won seven straight NBA titles in the 90’s.
It does go without saying though, Tracy McGrady preinjury was one of the most entertaining players to watch and his competitiveness was matched only by his desire to live for the big moments.