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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Burden of Being Tracy McGrady

Tracy McGrady is one of the most underrated players in the NBA--and that does not figure to change after his Houston Rockets are eliminated by the Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, which seems almost certain to happen after Houston lost to Utah at home to fall behind 2-0 in their first round best of seven series. "I tried to do everything I could to get us going, energy-wise, execution-wise, rebounding and making them (his teammates) better. But come the fourth quarter, I didn't have enough (left). I had no legs. I was on empty," McGrady said after the 90-84 game two defeat. McGrady finished with 23 points, 13 assists, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots, leading his team in every one of those categories in a performance reminiscent of the MVP level that Scottie Pippen played at after Michael Jordan retired for the first time. Unfortunately, the only statistic that a lot of people will look at is the fact that McGrady scored just one point in the fourth quarter.

"It's not their defense wearing him down, it's that he has to do so much for us. Look what he did tonight: 13 rebounds, nine assists. He carried us. That's going to wear you down after a while, especially against a physical team like this. They're going to keep coming at him," Houston Coach Rick Adelman added.

McGrady is going into gun battles with what Kobe Bryant would call "butter knives." McGrady's All-Star center Yao Ming is out for the season with a broken foot and his point guard Rafer Alston is also sidelined by injury. McGrady's Rockets are facing a Utah team that made it to the Western Conference Finals last season, beating a Houston team that was at full strength along the way.

I have often cited Bill Russell's dictum that what is most important is not how many points you score but when you score them, so how can I defend McGrady after he scored just one point in the fourth quarter of game two and no points in the fourth quarter of game one? McGrady has a skill set that is similar to Kobe Bryant's and LeBron James'. No, T-Mac is not at their level: he does not play at the highest of high levels consistently enough and he is not durable enough. Still, his gifts as a player are not fully appreciated by most fans (and many "experts"). His former coach Jeff Van Gundy insists that McGrady is perhaps the best passer in the NBA, a player whose size and court vision enable him to do special things with the basketball. Even though McGrady has very famously never won a playoff series it is undeniable that he steps up his game big time in the postseason: entering this year's playoffs, McGrady's career postseason averages were 28.8 ppg (fourth all-time behind Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Jerry West), 6.6 rpg and 6.1 apg, well above his career regular season averages (22.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.7 apg). His field goal percentage in the playoffs (.431) was virtually the same as his regular season field goal percentage (.437) despite the higher level of competition that one encounters in postseason play; McGrady's free throw percentage is also better in the postseason (.781 entering this season compared to a .747 career number in the regular season). McGrady has an 0-3 career record in seventh games but check out his numbers in those contests: 25.7 ppg, 8.7 apg, 5.7 rpg, .387 field goal percentage, .762 free throw percentage. The field goal percentage is obviously not great but that reflects how defenses are able to load up on him because he has never had teammates around him who will make defenses pay by hitting open shots after McGrady is double teamed.

McGrady's subpar performances in the past two defeats and his losses in previous playoff series stem not from a shortcoming in his game but rather from the fact that he simply does not have enough help around him. If he clearly had the better team (or even an equal team) to the squads that have beaten him and he still came up short in the fourth quarter then that would be on him--but if the Rockets rest him early in these games to keep him fresh then they will be trailing by huge margins in the fourth quarter. This is exactly the same problem that Bryant faced the past three seasons. Until McGrady has a better team around him he will carry the burden of being blamed for not advancing past the first round of the playoffs even though he has done everything in his power to lift his team. There is a bitter irony in the fact that McGrady carried the Rockets just far enough to get blamed for losing in the first round but that if he had not played so well then the Rockets would not even be in the playoffs in the first place.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:23 PM

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11 Comments:

At Wednesday, April 23, 2008 5:30:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Note:

I accidentally deleted this comment instead of posting it, so I cut and pasted the text exactly as it was originally written.

Madnice said:

McGrady is a bum. You have 3 months to be tired. Get the job done. I cant remember too many of the top players having just 1 point in the 4th quarter of a playoff game. A few years back McGrady did have the skill set of Bryant and James....in the regular season. I know his playoff numbers increase. But he has no heart.

McGrady has made some very stupid comments over the years. The burden of being Tracy McGrady was put on himself. In Orlando he said he didnt try as hard. He also said that he won a series when the series wasnt over yet. Last year he said the series is on me. Im putting the team on my back and its my fault if we dont beat the Jazz. Then at the press conference he is crying. I dont remember the legendary greats crying unless they were retiring (I saw Bryant crying after the Spurs beat them but thats another story). McGrady also said that after the 21st and 22nd straight victory that we made history and this is so special and I cant believe what we did. Do Rockets fan even care about that now? They didnt make any history. It was a great streak but please T-Mac. Hes like the NBA A-Rod. I remember watching TNT after one of the wins during the streak and he said to Barkley the only thing I need to hear from him is about cheeseburgers and cakes. Barkley before the game said they would lose and the streak would end. At least Barkley got to the finals. Barkley was a way better player than McGrady will ever be.

Then you got Magic saying that was the best hes seen him play. Hey Magic what about the fourth quarter. On the Kirilenko flop, McGrady still passed the ball showing that he didnt want that shot in the big spot. Ive seen Bryant doubled team many times and still will take and make the shot. McGrady will never be a superstar and definitely is not underrated. Who ever underrated him? Ive never heard nothing but praises about how good McGrady is. But you also hear how injury prone and weak he is. And that when he is good hes T-Mac. When he plays in the fourth hes Tracy. How can he be a superstar and not at least once get out of the 1st round? If he doesnt win a title then ok. There are plenty of superstar players who havent. But at least one 1st round series win would be nice.

There are no excuses in the playoffs. You have the first two games at home (just like last year) and you need to win those games especially considering the Jazz home record. And he definitely didnt play like Pippen after Mike retired.

Van Gundy is a joke too, especially since he quit on the Knicks. To say that McGrady is the best passer is crazy. I realize McGrady's postseason number increase. But it means nothing if you cant get out of the first rounds. I bet Rockets and Magic fans dont care about his postseason numbers when all they have seen is first round exits when hes on the team.

 
At Wednesday, April 23, 2008 10:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

Sorry about deleting your comment; it was an honest mistake.

I think that you are being too hard on T-Mac. He is in the same position that Kobe was in the past few years--going into a gun battle with butter knives. I would be very hesitant to say of any professional athlete that he has no heart. Unless you see these guys up close and really know the rigors of the game that is an unfair comment to make in most instances--and the guys of which it might be true don't usually last very long in the league.

You should separate T-Mac's comments from his play. He is a very candid person; either he is not as media savvy as MJ or LeBron or he simply prefers to be brutally honest. Regardless of what T-Mac has said, he does play hard, he does make his teammates better and he does perform well in the playoffs. He has never been on a team that should have been expected to win a playoff series. Yes, Houston has had homecourt advantage the past couple years but it is obvious that Utah has the better, deeper team, particularly with Yao out.

The A-Rod comparison does not work; A-Rod's numbers go down in the postseason.

I don't think that T-Mac is as good as Kobe or LeBron and I made that very clear. What I have said repeatedly is that he has a special skill set that only those guys can match in terms of his size, athleticism, court vision and ability to score in a variety of ways. Houston's winning percentage when he plays projects to more than 50 wins per season; that number drops to around 24 wins per season when he doesn't play. T-Mac has a much bigger impact on Houston's record than Yao does, though that effect was a little less dramatic this season. T-Mac is perennially a legit All-NBA level player, so he does fit my definition of a superstar, unlike Arenas, Melo and some of the other guys the media likes to pump up.

The bottom line with T-Mac and the playoffs is the same as it is for all star players: you have to have a team around you in order to advance. Kobe is better than T-Mac but he still needs a team around him. I would say that last year's loss was the most disappointing because T-Mac did have game seven at home but if you watched the game you know that he was about the only guy who showed up and played for Houston. That loss was not his fault.

 
At Thursday, April 24, 2008 8:59:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

David...understand what I am saying. First of all the ARod comparison is in relation to McGradys comments not his postseason play. ARod also makes stupid comments as well. They both need to be quiet.

McGrady is not in the same situation as Bryant because Bryant has actually won a first round series. Im not being hard on McGrady at all. He makes too many excuses. You cant separate his comments from his play because they reflect his play. He said he didnt try hard in Orlando. Im sure hes not the only player to feel this way but you keep it to yourself.

You cant tell the opponent that you are tired and dont have any legs left. He will even be more tired in Utah. Ive never heard any great player say that.

In the game seven loss of last year, McGrady said it was on him if they lost. So what do you think fans remember about the end of that series? McGrady made himself cupable to he should take the heat. Of course it wasnt his fault entirely. But he shouldnt have made those comments if he couldnt back it up.

The Rockets play better with TMac there in the regular season but in Rockets havent won a playoff series in years. As a superstar, you should at least be able to do that. Just because you arent favored to win a series doesnt mean you cant win the series. Thats faulty logic. Of course Utah has been better both years. If he is who you say he is, he should at least win one round. Just one round. I bet if you put your favorite player Bryant on the Rockets instead of McGrady the Rockets would havent gotten out of the first round at least once with or without Yao. You could put James in that spot as well.

McGrady could be better but he has no heart. Im not saying he doesnt play hard because he does at time. But he always says the wrong thing. Plus hes not clutch. He has had a team around him good enough to advance but couldnt get the job done. Please no more excuses for McGrady.

 
At Thursday, April 24, 2008 5:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

I agree with you that some of T-Mac's comments are ill chosen. I prefer to focus more on how he actually plays but I understand that some of the things that he says detract from how well he performs.

I think that what he actually said in Orlando was that it was difficult to try hard all the time when the team is not good enough to win. Of course he shouldn't have said that, even though that kind of thinking obviously applies to a lot of players (what kind of defense was Paul Pierce playing last year before KG arrived?).

The Rockets have not won a playoff series for the same reason that the Lakers have not won a playoff series recently: they are not good enough collectively.

People are going to think and say whatever they want and T-Mac would be better off just doing his best and not saying so much but it is his personality to speak with a lot of candor. Fans and writers say that they like athletes to be candid but then they rip any athlete who speaks from the heart.

 
At Friday, April 25, 2008 8:28:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

I have no problem with him speaking from the heart but some of it is ignorance. He has to realize this. And the Rockets were good enough collectively against Dallas to win that series.

 
At Saturday, April 26, 2008 7:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anymous reggie

t mac played better in game 3 and is a great player but he is way too sensitive kobe bryant is hated by many people but does not cry and whine as much as tmac does about being critcized they kill kobe for chewing gum wrong? come on t mac there not blameing you for someon getting heineken when they were supposed to get budweiser man.

also he said he didnt play hard like randy moss said and they kill moss for being a quitter and he is not when he admitted he didnt play as hard because he knew the team wasnt good enough to win like oakland was with moss.

call a spade a spade media not you david but the mainstream media when moss quit you called him out but when t mac and vince did you didnt thats the double standard in the press im a moss fan and feellike everything he says has been taeking out of content. like i play when i want to play when he really never said that and t mac essectially said i play hardest when my team is winning and not as hard when they are not.

t mac doesnt uplift players like lebron james larry bird magic johnson micheal jordan did and kobe bryant is doing now. and people will say they played with hof famers bird team won 32 games the year before he came 61 the next year when he got hurt in 88-89 they went from 57 wins to 42 got beat in the first round and replaced him with a great player in reggie lewis. kareem couldnt get over the hump before magic got there than they win 5 championships in 9 years in 91-92 they won 43 games the year before was in the finals 58 wins. yeah they played with better players but those players were better because they played with those great players really worthy aint worthy without magic pippen not pippen without jordan mchale parish isnt the players they are without bird pau gasol is better because of kobe now so the star best players make the complimentary players.

 
At Sunday, April 27, 2008 6:20:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

You really think that the '05 Rockets were a better, deeper team than the '05 Mavs? I think the fact that T-Mac has carried three teams to seventh games has obscured the reality that his squads were not as good overall as the teams he was playing against. The Pistons, Mavs and Jazz beat T-Mac in seventh games and each of those teams made it to at least the Conf. Finals either that season or the next year.

 
At Sunday, April 27, 2008 7:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

You have to see the clip of T-Mac saying "Blame me for everything" and not just read the quotes; if you watch the tape he is clearly joking around, not whining.

I just saw Pau Gasol say that he is more motivated now in L.A. than he was in Memphis. A lot of players have candidly admitted that it is harder to be motivated on a losing team than a winning one (I think that Paul Pierce said something similar, too). Jordan and Kobe are the two main guys who would be playing just as hard on a crappy team as on a 60 win team, which is probably a big reason why neither of them never actually played on a really crappy team (even when the roster was at least semi-crappy).

The problem with Moss was two-fold. One, he just made a blanket statement that he plays when he wants to play. Two, he actually walked off the field at the end of a game. Granted, there were only seconds left, but he could have been used on the hands team for the onside kick. Moss' performance also clearly and dramatically tailed off with the Raiders. T-Mac, Pierce, Gasol and others were still putting up their usual numbers even if they were frustrated, lacking motivation or whatever. Moss played like he quit and then he showed up in New England and started breaking records. That does not look right. To me, Moss is a guy who can only be successful if he has a strong leadership group around him (like he did in Minn. with Denny Green and Cris Carter and like he obviously does in New England); he's no Jerry Rice coming into every training camp playing hard no matter what.

T-Mac is not as good as all the players you listed. All I'm saying is that he has a skill set that is similar to Kobe and LeBron's. He is not quite as good as they are, he doesn't always play at that level and he is not as physically durable. Still, these first round losses are not his fault.

As for the other players not being great without Bird, Magic, etc., we've talked about that before. Without revisiting the whole subject, just consider a couple things: McHale had arguably the best low post moves and footwork ever, shooting .600 from the field and .800 from the free throw line during his prime. He would have put up HoF numbers wherever he played; Pip was third in MVP voting in '94 after MJ's first retirement and he came within one of the worst calls in playoff history of taking the Bulls to at least the ECF. Bird and MJ helped McHale and Pip respectively but they also helped Bird and MJ.

Gasol is not as good as any of those guys--you can't compare a one-time All-Star to HoFers and Top 50 players. Part of what is so remarkable about Kobe is that he does not have an All-NBA level sidekick, let alone an HoF sidekick, but the Lakers finished with the best record in the West.

 
At Friday, May 02, 2008 1:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

McGrady is not at the level of a Kobe or Lebron simply because his body isn't what it used to be. From the 00-01 season - injury plagued 05-06 season he was as good as any of the best in this league. I thought he had recovered due to his performances during the first 2 months of this season... but nope. After that freak elbow injury in LA his shot just regressed... then the knee got hurt limiting his mobility... now the shoulder is jacked... so many injuries.

His playoff stats were better than Kobe's had ever been (all of his series' from his time in Orlando - his climax against Dallas were as good or better than Lebron/Kobe's best). He just isn't as good as he used to be. Since he's going into the offseason requiring surgery again (per clutchfans), he probably won't be in shape going into training camp.... again.

This dude has just been cursed. How many players reach their prime at the age of 22/23? It's too bad we probably won't ever get to see what he could of potentially become.

People who blame him for going down in the first round have no idea what they're talking about. The only year he's had even a remote chance was last year against the Jazz (you know the ones who went down in the WCF?). Every team he has ever lost to post T-Dot has gone down in a 7th (or 5th before the change) deciding game. McGrady has had virtually no help in that span. Hell, even in Houston that first year no one outside of McGrady stepped up on a consistent basis. Last year their bench would go through games scoring 4 points. You realize there were games where McGrady was responsible for nearly 85% of his teams offense? Yao was a shadow of himself thanks to the injury. This year, more of the same. The bench has been inconsistent, but McGrady has been pushing the Rockets through WITHOUT Yao. If they win tonight, I've no doubt they'll win in game 7 at home.

It'd be a testament to how great McGrady is.

 
At Sunday, May 18, 2008 9:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People Who Blame TMAC for losing in the first round obviously no nothing about basketball. Meaning its a TEAM sport. In the playoffs, teams can scout you out better, and if you only have one star on a team thats willing to step his game up w/o fear then they will triple him, and say let the team beat us. Wich is what teams do 2 tmac, Its true he isnt on the level of Kobe or lebron, thats becuz of past injuries and bad back spasms, but 3 short years ago they were calling TMAC and KOBE the best 2 players in the league. N if i remember Kobe hasnt been out of the first round with out shaq on his team. He proved a point when he played against the suns and didnt shoot. People said he was selfish and when he didnt shoot they went down by 40 some odd points. Tracy Mcgrady is a rare talent, and he is a leader, but this year he was leading a team full of rookies and a ageless wonder in Deke. They over achieved and were undersized when the playoffs came around. The lakers re-loaded for Kobe and he won MVP and now is looking for a championship. If the Rockets get one more star player and stay healthy their is no doubt that TMAC will be named on top of the league with the kobe's and lebrons again. So go watch film and actually understand the game before you make preassumptions. TEAM is what wins in the playoffs, until Jesus Christ himself puts on some sneakers then not One man can beat a awhole team.

 
At Monday, May 19, 2008 3:22:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

In general I agree with you but you are wrong about Kobe Bryant. For one, he has led a team to (at least) the Conference Finals this year without Shaq. Second, he was not trying to prove anything in game seven versus Phx in 2006. The Lakers were getting killed by halftime and Jackson decided in the third quarter to try to revive the "Inside Man" post up strategy that had worked earlier in the series. Unfortunately, the post up players did not produce and the Lakers fell even further behind. Kobe and LeBron had essentially the same first and second half stats in their game seven losses that season but no one says that LeBron quit. The reality is that neither player quit; their teams simply lost to superior teams.

 

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