Despite his numerous injuries, Tracy McGrady played 16 seasons in the NBA and finished with career averages of 19.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists while shooting 43.5% from the field and 33.8% from beyond the arc. T-Mac’s numbers are impressive but don’t necessarily have you jumping out of your seat, unlike what numbers from some of the game’s greatest players would. Take Kobe Bryant, for example; the Black Mamba averaged 25 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.7 assists for his career on 44.7% FG shooting and hitting 32.9% of his attempts from three. Save for the six-point differential in points per game, partly due to Bryant attempting three more shots per game, the two superstars have virtually identical numbers. Yet, one is arguably on the Mount Rushmore of Basketball (Bryant), and the other (McGrady) is having his legacy blown away with the winds of time.
The apparent reason here is the difference in the number of championships that Bryant has. Kobe won 5 rings with the Los Angeles Lakers, giving him a sizeable lead over T-Mac’s total of zero titles. McGrady only made the finals once, which was later in his career when he was no longer a rotation player in the league. Champions are hard to come by, and winning matters, but those titles don’t paint a completely accurate picture of a player’s impact during his time in the league. It’s unfair to say that Kobe was better than T-Mac just because of the rings; Kobe played with Shaq and then Pau Gasol while McGrady’s best teammate was an injury-plagued Yao Ming. When evaluating a player like McGrady, it’s essential to consider how good he was at every aspect of the game, which should earn T-Mac some very high praise, according to Wilson Chandler.
“T-Mac is up there with the Kobes and the KDs talent wise. He didn’t have the same longevity as them due to injury, but his peak impact and ability was up there with them.”Wilson Chandler, via Ball Don’t Stop Podcast.
Chandler’s statement may seem far-fetched at first, especially since Kobe and KD are some of the best players we have ever seen, but if you dig into their numbers during the peak of their powers, it starts to look like Chandler might have a point. Since KD is still playing, and his best years may still be ahead of him, we will leave his stats out of the comparison. Besides, if you can measure up to Kobe, shouldn’t you automatically measure up to KD anyway?
McGrady’s best years were arguably his four seasons with the Orlando Magic, from the 2000-01 season to the 2003-04 season. During this period, T-Mac averaged 28.1 points, seven rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. Tracy attempted 22.7 shots per game and had an eFG% of 48.4%. If we didn’t attach McGrady’s name to these numbers, you would think you were staring at LeBron James’ stats from a season where he was already considered the best player in the league.
Bryant’s best year was probably 2005-2006, the second season after the Los Angeles Lakers sent Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat, officially breaking up the dynamic duo that earned the franchise its only three-peat. Kobe Bryant won the scoring title by averaging 35.4 points per game, a fantastic run for Mamba. If you count four seasons from then, you get to the 2008-2009 season when Kobe won his first ring without Shaq. This four-year period is probably the one that best matches T-Mac’s in terms of output, but since the Lakers won the chip the following year too, let’s include 2009-10 to give Kobe a five-year peak versus McGrady’s four.
Bryant’s averages in those five years? 29.8 points per game, 5.5 rebounds, and five assists per game on 22.5 attempts per contest with an eFG% of 49.2%. Kobe averaged more points in his peak, with the numbers skewed due to the 2005-2006 season where he attempted 27 attempts per contest, significantly more than any other season of either player. Kobe was more efficient and racked up more points, while T-Mac has a significant rebounding advantage and a slight edge in assists. The numbers don’t lie, and the production of both players was awfully close during their peak years.
Kobe always said that T-Mac was his toughest match-up, but also one of his favorites. Bryant noted that McGrady could do everything he could but at 6’10, which was a problem. Apparently, this was not a mere sentiment, as the numbers suggest that this was definitely the case. The only real difference between the two was the career breaks that went their way. Kobe played for the Lakers while T-Mac struggled to land in a franchise as committed to winning as the Purple and Gold. Bryant had his fair share of injuries, but very few that kept him sidelined for extended periods. McGrady not only dealt with his injury issues but he was always saddled with the task of carrying the team due to significant injuries to key players such as Grant Hill and Yao Ming. The most significant break to not go T-Mac’s way was Orlando’s bungling of the Tim Duncan signing during free agency of 2000; imagine if T-Mac and Duncan were going up against Kobe and Shaq?
In the end, these decisions and strokes of his misfortune is part of what makes the game great. The ups and downs keep us tuned in and continuously build our affinity towards our favorite players, and at the end of the day, champion or not; we love them just the same. Keeping the legacy alive is a struggle for T-Mac fans today because his lack of a ring doesn’t do his career justice. Luckily, players who have been around the league know how deadly T-Mac was, and it’s great to see that they are taking the team to recognize all that Tracy brought to the game and its culture.