2010 Report Card: Tracy McGrady

When a change occurs it always takes the mainstream a bit of time to adjust to the new idea. I recall watching a Knick game near the end of the year with the announcers talking about whether or not McGrady would be coming back next year. One of them (not sure who it was) said that McGrady would have to accept being a second star on a team.

At this time, I’ll chose to reveal McGrady’s similarity scores before I continue.

Similarity Scores:

z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
.000 Tracy McGrady 2010 TOT 12.2 46.6 42.1 13.1 1.2 5.0 5.3 0.8 0.7 2.4
.090 Travis Best 2003 MIA 11.2 47.3 42.7 12.0 0.5 2.9 5.1 0.9 0.1 2.1
.099 Henry Bibby 1980 PHI 11.1 49.1 41.0 13.1 1.1 3.7 5.4 1.1 0.1 2.6
.110 Troy Hudson 2007 MIN 10.8 48.3 45.1 13.1 0.5 3.1 4.7 0.9 0.1 2.6
.158 Bimbo Coles 1999 GSW 14.8 49.6 44.9 12.9 0.6 3.3 6.3 1.3 0.3 2.3
.162 Bob Sura 2004 TOT 16.2 51.0 43.8 12.9 2.2 7.1 5.0 1.3 0.3 2.3
.166 John Johnson 1978 TOT 11.9 45.3 41.5 16.1 2.0 6.1 4.2 0.8 0.4 3.3
.171 Damon Stoudamire 2004 POR 14.8 50.8 47.7 12.7 0.6 3.6 5.8 1.1 0.1 2.1
.174 Brad Miller 2007 SAC 13.5 50.8 45.9 11.5 1.6 8.1 4.5 0.8 0.8 2.2
.174 Doug Overton 2000 BOS 10.5 46.6 42.9 12.7 1.2 2.7 4.4 0.8 0.0 1.7
.176 Jim McMillian 1979 POR 11.9 49.9 44.6 10.7 2.1 5.1 4.3 1.3 0.4 2.1

I know it takes a little time for perception to catch up with reality, but does that look like a list of players that should be questioning whether or not they are the second star of a team? To me that group should be worrying if they can keep their job as second string point guards. It’s been a long time since McGrady has been a top tier player, but there’s no doubt that he fell off Sandy Alomar Cliff years ago. Below is a list of his comparables by age, which reminds me of one those don’t use drugs posters.

Age z-Sum FLName Year Tm PER TS eFG PTS ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV
19 .244 Kevin Garnett 1996 MIN 15.8 52.2 49.7 13.1 2.7 7.9 2.3 1.4 2.1 1.7
20 .121 Kevin Garnett 1997 MIN 18.2 53.7 50.2 15.7 2.3 7.4 2.8 1.3 2.0 2.1
21 .098 Kobe Bryant 2000 LAL 21.7 54.6 48.8 21.2 1.5 5.9 4.6 1.5 0.9 2.6
22 .072 LeBron James 2007 CLE 24.5 55.2 50.7 24.1 0.9 5.9 5.3 1.4 0.6 2.8
23 .145 LeBron James 2008 CLE 29.1 56.8 51.8 26.8 1.6 7.0 6.4 1.6 1.0 3.0
24 .121 Kobe Bryant 2003 LAL 26.2 55.0 48.3 26.0 1.1 6.0 5.1 1.9 0.7 3.0
25 .053 Kobe Bryant 2004 LAL 23.7 55.1 46.8 22.9 1.5 5.3 4.9 1.6 0.4 2.5
26 .114 Paul Pierce 2004 BOS 19.4 51.7 44.1 21.3 0.8 6.1 4.8 1.5 0.6 3.5
27 .175 Grant Hill 2000 DET 24.5 56.5 50.1 24.7 1.3 6.4 5.0 1.3 0.6 3.1
28 .083 Jamal Mashburn 2001 CHH 17.5 49.3 45.0 18.4 1.1 6.9 5.0 1.0 0.2 2.5
29 .088 Derek Anderson 2004 POR 15.1 49.9 44.0 13.8 0.5 3.6 4.5 1.3 0.1 1.8
30 .090 Travis Best 2003 MIA 11.2 47.3 42.7 12.0 0.5 2.9 5.1 0.9 0.1 2.1

You might note that at age 27 his most similar player is Grant Hill, but a score of .175 means they’re not very close. Actually McGrady rates close to these players because of his high usage. From ages 21-28 he averaged more than 21.1 pts/36, however his efficiency has been dropping since age 23. Usually guys with TS% south of 52% don’t get to take enough shots to average 20pts/36, but McGrady has managed that feat 3 times in his career (2006-2008). Speaking of his shooting efficiency…

McGrady-TS%

I added the red line, since the league average for TS% is around 54%. T-Mac had a very promising career, capping with a TS% of 56.4% as a 23 year old. A player’s career usually arcs up, levels off, then descends. But McGrady’s drops sharply and early at the peak, giving it the appearance of a mountain not the typical bell curve. If you looked at his career graph at age 23 and applied the normal career path, you’d think he’d be a perennial All Star. But as you can see that’s season was the exception, not the norm. It’s a shame, because McGrady is an exceptional passer and a capable rebounder. And he’s always been able to get to the line. Poor shot selection and an inconsistent three point shot (he’s been over 34% only once in the last 7 seasons) has kept him from achieving true greatness.

I had hoped that McGrady would benefit from a reduction in shot attempts upon arriving in New York. But even when he cut his FGA/36 to 12.6, T-Mac put up the lowest TS% of his career (46.6%). You know your career is over when you’re a former All Star trying to beat out Chris Duhon for a starting job, and you fail. Probably some team will sign him to a minor contract this year, I just hope it isn’t New York.

Report Card (5 point scale):
Offense: 1
Defense: 2
Teamwork: 3
Rootability: 2
Performance/Expectations: 1

Final Grade: F

Refs Partly To Blame For Garnett Suspension

I watched the Game 1 of the Celtics-Heat series at my local bar, and happened to catch Garnett’s elbow live. At the time I turned to my wife and mentioned that he’ll be suspended for the next game. I also had to explain to her who Quentin Richardson was, how important Garnett was to the Celtics, and how the league will review the tape to issue the suspension. Today the league has announced that Garnett won’t be allowed to play in Game 2, which really isn’t much of a surprise to anyone. However there is one other thing that I noted to my wife. Garnett’s suspension is partially the fault of the referees.

I’m not saying that I condone K.G.’s actions, and I think the league did the (obviously) right thing. However, I think should the front offices rewind the tape a little further, they’ll find something that contributed to the melee. Watch this clip, that shows the action on the court right before the melee began. Pierce and Garnett execute the pick & roll while the Heat switch and Udonis Haslem is responsible for guarding Pierce. Haslem’s defensive technique is perfect… for an NFL cornerback bumping a WR off the line of scrimmage. The Heat defender gets his hands into Pierce’s midsection and gives him a hip check altering Pierce’s trajectory.

Haslem’s actions are a clear foul in the NBA, yet the referees failed to make the call. The NBA’s philosophy seems to be to allow the players, not the officials, decide the outcome of the game. By allowing the zebras to swallow their whistles in the most critical moments, the refs actually alter the course of the game much more than if they called it uniformly. In this case allowing for such rough play directly led to Pierce lying prone off the floor. Had the refs made the correct decision and called the foul at the proper moment, Pierce doesn’t end up on the sidelines and Garnett doesn’t throw a frustrated elbow at Richardson.

Physical contact is a part of the game, and getting a foul called on the opponent vindicates the players’ action and allows for them to, for lack of a better term, vent some steam. You can see this by viewing how angry some players get when they feel they were fouled and no call was made. The league did the proper thing by suspending Garnett, but they still have some unfinished business. Referees should be blind to regards of score, location, player, or time. Games should be officiated using the same criteria whether it be the first minute or the last.

GOTME (Part IV): Small Forward

The Greatest Small Forward of the Modern Era: LeBron James

Player Best PER Avg 5 Best PER Career PER #1 PER # of top 10 PER
LeBron 31.7 29.1 26.8 3 6
Bird 27.8 26.1 23.5 2 7
Erving 22.5 (28.7) 24.5 (26.8) 22.4 (23.9) 1 (5) 5 (10)
??? 23.2 21.9 18.6 0 2

Here’s an interesting question: if LeBron James had to hang them up tomorrow would he be the best SF of the modern era? Consider that he led the league in PER the last 3 seasons, has been in the top 10 every year but his first, and he’s only 25 years old. Looking at what LeBron James has done up until this season, you could make the argument that he is better than Larry Bird. Larry Legend led the league in PER only twice and was in the top 10 PER 7 times, and LeBron has pretty much already equaled that. One critique of PER is that it doesn’t account for individual defense, an area where James has an advantage over Bird.

You could argue that Bird won more championships, but look at the supporting cast. Larry Legend played along 3 Hall of Famers for the early 80s in Nate Archibald, Robert Parrish, and Kevin McHale (although Archibald was past his prime) and had much stronger teammates than LeBron. This year will be James’ best team, and he only has one Hall of Fame caliber player, Shaq, who is well past his peak.

My intention of stating these facts is not to prove that James is absolutely better now than Bird was over his entire career. Instead I think there’s an argument for either side. And with that in consideration, you have to give the edge to James because he’s got a lot of basketball ahead of him.

Barring a injury-plagued future, LeBron is on track for a spectacular career. Even if James does suffer such a fate, he’ll still be the modern era’s best small forward. I took two career arcs and applied them to LeBron’s current production rate. In the chart below of PER by age the red triangles are Michael Jordan, the blue squares are Grant Hill, and the brown circles are LeBron James. The yellow triangles are LeBron’s projected career using Jordan’s arc and the orange squares are James’ career with Hill’s arc, both adjusted for LeBron’s production.

LeBron-Projection

By either projection, he’s got about 5 more seasons with a PER over 25, even accounting for a Hill-esque tragic arc. So by a conservative estimate, James will still have a lot of highly productive seasons. And although it’s possible that LeBron suffers from a worse fate than Grant Hill, it’s reasonable to think that missing multiple season is a pessimistic view. It’s more likely that he proceeds on a normal career path.

And should James continue on a standard progression, he could rival Jordan for the GOTME captaincy. As I outlined in Part III, James will need a lot of luck to match Jordan’s string of championships. However LeBron will have one avenue where he could fall short on championships and still surpass Jordan. If James plays to his late 30’s or even early 40s, he could be close enough to Jordan in peak and surpass him longevity. If you’re questioning LeBron James’ place here at thie time, consider that he could end up as the three point era’s most productive player.

Reserves: Larry Bird, Dr. J, and ???

There have been a lot of good small forwards in the league since the 1980 season, but none come close to Bird and Erving. Although the pair are icons of different styles and eras, their numbers were amazingly similar. They are nearly identical in career PER (23.6 to 23.5), PTS/36 (23.9 to 22.8), and TS% (56.4 to 55.8). Bird has an edge in rebounds, assists, and turnovers, while Erving was better in blocks and steals. Of course this includes Dr. J.’s pre-1980 and ABA numbers. Two reasonable people could argue all day which player was better. I think a more fruitful debate would surround the fourth best SF.

There are 4 guys that are in the conversation: Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, and Scottie Pippen. Compared to LeBron, Bird, and Erving these guys are clearly riding in coach. So how to assess them? McGrady led the league in PER in 2003, and totaled four times in the top 3. However his TS% is the lowest of the bunch (52.0%), and he averaged nearly 17 missed games a year due to injuries (which doesn’t include this season where’s he’s sat out 30+). Secondly McGrady’s playoff record is just abysmal. Carter is next on the list by career PER, but only cracked the top 10 twice. Here’s an indictment against Air Canada/Jersey/Orlando: he’s on only 2 All-NBA teams, and was never a first teamer.

So it’s down to Pierce and Pippen. Pierce has the offensive edge with 2 points of PER (20.8 to 18.6), nearly 30 in TS% (56.4% to 53.6%), and 5 pts/36 (21.7 to 16.6). Pippen is the better passer (5.4 to 3.7 ast/36) and defender earning 10 All Defensive Team awards. Normally I’d take the numbers and go with Pierce, but there’s one interesting thing to note. In Jordan’s absence, Pippen took on the main load and increased both his scoring volume (20.5 pts/36) and his efficiency (55.5% TS%). The 1994 team won 55 games, which is more than Pierce’s teams ever won with him as the centerpiece. So I’m inclined to add Scottie instead, because perhaps playing alongside Jordan stunted his numbers (although enhanced his legacy). In either case his body of work is sufficient enough to give him the edge as the fourth SF.