For a while now, it's seemed like the only players being talked about as superstars in the NBA were Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Obviously, these two are choices 1 and 1a for the title of Best Player in the NBA. There are a few players beneath them though, who are playing superstar-caliber basketball.
Chris Paul and Carlos Boozer have been 20-10 guys the whole year, but with the latest injury to his team's best player, one man has stepped up to an elite level of play and has led his team to 21 straight victories, and counting. That man is Tracy McGrady.
People seem to forget just how good McGrady is when he is playing his best ball. He is not too far removed from his two scoring championships, and when he catches fire, only Kobe Bryant is a more potent scorer. LeBron may be averaging 30+ per contest, but both Bryant and McGrady have far fewer weaknesses in their offensive game.
McGrady's silky smooth style of play also is a pleasure to watch, though he is not as explosive as he used to be due to his recurring back injuries. Regardless, he is still a 20-5-5 player for his career, and there is no argument against his offensive ability, which ranks among the top in the entire league.
Of course, McGrady's biggest criticism has been his lack of success in the playoffs. However, his struggles aren't due to poor play because statistically his playoff numbers are excellent, with averages of 28-6-6. His main problem has been the lack of his teammates' reliability in playoff series.
Throughout the years in the playoffs, his teammates have been content to give him the ball and let him create for himself and everyone else, much like Kobe's early post-Shaq Lakers. And since the Shaq trade, Kobe has had the same playoff success as T-Mac, bowing out in the first round on two straight occasions.
But it looks like all that is about to change.
The Rockets this year have been the most cohesive unit in the NBA. Even with Yao out, they're playing absolute team ball, with T-Mac providing the extra punch. Role players like Shane Battier, Rafer Alston, and Carl Landry are contributing major minutes, and team defense is airtight, giving up only 88 points per game allowed over this 21 game win streak while offensively scoring in the 100s.
McGrady has cut back on scoring in order to facilitate more, and the team is thriving. Ironically, the one year they lose their franchise big man, is the year that they have the best chance of making it out of the first round for the first time in T-Mac's career.
It just goes to show the dominance of teamwork over talent. Watch out for the Rockets come May.