The list of great players that Kobe Bryant has guarded could just go on and on. Throughout his career, he's been one of the best man-to-man defenders in basketball, and one player stands out above all the rest as the toughest matchup: Tracy McGrady.
As reported by ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin, McGrady topped the list of Kobe's six toughest defensive assignments:
Kobe on the toughest guys he ever played against - Iverson, Marbury, Arenas, Melo, Durant - but put Tracy McGrady as the toughest— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) August 16, 2013
Stephon Marbury and Gilbert Arenas stand out as the interesting inclusions here, but they aren't any more notable than the biggest exclusion. It's understandable that MJ wasn't here simply because the primes of their careers didn't really intersect, but it's completely shocking that LeBron wasn't mentioned.
There isn't a tougher matchup in the NBA right now, and that includes 'Melo and Durant.
But back to T-Mac.
Given the declining state of his career and the fact that it's been a while since he's been truly dominant, it's completely understandable if you've forgotten just how good he used to be.
As LakersNation's Dan Duangdao wrote, there was once a legitimate debate about whether T-Mac or Kobe was better:
For a couple of seasons, there were constant debates on who the best player in the NBA was between Kobe and McGrady. Unfortunately, McGrady dealt with numerous injuries and never adjusted his game as he lost his athleticism. Bryant maintained his high level of play while McGrady was most recently a benchwarmer for the San Antonio Spurs.
During McGrady's best season—the 2002-03 season when he somehow finished fourth in the MVP voting—he averaged 32.1 points (NBA-high), 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field with a league-best 30.3 PER. He was just completely dominant.
In two games against the Lakers, McGrady put up an average of 29.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per contest. He made 20 of his 43 shots as well.
How's that for a tough matchup?
McGrady's length, athleticism and veritable arsenal of offensive skills, moves and talents made him a tough assignment for anyone during his prime. Kobe, great defender that he may have been, was no exception.