Tracy McGrady's Hall Pass: History's Failing McGrade

Kyle SlavinCorrespondent IFebruary 16, 2010

MILWAUKEE - FEBRUARY 09: Tracy McGrady #1 of the Houston Rockets collides with Keith Bogans #10 of the Milwaukee Bucks on a screen set by Yao Ming #11 on February 9, 2009 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Bucks defeated the Rockets 124-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agreees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Originally found at TSCblogs.com

I have, in my mind, a player with a Hall of Fame-type career.  A player who led the league in jersey sales while leading his team to multiple 50-plus seasons as their sole offensive option.  This player absolutely dominated the league for three straight years, doing so smack-dab in the middle of Kobe, Shaq, and Duncan's prime.

At his peak, he had a scoring average higher than anyone since Jordan (check that: a pre-baseball-hiatus Jordan).  A fan favorite, he was assured a starting spot on the All-Star team every year, a trend that has maintained deep into the twilight of his career.  He could shoot the three, he could dish and dunk, and he demanded the max contract to do so. 

His best games are long gone, and injuries have slowed his production to a full-stop.  But for a few years there, he was untouchable, undeniably one of the top players in the game.  
He could very well be one of the top 50 players ever.  But despite his two scoring titles, seven All-Star appearances, and seven All-NBA teams, he isn't going to make it into the Hall of Fame.

Pleased to meet you.  Won't you guess my name?

If you were to be given the career of any NBA player, who’s would you choose?  Would you pick the Kevin Willis-style journeyman path (personally, playing for 10 teams over 21 years would seem like the world’s longest Survivor episode)?  The poster-child for durability, Willis made a boatload of money in his NBA career, and would probably be taken first overall in a fantasy draft for “Players with the Best Stories”. 
Or, would you prefer James Worthy’s career?  Eight years of high-level production, seven All-Star appearances, three championships, and a Finals MVP (’88)?  Though “Big Game James” was decimated by injuries late in his career, he had a much more memorable NBA experience than Kevin Willis, as evidenced by Worthy’s 2003 Hall-of-Fame induction. 
The player I have in mind took a different path.  By all accounts, he is a better basketball player  than James Worthy, shocking as it may seem. He is a better outside shooter, better finisher, and far more physically gifted than Worthy.  Thus far, they have played exactly the same number of seasons.  But if my guy were to retire today, nearly all his career numbers would be better than “Big Game James.”
The player is Tracy McGrady.  And his chances of making the Hall are about as good as a snowball’s chance in, well, Houston
It is easy to forget how dominant McGrady was at his prime.  We see him today as the hobbled, drama-causing fellow in street clothes on the Houston bench.  We see him as needy, injury-plagued and, yes, even jinxed.  How else can a player who is so gifted, so obviously better than every one else on the court—how else can you explain his countless failures in the playoffs?  His injuries that, after a time, became predictable? 
The current Tracy McGrady is a shell of the player he once was.  His once-confident stride has slowed to a head-down shuffle, his sleepy eyes gazing at the game with a sad disinterest.  He has played six games for the Houston Rockets this season, all in December, and averaged 3.2 points per game.  His total for those six games combined are two less than his career average.
For his efforts, the Rockets are paying him just a shade over $23 million, currently the high-mark salary in the NBA.  More than Kobe, more than LeBron.  That’s about $1.3 million per point, if McGrady were to shut down the season.  And this possibility seems more likely by the day.
How can you quantify the failure that is Tracy McGrady’s career?  How can a seven-time All-Star with a 22 ppg career average be considered inadequate? 
Since 1980, only four players have repeat as scoring champion: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and McGrady, with McGrady as the youngest to accomplish this feat.  He has had a 60+ game. 

In 2004, he has scored 13 points in 35 seconds to beat the defending champion Spurs.  He scored 36 points in an All-Star game.  He still is the points-per-game leader for the Orlando Magic.  By any account, his stats and analysis have him in conversation with some of the best players in history.
But the basketball-watching public is infatuated with playoff results, and rightfully so.  Therein lies the bitter taste in the mouths of the McGrady fan base.  I mean, check out these lousy playoff numbers: averages of 28.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.31 steals and 1.16 blocks in 38 career playoff games.
Wait, what?  F’real?
The truth is, despite the high amount of early playoff exits, Tracy McGrady has represented himself well in the playoffs.  After his showing in the 2000 playoffs, when he scored 16.7 a game as a 19-year-old, he went for four straight 30+ ppg playoff series.  How can this guy be branded a loser?  Check out the four-year playoff line from 2001-2005 .

Now, check out Mister Big Game James Worthy’s playoff stats .

Throw out sample size for the time being.  James Worthy is a Hall-of-Famer with the moniker “Big Game”.  Tracy McGrady is known as a playoff goat, a perennial loser who is unreliable in the playoffs. 
That’s the problem with misconceptions.  If you could only know when you’re making them. 
I’m not saying that Tracy McGrady is the Greatest Player Ever.  I’m not saying I want him on my team, or even that I like the guy at all.  Trust me, there are people I’d rather invite to my bachelor party (Kevin Willis, for example).
What I am saying is this: Tracy McGrady is getting a raw deal.
Our appreciation for this outstanding player is clouded by his injury history, convoluted by his chase for the contract, and shadowed by his lack of playoff victories. Consider this: if McGrady stayed in Toronto his entire career, put up the same numbers, played for a bit less money, and was ousted every year in the first round, we would all feel sorry for him. 
Think about it.  The 30-year-old Raptor, toiling away in the Canadian cold, throwing up Alex English-like numbers for eight seasons?  We would have doted on him like we did with Kevin Garnett and the Timberwolves.  “Look how hard he’s trying.  He really has the warrior spirit.  If only his team was better, he’d make it deeper in the playoffs.”    
Garnett didn’t have to switch teams early on to get his record-setting contract deal.  McGrady, on the other hand, bolted to Orlando to play with Grant Hill.  Can you really blame him?  He was in the MVP conversation as recently as 2008, and had been since 2001.  If he had a healthy Grant Hill, or more recently a healthy Yao Ming, who knows how deep into the postseason his teams may have reached.
Tracy McGrady was a victim of circumstance, a casualty of “too-much-too-soon.”  He should be a Hall-of-Famer.  His career numbers attest to it.  He may have worn down quickly, but remember that he started right out of high school.  His body has traveled far further than the normal NBA 31-year-old.
Perhaps we have mistaken his casual gait on the court for a lack of effort.  Perhaps his highlight-making dunks and untapped range were overshadowed by his unfortunate fate of running into sneaky-good DetroitMilwaukee, and Charlotte teams early in his career.  Truth is, I’m not sure why he has never been in our favor. 
But now, he is trade bait because of his albatross contract.  He may end up in New York, but he won't play there. Yet again, Tracy McGrady will be an afterthought.  A rider.  An addition to history books that were already written without him.  
We were all lucky to have witnessed Tracy McGrady play.  Hall of Fame be damned.

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