Every NBA team has a go-to guy, and there’s really only room for one. And it’s not strictly who takes the last-second shot. It’s the guy who regularly gets the ball when things are getting tense in the fourth; the guy expected to calm things down when teammates are getting sloppy; the guy called upon to snuff out an opponent’s rally, or spark a rally of his own; the guy who’s not just supposed to make shots, but make the right decisions. Bottom line: Who do you want the offense to run through when everything is on the line? From #30 to #1, these are the League’s best go-to guys…
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With anything I write about T-Mac, I should qualify it with the admission that I’m one of his biggest fans. That said, I took every precaution not to overrate him here.
We all know the injury/durability issues at play with McGrady. His back is jacked, his knees are shot, and his shoulder is sore. Coming off microfracture surgery, he’s going to be out of action until at least Thanksgiving. But, like in the case of Michael Redd, even if T-Mac isn’t ready to go by opening day, he is still Houston’s unquestioned go-to guy (especially with Yao Ming being scratched for the season). The tough part is figuring out where a 30-year-old McGrady who’s past his prime ranks among his peers in the League.
Although he’s vowed to get back to the form that made him one of the League’s most explosive players once upon a time, odds are things are more likely going to only go downhill for T-Mac from here. If this were a list of the NBA’s top 30 players, period, he doesn’t make the cut. But the Rockets need a go-to guy down the stretch, and looking around, Mac is the only viable candidate. So what can he do when he’s put in that position to lead?
T-Mac was active for less than half of Houston’s games last season (35 games), and when he was on the court, he had one of the worst seasons of his career. He averaged 15.6 points, the lowest since his Toronto days, on a career-low 33.8% shooting from the field. He also had his lowest rebounding average (4.4 rpg) since his rookie year. But even if his explosiveness is almost gone, McGrady still had the crunch-time offense run through him on a regular basis. His natural playmaking ability, underrated passing skills and knack for hitting big shots from any range allow him that status.
The most notable of T-Mac’s performances last season was a 30-point, 7-rebound, 8-assist outing against Portland in November. Before Brandon Roy stole that game with a buzzer-beater, McGrady was running Houston’s crunch-time offense and delivering, scoring 11 of his points in the fourth quarter and overtime along with three assists. McGrady also had standout games against Boston (26 pts, 6 asts), Phoenix (27 pts), Golden State (24 pts, 10 rebs, 9 asts), Denver (20 pts, 14 rebs, 10 asts) and Philly (24 pts, 6 asts) before he was shut down for the season.
As his body continues to break down, McGrady’s most notable decline will be defensively and growing more stagnant offensively. Otherwise, he shouldn’t lose his jumper or his playmaking skill. (It’s creating space for his jumper that will become a challenge.) With the absence of Yao, Rick Adelman said he wants to crank up the tempo with Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza as focal points. But when the game slows down, those two (and Luis Scola) take a backseat to McGrady. He might not be the Rockets’ leading scorer this year, and for all we know he might not hit 65 games on the schedule. But for the games he does play, Mac will be Houston’s focal point as long as he holds up.
Even as the injuries began piling up a few years ago, I always argued that a healthy McGrady wasn’t that far behind Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade as a top-flight two-guard. I can admit now that Mac has fallen off from that perch. But at the least, when he is healthy these days — whatever we consider that to be — he’s still on-par with that second tier of twos; guys like Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin, Redd, etc. Which isn’t up to typical T-Mac standards, but isn’t bad, either.
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