Just a quick recurring thought I’ve had over the past few weeks as discussion of James Harden’s lack of defensive effort has gone viral on a national level: was Tracy McGrady ever this bad? T-Mac too was notorious for coasting on “that other end” of the court…but I don’t remember him getting embarrassed at the level Harden repeatedly has, by the likes of Reddick, Hayward, and Klay Thompson. At the same time, I’m fairly certain he wasn’t trying that much harder than Harden. That really goes to show the advantages ‘length’ provides a player in covering up for inabilities but even more, it speaks to how well a job Jeff Van Gundy–and later Rick Adelman, using the same infrastructure already set in place–did in hiding the team’s best player on that end. Having Shane Battier, of course, was tremendous, but its not like he was picking up T-Mac’s man on rotations every time down.
Another point: the disaster that has been the Rockets’ perimeter defense this season creates a newfound appreciation for the memory of Battier. I would argue that the ability to make smart defensive rotations and not get lost under screens is/are the single most underrated trait among NBA players. Fans saw Battier–who often got abused in man coverage–and didn’t really get the hype. What they didn’t see were the things he prevented: those wide open shots that can be disastrous in the final score. When a man scores one-on-one, at least he is expending energy. That was how Battier won so many matchups with Bryant despite giving up huge point totals. When someone roams free for an open ‘3’ or a backdoor layup, the floodgates open.