Thoughts on Nuggets – Rockets: More on McGrady

2009 December 17
by rahat huq
  • We continue our assessment of Tracy McGrady in his second game back from microfracture.  Everything beyond my analysis of his physical condition may actually be a moot point however as reports have once again begun circulating of the club’s desire for a trade.
  • McGrady checks in with 5:41 remaining in the 1st and to my surprise, he is guarding Carmelo Anthony.  The Nuggets’ announcer remarks that there is “no way that Mcgrady can guard Melo.”  While I’m surprised that Rick actually delegates this task, I have to disagree with the comment, and as the ensuing sequences illustrate, it is clearly incorrect.
  • It was incredibly strange seeing Trevor Ariza on the court with Tracy McGrady.  The two are so similar in build that were it not for the leg sleeve worn by the latter, and the egregious lack of skill displayed by the former, we probably would have been unable to make a clear distinction between the two players.
  • With 4:11 remaining in the 1st, the Nuggets attempt to post Melo on McGrady.  First big surprise is that Tracy is quick enough laterally to push Melo baseline.  He then bothers the shot attempt with his length.  Incredible defense on the part of McGrady.
  • McGrady gets his first touch of the game with 3:38 remaining in the 1st.  He faces up on the right wing, pump fakes, and drives towards the middle but loses the ball.  Nice quick move, and the lack of execution seems on this play to be a product of rust rather than physical regression.  Not enough of the play unfolded here to assess his ‘first step.’
  • With 3:15 remaining in the 1st,  the Nuggets’ announcer remarks that the Rockets have been looking flat since Tracy entered the game.  More on this later.
  • With 2:42 remaining, Tracy slow dribbles over the pick and finds a wide open Landry out of the corner of his eye.  Landry misses the shot.  More on this later.
  • The Nuggets’ announcer remarks that the Nuggets are on a run because “Battier is out and he’s the stopper against Carmelo.”  I disagree, Tracy has done a good job.
  • With 2:13 remaining in the 1st,  McGrady catches at the left elbow, faces up and finds Landry right under the hoop but Landry misses once more as Nuggets defenders swarm the basket.  The possession was vintage McGrady.  Unfortunately, so was the ensuing sequence as we watch McGrady not even make an attempt to stop the Nuggets in transition.  He gets back but shows little effort on the play.  That’s problematic.
  • With 44 seconds remaining, Tracy misses a wide open ‘3’ and then bothers Carmelo with his length on the other end, forcing him into another miss.
  • Denver ends the quarter on a 14-2 run.

Overall thoughts on McGrady:

  • He had a +/- of -10 for his stint in the game.  The Nuggets announcers also seemed convinced that his entrance and participation triggered the Nuggets’ outburst to end the quarter.  While it’s certainly tempting to reach that conclusion, I don’t think one can necessarily just assume a direct casual relationship, despite the +/- figures (Landry had a -14 for the game).  That’s not honest.
  • First of all, contrary to the broadcast claims, his defense on Carmelo was outstanding.  He wasn’t beat laterally as one would expect and he used his length to bother Anthony’s shot.  It’s almost ironic that the ‘length’ that was McGrady’s trademark during his prime may now end up as his saving grace in his last stint in the NBA.  In these two games, Tracy has been intent on contesting everything.
  • Secondly, I was very pleased to see that McGrady was given some touches and allowed to go ISO.  Yes, the team looked incredibly out of sync on these plays, and yes, the game slowed down noticeably, but this process is just a necessary evil right now in the grander, big picture for the franchise.  It hurt the team tonight, but the bottom line is that we need to find out what McGrady is capable of doing.  That seemed to be the staff’s intent against Denver.
  • The main thing that stood out, aside from his defense, was the court vision.  It’s innate and it was on full display once more tonight.  It’s clear that Tracy McGrady will always be an elite level passer.  He zipped two passes to Landry which no other guy on this team could have made.
  • Furthermore, what makes McGrady so lethal as a passer is the fact that he doesn’t even need to look or be on the move.  For almost every other NBA player, to pass, they have to either be on the move (off the dribble), or if standstill, they need to be looking.  This isn’t the case for Tracy and it’s something I had never really appreciated until tonight.  Because of his height, and of course elite level court vision, he can simply face up his defender and find anyone, anywhere, at any moment on the court.  It’s uncanny and off the top of my head, I can only think of one other NBA player with the capability to do this consistently (see: James, ‘King’).
  • The club didn’t score on any of McGrady’s touches.  And I expect that this will be used as proof that he can’t fit into this offense.  Is this really fair?  There will be a natural re-adjustment process for both Tracy and the team.  I think it’s simply too myopic to preclude any possible benefits he may bring on the basis of a 5 minute spurt where he and his teammates were clearly not yet acclimated to one another.  It’s easy to forget that they have only shared the court for 10 minutes.
  • To the bad: Obviously there was the sequence where Tracy made no attempt to stop the ball on the fastbreak, but overall, the offensive flow slowed down noticeably with McGrady on the floor.  For the most part, teammates stood and watched when he ISOed.
  • With that said, is it necessarily bad that the pace slowed down offensively?  Obviously, it appeared that way tonight, as the team didn’t score, but if it’s actually working, why should this automatically be considered a negative?  It won’t work for an entire game as it did in the past, but I don’t see the problem in letting Tracy ISO for a few trips down the court if the plays are delivering points.
  • As I said in Part 1, the question is whether the positives Tracy brings from his court vision can outweigh his lack of hustle and impact in stagnating/slowing down the offensive flow.  I don’t know, we’ll have to see.  Obviously, that wasn’t the case today, but it’s still simply too early to rule him out.  The court vision and defense on Anthony which he exhibited were both very promising developments.
  • As far as his physical state, he looked mobile laterally in guarding Anthony.  I still didn’t see anything offensively to make much of an assessment.
  • One final point: Some objections were raised in my last post regarding the assertion that McGrady is a bad shooter.  In his last ‘healthy’ season (2007-2008), what we would have to consider the best gauge for current expectations heading forward, McGrady had a TS% of .487.  The league average is roughly .53%.  McGrady’s mark would fall in the bottom 5th in the league.  Simply put, McGrady doesn’t help this team with his shooting.
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  • You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.
  • salmiller
    T-Mac is loosing the accumulated rust and is just getting warm up.Great players make great adjustments.His elite style of play is second nature to him and it is only a matter of time befofe his natual talent reappear.Watch to see in the not to distant future that T-Mac lead the charge from the bench and eventually emerge to the superstar calibre that he know he is.
  • rahat_huq
    Andrew - You could very well be right. It was mentioned to me earlier that Carmelo is amongst the tops in the league for wings in having his shot blocked. It could just be that I overestimated him, despite his prowess, and that this was paradoxically another good matchup for McGrady in that he could use his length. Now naturally, our understanding of 'great defense' would be seeing him shut down a quick youngster like OJ Mayo. But my personal opinion is, good matchup or not, this was impressive for a guy coming back from microfracture. In any event, you could be right, we'll just have to watch again tonight and see how it goes.
  • I enjoyed your assessment but I have to admit that I was astonished at your opinion regarding Tracy's defense as I felt the exact opposite opinion from what you expressed.
    As a basketball player, it was painfully obvious to me that Tracy was two steps slow on the defensive end as exhibited in the multiple times that Melo went right past him. I've come back from long injuries before and I understand the slower reaction you have laterally at first as you try and build yourself back up to full game shape.
    I think this quote from the Chronicle sums up McGrady's defense best: "Anthony was 1-for-6 and the Rockets led by six points when McGrady replaced Shane Battier. When Battier returned, Anthony was putting in two free throws to give him 11 points in McGrady’s 7:35 on the floor."
    He also appeared somewhat lost on offense. We all know that he is used to dominating the ball so when he was out there it felt wrong to me as a viewer that he was not and it appeared to feel wrong to him as well. The offense runs through Brooks and T-Mac seemed to just stand and stare at times, unsure of how to play as a part of the machine instead of the catalyst; not a knock against him, just a tough adjustment.
  • rahat_huq

    BIgYul: I just do not want the current rockets to start waiting for Tracy to go ISO everytime, and he needs to learn how to get his points in flow of offense. THen in the fourth he can go ISO crazy along with Brooks and teams won’t no what to do.

    Completely agree with this.
  • Thoughts on Nuggets – Rockets: More on McGrady | Red94 | essays ...: It's almost ironic that the 'lengt..</span>
  • BIgYul
    Great analysis of the game and of T-Mac. It is obviuos he is going to have a hard time realizing the highest paid player in the NBA has to become a role player. If he would only institute himself into the offense by making all of the back cuts and moving his man to keep the flow instead of standing on three point line if his number is not called. He has to understand we really need him in the fourth quarter - and he could make that his quarter - if he would just go all out the first three. I know its early but body language say a lot, and his is screaming attention needed. I just do not want the current rockets to start waiting for Tracy to go ISO everytime, and he needs to learn how to get his points in flow of offense. THen in the fourth he can go ISO crazy along with Brooks and teams won't no what to do. I hope he gets more time soon and we can see his progress - just can't gather much when you really can't break a sweat.
  • Jeremy Wilson
    Arturo : Keep thinkin postive man.....thats all we can do, cause if he does go, I bleed Rocket Red, but I will be cheering him on....its like the Hakeem situation.......I cant believe we didnt let him finish as a of my biggest sports disappointments, for a guy that had so so so much class and gave so much to Houston.

    If you look at my earlier posts, I believe in the numbers, but the intangibles are what I focus on.....Like two years ago when the Celtics won....there was never a doubt in my mind they would win...they were hungry, foaming at the mouth, intense, aggressive.....Tracy should be reaching this point in his career like the KG's, and the Allen's of the NBA. This is where me and most of my friends that are fans..differ....this is one reason why Yao bothers me....NO KILLER INSTINCT....I want a big man thats gonna flush in your face, not a spin move then a layup....I dont wanna bring up old stuff but I just watched the Tmac footage of his 13 in 33 get chills, that was no accident....and thats exactly what this Rockets team needs......a killer
  • Arturo
    ... make that "nothing of value" sorry... my keyboard's trippin.
  • Arturo
    Jeremy- My point also. We stand to lose nothing by keeping him throughout the year and stand to gain value by trading him now. But, by keeping him we stand to gain a much needed star player.
  • Jeremy Wilson
    Arturo, your right on, agree with everything about McGradys shot. And I am comparing the Old McGrady to Ray Allen. Reason being, Tracy hasnt been 100% for the time period your speaking of, before the knee, he had the back problems. But when the man with the injuries comes out and says he feels better and healthier than he has for a long time, going as far to say he shouldn't have even been on the court last year, that means alot....I mean how many NBA players can go out and average 15 ppg with one leg.

    All I was trying to get across, that when...and if.....T Mac is 100%, his shot is reliable...more so than anyone else on our team. And as a fan, I would feel robbed of something special, if he goes elsewhere and thrives....hes still young enough to have been humbled by this, but old enough to realize that time is slippin, and I dont care about the past....theres nobody RIGHT NOW, that we could trade for that has the presence this man agreed on that too....I feel like any trade WE COULD GET CURRENTLY, will make our team THIS YEAR, worse..bottom line..
  • rahat_huq
    jeremy: I too don't know if anything of value can be had for tracy, but of course, we're not privy to the specifics of any ongoing discussions.

    heisenberg: saddening analogy.
  • heisenberg
    The way McGrady "slow dribbles" around picks now is eerily reminiscent of the way Francis used to make ineffective use of picks. Contrast this with McGrady of 04-05 through 07-08, who was an absolute load coming off a pick. So I guess this rounds out my list of two things I'd like to see from McGrady to prove his health:

    1) Drive right and finish strong off of his left leg.
    2) Explode off the dribble and turn the corner when a teammate gives you a pick.

    If he can't do these two things, maybe he should call it a career and retire. No need to tarnish his legacy even further.
  • durvasa
    Its funny, while last year was undoubtedly his worst as a Rocket, it might have been his best in terms of his shooting stroke. He was 38% on 3s and 80% on the line. He had changed his jump shot so that he wasn't jumping as high in the air, resulting in a more consistent stroke and better arc. We've only seen a few minutes from him this year, but my impression is that he's lost some of that arc in his shot. I hope he wasn't so turned off from the results of last season that he's reverted to his previous shooting form.
  • Jeremy Wilson
    McGrady isnt going anywhere...your source for that information is a blogger on that says he had inside dont you think that someone else would also have heard that same maybe a local writer....who has a better relationship with the players..nobody is gonna want McGrady until he proves something 12 min, 3 pts, 3 rebounds, and 0/2 from the FT hardly ballin!

    The Morey machine doesnt like drama, and I am 100% sure of this, bottom lining Tracy and saying listen dude...."embrace the system or your gone", happened! McGrady doesnt want to leave, nor will he have to, if he embraces his new/different role.

    We have alot of weapons so I think Tracy will be a part of our constant offense AND defense in the near future, but the reason we need T Mac, IS BECAUSE HE WANTS THE BALL IN PRESSURE SITUATIONS.....a role T. Ariza has yet to tackle. I feel like a healthy McGrady taking control of a game, is what were missing against the upper echelon Denver....I have no doubt we lost that game because we were looking for a spark....that never came...

    I also dont know anybody out there that we could trade for that could assume this role for us......dont know about you guys...but CURRY is NOT THE ANSWER, unless were writing ourselves off this year and already thinking about next which case I would lose a lot of respect for Morey and the Rocket Org. as a whole....I dont care about the playoffs, I want a contender. ...and a little pressure may be what McGrady needs

    I dont care what team you ask, if you asked a head coach, If McGrady and Ariza are on the court at the same time, which man is your defense always watching....the answer is not Ariza, just like it wasnt RON RON.....they were brought here for defensive excellence. However, Ariza can score too....but he will never be Tmac......not enough swagger...
  • Arturo
    I'd have to disagree with any notion that T-mac is a "pure" shooter comparable to the likes of Ray Allen. Take some time to compare on youtube. 3 years ago it may have rang more true, but lately his shots have lost ALOT of arc, almost to the tune of a line drive. Also he is a "foot forward" shooter, doesn't square up. Not saying he isn't deadly from time-to-time, but lately he has been much less so. His greatest strength has always been creating off the dribble.

    I hear what you're syaing, Rahat, about T-mac vs Chase. I just think it's too early in Chase's career to put that kind of faith in him, yes he's been spectacular so far, but can he sustain it and improve over the course of 82 games? It will take 82 games to tell. We know what T-mac is capable of bringing, but it remains to be seen if we are going to see a mere fraction of what he once was or almost a carbon copy of the Tracy of old. (2) 8-minute stints in 1st quarters of back-to-backs is just too little info to REALLY evaluate his value. Rest assured, being a contract year, that when he's given the green light we will see the max of his current abilities. I think holding on to him is less of a gamble than sending him off for what other teams are offering, unless Morey's statisticians see something I don't(which is obvious).
  • rahat_huq

    JG: This is my new favorite hoops blog. Great, rational analysis from a Rockets fan.
    Re McGrady, I wonder whether we’re seeing a reflection of the team’s practice habits and emphasis in his approach — he looks like he’s focusing more on half-court defense and passing than on scoring.For all his faults, I love his passing game. And, as a result, I will forgive many sins so long as he does that.  

    The concern though, at least for me, and I think this is justified, is whether this is something sustainable beyond the period of impression. Given his track record, can we really assume this is something sustainable?
  • rahat_huq
    Arturo - My concern though is that I don't know that he brings more to this team than say, Budinger, if used in the manner that you described. While I don't think that the ISO should be our 'go to' play, I think it would undoubtedly be our best option late in close games, IF McGrady proves to be healthy (if not, obviously this is a moot discussion.)

    Francis - I see your point, but I must ask, in response: We both agree that he isn't a "good" shooter. For sake of argument, though I disagree, I will concede that he isn't necessarily a "bad" shooter either. So if we assume that he's simply neither a good nor bad shooter, does he really have any worth to this team over say, a Chase Budinger? The reasoning behind my assertion was, rather than an indictment on McGrady, to support my point that I think his value to this team lies in his playmaking. If he's being used as a 'shooter', I personally would rather just have Budinger's energy/hustle on the floor, and use McGrady's asset (theoretically) in a trade.
  • JG
    This is my new favorite hoops blog. Great, rational analysis from a Rockets fan.

    Re McGrady, I wonder whether we're seeing a reflection of the team's practice habits and emphasis in his approach -- he looks like he's focusing more on half-court defense and passing than on scoring.

    For all his faults, I love his passing game. And, as a result, I will forgive many sins so long as he does that.
  • Francis
    While I think it's undoubtedly true that McGrady isn't a premiere shooter, nor do I think it fair to label him as a 'bad' shooter simply based on tFG% or eFG%. As anyone watching Trevor Ariza this year can plainly see, getting free for shots as the team's lead player and shot creator is completely different from being a role player in a system. Other teams load up against McGrady; in addition, you shouldn't discount the destructive effect on FG% possessed by all the last second, end of shot clock hoists into which McGrady is forced.

    Young athletic stars like James are able to get to the rim regularly to keep the FG% up, but even Wade is showing the difficulty of that challenge this year. You wouldn't argue that Mario Chalmers is better shooter than Wade, simply because his FG% is higher. Wade is forced to take tough shots to give his team a chance to succeed; he misses a lot, but his shots are still better than asking other players to create. Similarly, I don't think it's fair to look simply at McGrady's FG% for indication as a shooter. When McGrady was healthy in Orlando and attacked the rim, he too could put up gaudy FG%. But as he's gotten older, he attacks the rim less and less. I don't think his shooting has gotten worse. His career 3pt FG% is almost identical to that of LeBron James. Is James a 'bad' shooter? James may take too many threes, but he's also forced into many of those attempts.

    Yes, McGrady takes too many threes for someone of his career 3pt FG%. But no, I don't think he's a bad shooter. And taking adjusted FG% as the only measure seems to understate McGrady's value as a basketball player.
  • Arturo
    Another great evaluation Rahat! I don't like the idea of running ISOs for T-mac. It is different with Yao down low, because the defense was much more hesitant to help off Yao then. Without the big guy, the D is quick to get in the way. Granted, though that with his passing ability, it gives T-mac a chance to create for others, but I don't think the scoring opps are going to happen for him as often without Yao. If it is attempted with any frequency, it will be counterproductive to the team chemistry that The Rockets have worked so hard to attain. None of them wish to just stand around and watch. I think he would be much more effective coming off screens, allowing Scola or Landry to get into motion towards the basket or step off for a 18 footer, playing to the strengths of both. This will also collapse the defense and provide opportunities for folks around the arc. Keeps everyone involved. He needs to conform to the plan, not the plan to him. The ISO may be worth an attempt once or twice if he's on the floor for 30 minutes, but it shouldn't be our "go to" play. I hope they don't trade him and he is able to be an effective part of the team this season. There is nothing to offer from any teams seeking him that I would deem desirable thus far.
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