Player Pinpoint: Tracy McGrady

Tonight, the Indiana Pacers face off against their old rivals, Tayshaun Prince and the Detroit Pistons.  One newcomer to the team, however, has experienced quite the basketball resurgance in recent weeks, and so today on Player Pinpoint, we detail Pistons guard Tracy McGrady.

During the years of 2000 through 2008, Tracy McGrady was a perennial All-Star.  From seven All-NBA selections to two scoring titles, an argument could be made that, for that eight year stretch, McGrady was one of the best players in the Association.

In the last few years, however, McGrady has been, to put it nicely, “written off” by critics and fans alike.  His public perception into mediocrity culminated this past offseason, as, on account of the apparent back surgeries, only a handful of teams were interested in the free agent forward.

For some teams, their concern was that McGrady simply was not as talented as he was in years past.  Others had the viewpoint that even if he had recovered nicely from surgery, he would not be able to play a supplementary role as a potential bench player.  In the end, these two concerns greatly clouded the decision-makers’ perception of McGrady, and by the time August 2010 rolled around, only three teams had brought him in for an official workout.

One of those teams, however, was the Detroit Pistons, who today face off against the Indiana Pacers.  Coming off a disappointing season, the Pistons’ brain trust of Joe Dumars and John Kuester viewed the addition of McGrady on a minimum salary as a low-risk, high-reward proposal.  Would the addition of a potential superstar alter their internal dynamic of the team for the worse?  No, agreed Michael Rosenburg of the Detroit Free Press.  “They can’t mess up their championship chemistry, because they don’t have championship chemistry”.  On the other hand, what if McGrady did indeed exceed expectations and return to form?  Well, then, he would happily be added to Dumar’s long list of successful reclamation projects.  With such a mindsight, the Pistons signed McGrady on August 10th, hoping for the best.

Fast forward seven months later, and it is clear that the situation has indeed been a veritable win-win for both parties.  The road to redemption, however, was wrought with initial struggles.  In the 15 games he played in during the month of November, for example, McGrady averaged just 4.9 points per game in less than eighteen minutes off the bench.  As the season has wore on, however, his game has slowly returned to its brilliance of years past.  In December, he averaged nearly twenty minutes per game, and in January, he increased his monthly minutes to an extremely respectable 31.3 per game.  As his playing time has increased, so too has his production:  In January, he averaged a miniature triple double, putting up the guady line of an average of 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game.  His resurgence has progressed even further in February, as he is currently averaging 12.6 points per game, and has even managed to get to the free throw stripe thrice a night.

McGrady’s return to prominence, however, cannot be expressed through statistics alone.  Rather, he has reinvented his role, relinquishing the role of scoring forward for that of a cerebral floor general.  Although the Pistons’ lack of a top-notch passing point guard contributed to Kuester’s decision to play him at the point position, McGrady has managed to play his new role in a fashion that has attracted the praise of many.  As Kuester puts it, ““His basketball IQ is off the charts.  He’s done a real good job of distributing the basketball the right way. It’s very impressive some of the things he sees on the basketball court.”

Onlookers have also noticed the play of McGrady.  “For him to become such a rock for this team at point guard was more than I ever envisioned”, praised Pistons broadcaster George Blaha.  “To see him make the transition to point guard has been equally amazing.”  Indeed, the statistics also support this, as he has had logged five or more assists fourteen times this team, and in fact has turned the ball over at a quite a low rate.

So what’s next for the revived McGrady?  Dumars has mentioned that McGrady has been “extremely good” and that the team would “like to have him back”.  At the same time, McGrady will be a free agent, and figures to command far more than the relative pittance that he is currently earning.  Nevertheless, it is evident that McGrady is not a player who plays for the money, but rather, for the love of the game.  Concurs Blaha, “I’ll bet you that making more money next year or the year after hasn’t really crossed his mind.”  Moving forward, thus, it is unclear whether he will return to the Pistons next season, but one thing is clear: T-Mac is Back.

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