But still, the prevailing opinion among McGrady’s current teammates, coach Rick Adelman and even some prominent members of the Houston media is that despite the Rockets’ gleaming 33–14 record this season minus McGrady (and a pedestrian 20–15 record with him) there is no way the Rockets are better with T-Mac on the injury shelf.
After last Tuesday night’s narrow game 2 loss in Portland, where Rockets center Yao Ming was banged, bodied, fronted, double and sometimes triple teamed into a 3–6 night, scoring just 11 points, Adelman commented, ”Teams can’t do some of the things they’ve been doing to Yao if we’ve got Tracy. He would make them pay.” Earlier in the year, Ron Artest had this to say to HOOPSWORLD: “I think when he was here, we played better. I don’t think we’re as good without him.”
Even local Houston writer and season-long McGrady critic Richard Justice recently reversed his position, siding with Adelman in claiming Houston could really use McGrady right now in its series with Portland.
So while everyone seems to be saying nice things in support of Houston’s 23-million-dollar missing "man" (gelding), a closer look suggests the Rockets would be better off cutting ties with their maligned swingman as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
For starters, despite McGrady’s obvious (former?) dynamic playmaking skills and achieving the two highest assist averages of his career since joining the Rockets, his tendency to rely too much on his erratic jump shot rather than his athleticism and his constant need for a high number of shot attempts too often disrupts offensive continuity and hinders opportunities for his teammates.
McGrady hasn’t shot above 43 percent from the field since the 02–03 season with Orlando, and he hasn’t averaged more than 7 free throws a game since joining the Rockets, even dipping to 5.4 FTs a game last year and down to 4.5 attempts in this year’s injury-riddled campaign, clearly demonstrating his aversion to driving to the bucket. And his three-point percentages have been rock bottom for a player of his caliber. He’s hovered around the 33 percent range from deep his whole career, even dipping to an atrocious 29 percent last season.
Perhaps even more detrimental to the success of the team than even his icy shooting percentages has been McGrady’s constant need to have the ball in his hands. The 2009 half-season has been the only season since he joined the Rockets in which McGrady has averaged below 20 shots a game. When you have a 7’6” center with a plethora of post moves and a career 52 percent shooting from the field in Yao Ming, a 52 percent shooting power forward who can score inside and out in Luis "El Guacho" Scola, and a young, dunking (pre-shooting) dynamo with a 58 percent career field goal percentage coming off the bench in power forward Carl Landry, pounding the ball inside at any opportunity becomes essential for success. At the very least, having such talented players on the frontline should have provided T-Mac with ample drive and dish opportunities, but instead he’d rather hover around the perimeter, dribbling down the shot clock and launching last second 23 foot jumpers.
The Rockets, like most teams with a skilled big man, are much better when posting up their center and utilizing the opportunities created out of that. Whether it’s letting Yao work his array of turnarounds and hook shots one on one, having the perimeter players cut to basket to take advantage of Yao’s superior passing skills, kick outs for open threes after a double team or simply swinging the ball back around for a Yao repost, the chances for a bucket created by working through their unselfish center rather than their inconsistent swingman are clearly raised.
Even in a situation such as last Tuesday night, where the Blazers were fronting Yao with Greg Oden, moving Joel Przybilla in from behind, and occasionally even bringing Lamarcus Aldridge in for a triple team, plenty of opportunities existed for the Rockets without T-Mac, they just failed to take advantage of them.
Of course, with such attention being paid to the Minger, the backside was often opened up wide for ample scoring chances. And while Von "The Black Hawk" Wafer and Aaron Brooks were able to step up to the tune of 21 and 23 points respectively, with both shooting better than 50 percent for the night. Wafer, who is clearly Houston’s most athletic perimeter player, was inexplicably relegated to bench duty by Adelmen as a tight game wound down. (Perhaps an explanation is that Wafer plays little to no defense.) In his stead Houston’s coach chose to play both Shane "Batt-man" Battier and Ron "Crazy Pills" Artest simultaneously in an attempt to slow down a red-hot Brandon Roy (42 points) when it was plainly obvious to anyone watching that Roy was not going to be slowed by anyone and that Houston’s only chance was to continue to score. And with Artest mired in a 2–11 second half shooting slump and Yao draped on like a blanket, Battier, for all the positives he brings to the team, is hardly the right man to answer that challenge.
In the end, it was hardly the absence of an aging, never-really-was superstar with a 43 percent career shooting mark that was Houston’s ultimate demise in last Tuesday’s Game 2. With better coaching and more willingness to take advantage of the mismatches Yao creates, Houston took advantage of its best chance of advancing past the first round in 12 seasons - and the only thing that has to do with Tracy McGrady is the fact he’s been in Chicago rehabbing his knee rather than suiting up in Rockets red.