Photo by Fernando Medina/Orlando Magic
Tracy McGrady’s career contains a plethora of “what ifs.” What if he just stayed in Toronto? What if Grant Hill’s ankle wasn’t mangled? What if Tim Duncan came to Orlando instead of Hill? What if Yao Ming stayed healthy? And, of course, what if McGrady made it past the first round?
In the swirl of those persistent questions, while simultaneously fighting the constant pressures of creating an instant evaluation of a player’s entire career the split second he retires, it’s easy to forget just how special a player McGrady was at his peak.
Especially during the 2002-2003 campaign, when McGrady was at the height of his powers and playing at a transcendent level commensurate to a prime Michael Jordan.
And the way he took his game to that plane of existence was wholly unique. He wasn’t an uber-efficient big man like Shaquille O’Neal, and he wasn’t an inefficient gunner like Allen Iverson. McGrady was somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, posting the league’s highest usage rate yet remaining very efficient in the process.
To show how unique of a player he was, I compared McGrady’s statistics to every other player that participated in 2002-03 and calculated similarity scores for those players. I won’t go into the specifics of the calculation, but the metric spits out a number out of 1,000. Above 950 is great, 930 is good, and below 920 it starts getting iffy. McGrady’s two most similar players that season were Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce, who both scored in the 800s. Other than those two, no other players even sniffed matching his statistical profile.
Looking back now, we can see how utterly historic McGrady’s season was offensively. He’s one of only six players in NBA history to put up a season with a usage rate above 35 percent (35.2) and a True Shooting percentage above 56 percent (.564). And he’s one of only four players in NBA history to have a usage rate above 35 percent and turnover percentage below 9 percent (8.4).
And overall, he’s only the eighth player in NBA history to post a PER above 30.0 for a season (30.3). He was in rarified air that year, where only players like Jordan and Shaq were his statistical equal (this is before LeBron James came crashing to the party).