Welcome, Baconauts, to another installment of America’s most important stats-related column. As Bacon Sports’ resident Statsgeek Emeritus, I dig up the stats to solve sports debates once and for all. This week, let’s delve into the deep waters of the NBA and the Bermuda Triangle that is the small forward position. Hundreds have played the position, but two of the most divisive players of the past 2 decades have to be Carmelo Anthony and Tracy McGrady. Neither one has won a title, but both are considered some of the most athletic talents of their generation. Let’s put them to a head-to-head matchup and see who comes out on top.
As always, I rely mostly on stats to debate the relative strengths and weaknesses of each individual player. I try to be as unbiased as possible in determining the victor, using stats as the ultimate guide. That being said, stats are not the be-all end-all. This week, we’re debating on who you would rather have on your team at their absolute peak, warts and all.
Note: all stats are courtesy of Basketball Reference.
Weight: 210 lbs
Vertical Leap: 44”
Ridiculous Stat: 51 30+ point games, 2002-2003 season
First things first, let’s revel in the glory that is the late 90’s Raptors jerseys. Now that that’s out of the way, T-Mac may have had the most snake-bitten career arc in history. McGrady was supposed to be half of an unstoppable wing force in Orlando when paired with Grant Hill. They both signed 6-year contracts before the 2000 NBA season and where supposed to be the most dynamic duo in the league for the next half-decade, but then Hill’s ankle decided to basically do this and McGrady was stuck trying to carry some severely short-handed teams. By the time he was paired with Yao Ming in Houston, McGrady had a ton of miles on his legs, and a microfracture surgery robbed him of a lot of his late-career athleticism. These things obscured one of the most talented all-around athletes in NBA history.
T-Mac is like one of those created players in the old NBA Live series, without obvious holes in his game. Only a handful of players every generation get blessed with check marks in nearly every box, and T-Mac is definitely one of them. Picked straight out of high school, his career blossomed a little later than people expected, but was still relatively young. His 2002-2003 season ranks as one of the best all-around seasons of the decade. Averaging 32.1 PPG with 6.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists and a better than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio would be outstanding in any time period. He also shot almost 46 percent from the field and 39% from three. His peak output, from 2000-2005, saw him as arguably the most unstoppable offensive force in basketball. Additionally, he averaged more than 175 blocks/steals combined per year during that span.
McGrady was never known as a true defensive stopper, but he was actually a capable defender in his prime. He averaged more than 5 assists per game 7 times in his career, which is incredibly high for someone considered a shoot-first player. If McGrady had gone to college for 2 years, instead of toiling on the Raptors bench, his career might have seemed even better than it was. The biggest drawback of his entire career was that he never made the finals until San Antonio picked him up right before last year’s playoffs. Watching him on the Spurs bench was a sad end to what was a very bright, albeit somewhat disappointing career.
Vertical Leap: 41” (Note: Reported, I don’t believe this for a second)
Ridiculous Stat: Shares the NBA record with 33 points in a single quarter. (Dec 10, 2008 vs. Minnesota)
Carmelo Anthony currently holds the belt as possibly the best pure scorer in the NBA, depending on whether or not Steph Curry is within shouting distance. Melo has been the brightest star on the most covered team (the New York Knickerbockers) in the NBA for the last 4 seasons. Before that, he made a name for himself as a sharpshooting assassin for the Denver Nuggets. While never asked to do as much for his team as McGrady, because of their apparent similarities, they are always lumped together; the truth of the matter is that Anthony is more of a spot up shooter and has never been the ball handler that McGrady was. Anthony has never averaged 30 points per game, although his teams have had a little better scoring balance than T-Mac’s teams ever did.
As more of a spot-up shooter and ball-stopper, Melo has never averaged more than 4 assists in a season, although with 20lbs more on his frame, he has been a consistently better rebounder by numbers. Most of that, however, is due to playing extended minutes at power forward, which McGrady never did. For all their supposed similarities, their actual play styles were very different. McGrady was a better ball handler/slasher, while Anthony is much better on the wing and in the post. Anthony also does not have the defensive numbers that T-Mac put up, never having more than 140 combined steals and blocks in a season.
When looking at the stats, what really stuck out to me was the lack of a killer 3-point shot from Melo. For all his reputation as a lights-out shotmaker, he has never averaged above 38% on threes in a single season (not counting this current season, where he’s at 39.1% so far). He is a slightly better free throw shooter than McGrady, but grades out only slightly above McGrady in terms of shooting, while providing little else in terms of offensive value. He’s not a ball handler, and never had the court vision to be the playmaker T-Mac was. His superior shooting isn’t quite enough to overcome that.
T-Mac had a better peak and superior numbers, other than slight shortcomings in the shooting categories. Other than that he was a superior passer, ball handler, and defender. For that, the nod has to go to McGrady. If that isn’t enough, Melo could never do anything here:
If you have any suggestions for a future Would You Rather please put it in the comments and message me on Twitter @subtlehyperbole.
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