Is Tracy McGrady a Hall of Famer?

The Keltner List is a series of subjective questions formulated by famed sabermetrician Bill James used to help assess whether or not a player deserves to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Although the system was designed to evaluate baseball players, with a few minor tweaks it can also be used to assess the Hall-worthiness of basketball players. Today I will assess the Hall of Fame chances of Tracy McGrady, who announced his retirement from the NBA earlier today.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in basketball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in basketball?

Following the 2002-03 season, there were some rumblings that McGrady was the best player in the NBA. For example, in the 2003-04 edition of Pro Basketball Prospectus John Hollinger wrote:

Looking at the big picture, Tim Duncan is great and Shaq is dominant, but McGrady was the best player in the league last season.

Alas, the 2002-03 season was quite clearly his best as a pro, and talk of McGrady being the best player in the NBA gradually faded away.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

McGrady was easily the Magic’s best player during his stint in Orlando (2000-01 through 2003-04), but during his five full seasons in Houston (2004-05 through 2008-09) I would argue that Yao Ming was the team’s best player.

3. Was he the best player in basketball at his position?

McGrady didn’t really have a well-defined position. He was named to seven All-NBA teams, five as a guard and two as a forward. Those seven selections came in an eight-year span (2000-01 through 2007-08), so at the very least I think it’s safe to say that during that time he was viewed as one of the best wing players in the NBA.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of NBA Finals or Conference Finals?

No. Other than a playoff stint with the Spurs last season — when he was little more than a human victory cigar — McGrady never played in a single game beyond the first round of the NBA playoffs.

5. Was he good enough that he could play regularly after passing his prime?

Not really. Following the 2007-08 season, McGrady was named to his seventh and final All-NBA team. Over the next four regular seasons, McGrady played in just 189 games, averaging 23.2 minutes per game with a subpar true shooting percentage of .495 (the league average was .540).

6. Is he the very best (eligible) basketball player in history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

McGrady is not yet eligible, but even if he was I would not place him at the top of my candidate list.

7. Are most players who have comparable statistics in the Hall of Fame?

McGrady is one of just fifteen retired players in NBA history to average at least 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game (minimum 400 games):

Player PPG RPG APG
Wilt Chamberlain 30.1 22.9 4.4
Michael Jordan 30.1 6.2 5.3
Oscar Robertson 25.7 7.5 9.5
Jerry West 27.0 5.8 6.7
Magic Johnson 19.5 7.2 11.2
Larry Bird 24.3 10.0 6.3
Clyde Drexler 20.4 6.1 5.6
John Havlicek 20.8 6.3 4.8
Elgin Baylor 27.4 13.5 4.3
Hal Greer 19.2 5.0 4.0
Tracy McGrady 19.6 5.6 4.4
Rick Barry 23.2 6.5 5.1
Chris Webber 20.7 9.8 4.2
Billy Cunningham 20.8 10.1 4.0
Jamal Mashburn 19.1 5.4 4.0

The only players not in the Hall of Fame in this group are Jamal Mashburn and Chris Webber (who will be eligible for the first time in 2014). But just like in my Webber post, it’s clear that McGrady does not belong in a group with a majority of the names on this list.

Let’s try creating another group: retired players with between 27,000 and 33,000 career minutes played and between 90 and 110 career win shares:

Player MP WS WS/48
Larry Nance 30697 109.6 .171
Artis Gilmore 29685 107.4 .174
Julius Erving 28677 106.2 .178
Eddie Jones 32778 100.6 .147
Jerry Lucas 32131 98.4 .147
Tracy McGrady 30658 97.3 .152
Ben Wallace 32085 93.5 .140
Rick Barry 28825 93.4 .156
Chris Mullin 32163 93.1 .139
Bob Cousy 30165 91.1 .139
Hersey Hawkins 32034 90.6 .136

As you can see, McGrady falls in the middle of this group. Six of the remaining players — Gilmore, Erving, Lucas, Barry, Mullin, and Cousy — are in the Hall of Fame while the other four — Nance, Jones, Wallace (not yet eligible), and Hawkins — are not. I think Nance and Wallace are both solid Hall of Fame candidates, so all in all this is a very strong group.

8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

According to Basketball-Reference.com, McGrady’s Hall of Fame probability is .582, which currently puts him 100th among players with at least 400 NBA games played. He’s not the strongest candidate in the world, but he’s certainly not the weakest either.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Yes, there is. Starting with the 2005-06 season, McGrady frequently had problems with both his back and his knees. In his final four full seasons with the Rockets, McGrady played in just 219 out of a possible 328 regular season games, plus he missed the entire 2009 playoffs.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Once again, keep in mind that McGrady is not yet eligible. That said, it depends on his position:

  • If you want to call him a shooting guard then I would say no — my top choice would be Sidney Moncrief.
  • If you want to call him a small forward then I would say maybe — it’s a close call among McGrady, Grant Hill, and Marques Johnson.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

McGrady finished in the top eight in the MVP voting six times from 2000-01 through 2007-08. However, he never won the award, and his best finish was fourth place following the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the players who played in this many All-Star games go into the Hall of Fame?

McGrady was selected to seven All-Star games. Of the 17 other retired players with exactly seven All-Star selections, 13 are in the Hall of Fame, two are eligible but not in the Hall (Jack Sikma and Jo Jo White), and two are not yet eligible (Grant Hill and Alonzo Mourning).

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win an NBA title?

This is a tough one to answer. On the one hand, McGrady was somewhat infamous for never leading a team beyond the first round of the playoffs. During his time in Houston, the only time the team advanced to the conference semifinals was 2008-09, a season when McGrady missed 47 regular season games and all of the playoffs due to an injury to his left knee.

On the other hand, McGrady was one of the five best players in the NBA at his peak, and most NBA champions have had that type of player on their roster.

I’ll answer the question this way: McGrady was not the type of player who would instantly make a team a championship contender (a la Michael Jordan or LeBron James), but a team with the right pieces around him would certainly be in the mix.

14. What impact did the player have on basketball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way? Was his college and/or international career especially noteworthy?

There’s really nothing of interest to note here. McGrady did not play college basketball, and his international experience was limited to the 2003 FIBA Americas Championship.

The Verdict

This is a tough one, but I would be inclined to vote for McGrady. Although the drop-off at the end of his career was rather steep, for an eight-year stretch McGrady was one of the very best players in the NBA. The primary argument against him is probably going to be his lack of team success in the playoffs, but I have never liked the idea of holding one player accountable for an entire team’s performance.

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