I feel like I need to comment on the feeling that some of you have that we are unnecessary harsh on Tracy McGrady, yet let Yao Ming get a pass. It's untrue, but let's take some time to pretend that it is true. Why would that be possible?
Here's who Tracy McGrady was when he came to the Rockets:
2002-03 Orlando 32.1 PPG on 45.7% shooting, 6.5 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 1.7 SPG
2003-04 Orlando 28 PPG on 41.7% shooting, 6.0 RPG, 5.5 APG, and 1.4 SPG
Here's what he's given the Rockets the last two years:
2007-08 Houston 21.6 PPG on 41.9% shooting, 5.1 RPG, 5.9 APG, and 1.0 SPG
2008-09 Houston 15.6 PPG on 38.8% shooting, 4.4 RPG, 5.0 APG, and 1.2 SPG
2008-09 Houston Rockets NBA $21,126,874
2009-10 Houston Rockets NBA $23,239,561
His last year in Orlando has an asterisk because he shut it down. He was a 45% shooter on average for every year in his career before that. He was upset about the team and what he was promised. Was it a rational anger? Not really. Orlando had no idea that Grant Hill wasn't going to be healthy. They absolutely believed that Tim Duncan was going to sign with them and he didn't. But regardless of the situation, it was the first time I remember seeing McGrady be the type of guy that sulks. At the time, my opinion was that it was a one time deal where he legitimately felt like the team lied to him. It was the Rockets gain, and the Magic's loss. And honestly, I'd make that trade 100 times out of 100 even given what I know now. The Rockets got rid of Kelvin Cato, Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley all three of who are no longer in the league and were never going to work so it is and was a no brain-er.
Let's just let those above numbers sit for a few minutes and we'll get back to them.
Here are Yao Ming's stats the last 4 years:
2005-06 Houston 22.3 PPG on 15 shots at 51.9% shooting, 10.2 RPG, 1.6 BPG
2006-07 Houston 25.0 PPG on 16 shots at 51.6% shooting, 9.4 RPG, 2.0 BPG
2007-08 Houston 22.0 PPG on 15 shots at 50.7% shooting, 10.8 RPG, 2.0 BPG
2008-09 Houston 19.7 PPG on 12 shots at 54.7 shooting, 9.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG
2008-09 Houston Rockets NBA $15,070,550
2009-10 Houston Rockets NBA $16,378,325
What do those tell us about Yao? First, let's get this out of the way, if you ever start a sentence with "Yao's going to get you 20 and 10, but" then you should stop, because whatever you say after that is going to be silly and ill informed and most said while screaming something stupid on talk radio. ANY player that gives you 20 and 10 and doesn't shoot 25 times in a game (Yao's high is 17.1) is a really good player. That's plain, it's simple, you really can't argue it and still have credibility. Yao's 20 points on only 12 shots a game is phenomenal. It's extremely efficient and means he does more with less. He's going to the line less this year than any year since he was 24 and is shooting the best percentage of his career at 86.9%. That is pretty impressive as well. It also tells us that he is having a down year by his standards. However, how can he be at fault in this? He's shooting the best percentage since 2004-05 and has the best free throw percentage of his career. Why is he not getting the ball more? Why isn't he getting 17 shots a game like he did just 2 years ago? Why isn't he getting the ball every time down the court and having the offense run through him?
Okay, so you've just seen the numbers for both players, and while they are different time frames in the first two years, they illustrate what we need without skewing the issue one way or another. Can anyone really look at those numbers and not see why Tracy would get the brunt of the criticism? Yao is 1 year younger than McGrady is and his drop off this year was by 2.3 points (10.5%), 1.4 rebounds (13%) and .3 BPG and he's coming off a foot injury that he effectively had half the time he needed to heal but people have said he worked so hard that he was able to cut that time down without doing harm to himself over the long run. McGrady's drop off is much more dramatic. This year alone it's by 6 points (28%), .7 rebounds (16%) and .9 assists (14%). That's not even taking into account the scoring drop off he's had since his last year in Orlando, which is epic. And to be completely fair, he shoots the ball much less now, 10.5 times less per game to be exact. Yes he is coming off of two surgeries, but neither of them were major. And I know major surgery, I've had 4 on my knees with 3 minor ones tossed on top. I know recovery time. I don't know his body, and I'm not him, but I do know that it takes hard work to get back and I know that everything I've heard previous to the last 4 weeks is that he didn't put that work in.
So, if we ignore the fact that's Yao's drop off isn't really that big and Tracy's drop off in scoring is almost 30% from last year, what do we have that separates them?
1. By all accounts, none of them first hand to be up front, Tracy McGrady is not that well liked by his teammates, Yao on the other hand seems to be beloved and respected. It seems that players respect who Tracy was and still defer to him but that he still acts like he's the same player he was long ago and that he can get by without putting in the work. I think they really want to like him as he's a pretty cool guy off the court, but that it gets harder and harder as he holds their livelihoods in his hands.
2. Most of that is due to work ethic. McGrady is often the last person in and the first to leave, and has been since he's been here. That's been documented repeatedly, so often that I'm not even going to give a link.
3. Yao is the hardest working player I've ever heard about. He's the first guy to the stadium and the last to leave. He's everything you could possibly want. Every time Hakeem Olajuwon has been available to him, Yao has taken advantage of every second. Every coaching session that is available, he is said to take. He plays basketball year round due to his national team commitments, yet never complains, ever.
4. I have absolutely no backing for this, but to me, Yao is much more clutch when given the chance, he succeeds at the end. McGrady has failed far too many times in my eyes in clutch situations and has been given them many more times than Yao has because Tracy has the ball in his hands at the end and calls his own number far too often.
5. From a positional standpoint, it is not arguable that Yao, with his current statistics, is one of the top 3 centers in the league. I'd say that the three, in my order are 1. Yao, 2. Dwight Howard and 3. Al Jefferson. Those are the three guys, that's it. You could argue that Howard has surpassed him, but until he beats Yao head to head, I don't agree. But those are the only two centers in the league that you would even think about trading him straight up for, right? So given that, doesn't it mean that he's outperforming, not under-performing?
6. From a positional standpoint, here are the shooting guards I would take over McGrady right now:
Eric Gordon - Based on age
You could even argue:
Ray Allen, Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith, Vince Carter
And those are just the guys off the top of my head. Am I forgetting someone?
7. Tracy McGrady makes $21,126,874 of the $75,468,359 of salary the Rockets pay players this year. Also known as 28% of the total team salary. Yao makes $15,070,550 or 20% of the total team salary. That 8% is a huge difference. Especially when you take production into account. That's Carl Landry and Luis Scola to put it in perspective.
8. McGrady touches the ball pretty much every time he's down the court. Just by the nature of the beast, he's the guy that has the ball in his hands (and since Rafer Alston is our point guard) so he's the guy that the Rockets, and us as fans, rely on to make decisions for the team. With every 3 pointer before Yao and Scola get down court, I die a little inside. With every open lane that he passes up to shoot a 19 foot jumper, a kitten dies.
9. Tracy's effort is hit or miss, and it's hard to take. Yao's is non-stop every night. He's not always successful, but his success, just like Dream's before him is partially in the hands of others. There is no one other than McGrady and Artest on this team that can throw an entry pass. Yao is constantly battling for position, getting it and then being screwed over by poor passing. Next time you watch a game, think about all of the passes he gets and realize how many times he has to fight for position a second and even a third time in a possession because the player with the ball doesn't make the available pass.
10. I expect specific things out of Tracy and Yao. For Tracy that is to score and to get his teammates involved when he is double teamed or not on. From Yao that is 20 points and 10 rebounds night in and night out. You can clearly make a case that McGrady is not doing his job and that given his limitations that he should be getting teammates more involved. Instead, his assists have gone down, not up. With Yao, he's doing exactly what I expect. He's not going above and beyond like the last two years, but a lot of that is due to lack of shot attempts.
11. Tracy gets the superstar calls still. It's rare that he gets fouled without a call being made. At no point in Yao's career has he gotten those calls. In fact, he has doesn't get the calls that 2nd year players get. I know that it is due to him being hard to referee, but the league doesn't even try to get it right. I've never once thought that McGrady didn't get a call for a reason other than the ref just missed it. Think about it, there have been plenty of times that Tracy got a call and you thought to yourself "Well, that was ticky tacky, but we'll take it". Yao should go to the line 10 more times on average per game and he still wouldn't be getting half of the calls that are actually fouls. He is required to do 3X as much work as Dwight Howard is (partially that's because players are scared of DHo though) but he whines less than any player in the league.
12. Yao's heart is unquestionable. If you think he's soft then I have no respect for your basketball opinion. He tries too hard and works to hard to be soft. Soft isn't getting hammered, and still scoring yet not getting a call. Soft isn't having your "shot blocked" because guys are able to hit his forearm without a call yet still running down court without bitching. He's not soft just because he doesn't punch players for being dirty, that's just common sense on his part. He's getting 98% of his ability out on a given night. I don't say 100% because I think he can and will be a 25 and 12 guy over the next two seasons. Yes, he turns the ball over, but you would too if you other players were allowed to slap at your hands the way they are allowed to slap on him. And I've already mentioned it, but he deals with passing that would have knocked 3-5 points a game off of The Dream's scoring average. Not every player is Shaq or Hakeem, his hands are hellaciously strong, but they aren't infallible. And he's the most graceful player in the history of the game that is taller than 7'2. People want him to be Hakeem Olajuwon, and while it's fun to reminisce about this site's namesake, Hakeem is one of the top 4 greatest centers of all time (3rd all time in my opinion) and it's not a fair comparison. Yao doesn't yell at referees, but to mistake that for a lack of passion is just ignorant. There is no player on this team that cares or tries harder than Yao. I'd venture to say there has never been a player in the history of the Rockets franchise that cared or tried harder over their entire career.
This blog will criticize any and all players and praise any and all players when we feel it is warranted. We are far from group think as writers. Dave would punch you if you seriously tried to argue against Robert Horry going into the Hall of Fame. Tom would not be too happy with the idea that Steve Novak sucks. And I believe that Yao is the most under appreciated player in Rockets history (with apologies to Kenny Smith). Yao's game has flaws. He turns the ball over a good amount though I've clearly stated why I believe that happens. He gets 1 turnover a game that is completely on him. I think that's a pretty solid number. He's not fast (though I would argue that he is not slow), but can you name me another player over 7'2 that is fast? Heck, name me 10 7 footers that average more than 15 points a game over their career that you would consider quick. That's really all you can pin on him. He's plenty aggressive, that part of his game is clearly there if you look over the last 2 years. You can't punk Yao without him going at you hard (you know, if someone gets him the ball) the next play down. I really don't see how anyone can put this season on Yao, and I mean put it on him at all. Can you imagine if Shaq shot free throws like Yao? He would have touched the ball 60 times a game, yet Yao gets 12 shots a game this season to go with 6 free throws. And it's not through lack of fighting through fronts or getting position. His positioning this year has been better in my opinion than any year he's been in the league. He fights and wins about 80% of the time (yes I made that stat up) and doesn't get the ball fast enough.
In the end, I don't think Tracy McGrady is the reason the Rockets are "only" 10 games over .500, something this fan would have killed for in the Steve Francis days. (Though I do caveat the McGrady point with this point: If he was the same guy he was the first year he was a Rocket this team would be have lost about 15 less games. And if he had that same drive he had then and with the ability he has now I think they would have 5-7 less losses.) I know health has been a huge factor for the team overall. Shane Battier has missed multiple games and is clearly not the player he used to be as his foot still heals. Ron Artest's ankle is killing his game. He's not able to push off, so he's reverting to the same mistakes McGrady is, but he at least seems like he cares night in and night out. Yao has slowly been getting back to 100%, even now I'd say he's flat out tired from all of the off season recovery and the pressure of the Olympics in his home country. Rafer Alston has suffered from groin problems, and from the way his drives have gone, it looks like he's still not all the way back. Brent Barry is clearly old and keeps getting nagging injuries. This team even got hit by the flu for a few days. And there are still 30 games left. None of that excuses the lack of care by a few of the guys, or at least the lack of trying at all on the defensive end. This offense is actually better overall in my opinion than it was last year at this point, but that's most of what you hear about. The defense is worse by a thousand miles. As Tom pointed out the other day, no one is playing team defense. Not even Battier is where he should be more than 75% of the time.
All of that is scary, and sorry but it will always start with the guy that makes the most money. He infamously said it's all his fault, and while that's not true, he's the guy that get's paid to take the criticism. And while I refuse to unfairly criticize him, he will get it as long as he refuses to put effort on the court and refuses to make the right decision at least 90% of the time. When you are healthy and have the skills Tracy McGrady has, you can make bad decisions and get out of them by sheer athletic ability. When you aren't health and your skills have started to regress like McGrady's have, you have to make the right choice as close to 100% of the time as possible. Frankly, I think it is a focus issue with him, because he is the best non-point guard passer that I've ever followed. The lack of assists given the lower shot total is truly puzzling. Just getting the ball to Yao right when he gets deep position should be good for 2-3 extra assists a game. He's absolutely shooting less threes as well, and that is good. But too often he just stands around at the top of the arc and doesn't really run the offense the way he should. Even with all that, I think the criticism put on him has been fair and just. Maybe not tactful, but still fair and just. And that brings me to what I think the real problem is...
Rick Adelman is doing a poor coaching job. I don't know if it's that he decided to just let it ride until all the guys were healthy or what. I really hope that's not the case, because that is irresponsible. But I'm going to leave this to another post on another day. I know he's extremely capable and has the skills to be a top 5 coach in the league, and has been in that number many times in his career. I'm still holding out hope that he has the right plan in mind and that things are just going to fall together.
And just as a side note, I know the problem is not our GM or our team scouting as both of those are the best in the league in my opinion. Daryl Morey has put together a fantastic team, the deepest of any Rockets team I've ever watched. He's done everything you could ask of him except get height, and that's just picking nits because it really hasn't been available yet. No the product isnt' flowing together, but the pieces are there, it's on the coach to use them.
I hope that unlike Billy Madison's speech where what he said was one of the most insanely idiotic things the principal had ever heard. At no point in his rambling, incoherent response was he even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. And everyone in the room was dumber for having listened to it. That I would be at least awarded some points for this. I will say that I had no real plan and just word vomitted a lot of that out. So hopefully it makes some sense.