Nylon Calculus

What could a healthy Tracy McGrady have accomplished?

For all the injury and hardship that Tracy McGrady endured throughout his career, nothing will ever take away from his place in NBA history. This weekend he was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and for good reason — his accolades and accomplishments speak for themselves:

– 7x All-Star
– 2x All-NBA 1st Team
– 3x All-NBA 2nd Team
– 2x All-NBA 3rd Team
– 2000-01 Most Improved Player
– 2x NBA Scoring Leader
– 6x Top 10 in MVP Voting
– 6x Top 10 by VORP
– 1 of 10 players all-time to have a >30 PER season.

Also, he had an insane 13 points in 35 seconds to comeback and win a game that, as a Spurs fan, still haunts me to this day. And he was personally responsible for ending Shawn Bradley’s NBA career with a vicious dunk (okay not actually, but pretty much).

Yet, despite all that McGrady accomplished on the court, his legacy is marred by injuries and what-ifs. Some young NBA fans today only know McGrady as that guy who sat on the Spurs bench during the 2013 Playoffs and missed all seven shots he attempted.

What-if Tracy McGrady never got hurt: His back never started having issues in Houston and his knees did not degrade as rapidly?  What could he have been?

Through the power of data, we can begin to answer that question.  Using my robust player projection model, I can estimate how his career would have gone if his back and knees did not start to fall apart during the 2005-06 season with the Houston Rockets.

For this exercise, I decided to keep all of Tracy McGrady’s career from age 18-25 and project from there what he could have done from age 26-35, another decade, if he had reasonable health.

Forming a baseline and projecting forward

To start out with, just how good was Tracy McGrady prior to injury derailing his career?

McGrady had played nearly 20,000 regular season minutes in his career from ages 18 to 25, with per 36 minute averages of 22.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists.  He was a 6-foot-8 wizard with the ball who could drop dimes one game and drop 30+ points the next, a clear top-10 player in the NBA.

So, what can be expected of a top-10 player, just 25 and at the start of his prime?  Well, McGrady projects to continue dominating the league in his first virtual healthy season at the age of 26.

In my system, he projects to a statistical line of 24.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while being a plus-contributor on defense. And the dominance does not stop there.  Here is how the rest of his career would play out in my system, without injury:

In just under 21,000 additional minutes, Tracy McGrady projects to add nearly 12,000 more points, 3,000 rebounds and 2,700 assists to his already impressive totals. He would go from the 64th most points in NBA history to the 26th most.  McGrady would go from the 127th most minutes played to the 33rd most.

Looking at Wins Added, my total player value metric, McGrady already ranks as an elite player.  Wins Added only goes back to 1973-74 so some all-time greats are omitted, but McGrady’s career total of 119.8 already ranks as the 44th most for an individual.

In my projections where McGrady was able to stay healthy, he earned an additional 21.3 Wins Added (equivalent to about two additional all-NBA level seasons).  McGrady’s career total in this hypothetical projected world ranked as the 25th most for a player post 1973-74.

Adjusting the legacy

Tracy McGrady will always be one of the NBA’s greatest what-ifs. He already had one of the highest peaks for a player in NBA history. Would he have gone on to win an MVP award or lead a team to an NBA championship? Unfortunately, we will never know. The man earned and fully deserves the recognition of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Despite all the injuries, despite missing a huge chunk of his prime, Tracy McGrady is an all-time great. But what he could have been, is even greater.

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