Was McGrady ever as good as LeBron?

As Tracy McGrady struggles to return from the knee and back injuries that ended his last season and have limited him for the last several years, there is some question as to whether he will ever be an impact player in the NBA again.  Meanwhile, LeBron James is considered to be at worst one of the two best players in the NBA.  But my question today is: was McGrady ever as good as LeBron is right now?  Last year LeBron began the year at 23 years old...let's compare his numbers to those of a 23-year old McGrady.

LeBron 28.4 ppg (48.9% FG, 78% FT on 9.4 attempts), 7.6 rpg, 7.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 1.1 bpg, 3.0 TOs

TMac 32.1 ppg (45.7%, 79% FT on 9.7 attempts), 6.5 reb, 5.5 apg, 1.7 spg, .8 bpg, 2.6 TOs

While LeBron was slightly more well-rounded and a more efficient scorer, McGrady led the NBA in scoring and took better care of the ball.  Essentially those stat lines look pretty much the same.  But the main differences between them that led to LeBron winning a near unanimous MVP didn't lie in the traditional box score stats, but in the team results.  LeBron's Cavs won 66 games to lead the NBA, while TMac's Magic won only 42 games and ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs.  In fact, TMac's string of first round exits sometimes clouds his legacy.  But for that year you can't just look at records, you have to consider teammates as well.  These were the other four starters for the 2003 Magic:

Jacques Vaughn, Gordan Giricek, Drew Gooden and Andrew DeClerq

OK, now go back and re-read those names again...I'll wait.  That is one of the worst starting crews for a playoffs team that I've ever seen.  LeBron's cast wasn't anything to write home about, but at least he had some has-beens that used to be All Stars or guys like Mo Williams that could be force-fed into the All Star Game.  Those Magic were never-weres that no one could even pretend was a possible All Star.  TMac carrying that crew to the postseason is an accomplishment of itself...but is it as impressive as what LeBron accomplished?  Well, the advanced stats would say no.

While both LeBron and TMac led the NBA in PER (31.7 and 30.3, respectively), LeBron had a pretty solid lead in both win shares (20.3 vs 16.1) and net positive between offensive rating and defensive rating (+23 vs +12).  And in my personal favorite stat, on-court/off-court +/-, LeBron recorded the second highest value 82games has measured since they began tracking it in 2003 (+21.0), significantly higher than TMac's +11.8.

Bottom line: I think people forget just how ridiculously over-the-top great McGrady was before the injuries took his explosiveness away.  No, he never got his team to the second round...but there is a reason that in 2003 there was a serious debate as to who was the best preps-to-pros swingman, McGrady or Kobe Bryant.  And even if McGrady's best year wasn't quite as good as MVP LeBron, he was still one of the best players of the millenium and it's a shame that injuries kept him from achieving what he otherwise might have.


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