Tracy McGrady can still jump high for an occasional dunk or an impressive move to the basket, but the 31-year-old former scoring champion is contributing for the Detroit Pistons as a dependable point guard.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Tracy McGrady deflects a pass, then races toward the perimeter a few seconds later to close out on an opponent. Later, he catches the ball in the post and drops a nice pass for a cutting teammate along the baseline.
This is what a highlight film for McGrady looks like these days. Yes, he can still jump high for an occasional dunk or an impressive move to the basket, but the 31-year-old former scoring champion is contributing for the Detroit Pistons as a dependable point guard.
McGrady now facilitates the offense instead of dominating it — but after two seasons ruined by knee problems, he is proving he can still play a major role for an NBA team.
"He was a superstar, and he has checked his ego," Detroit coach John Kuester said. "He really doesn't care whether he scores. He wants to make sure that everybody's involved."
Nobody knew quite what to expect when McGrady signed a one-year contract with the Pistons in August. He'd played just 65 games the previous two seasons with Houston and New York, his career in jeopardy following microfracture surgery on his left knee in February, 2009. Once one of the league's most dynamic players, McGrady wasn't even a starter on opening night for the Pistons.
He is now.
With Detroit (19-32) struggling to stay in the playoff race, Kuester has juggled the lineup quite a bit. He's benched swingman Richard Hamilton and turned to McGrady as his primary point guard. McGrady has started the last 15 games, and the Pistons are a respectable 8-7 over that span, including a win at Orlando and a close loss at Miami.
McGrady is scoring 7.9 points per game on the season, but he's shooting 45 percent, putting him on pace for his best percentage since 2002-03. That was the season he averaged 32.1 points with Orlando and won the first of two straight scoring titles.
"I've always been an all-around player, but I was put in a situation where I had to be a scorer, and that's what stuck with me throughout my career. ... When I went to Orlando, not having Grant Hill put a lot of pressure on me to score," McGrady said, referring to another injury-prone star familiar to Detroit fans. "I didn't know I had the ability to score the way I did. I worked extremely hard on that aspect. The playmaking ability just comes natural."
Against the Heat on Jan. 28, McGrady had 14 points and 10 assists. He had 16 points, eight rebounds, and four assists in a win over the Nets on Friday night. McGrady then scored 20 points in Saturday night's win at Milwaukee, extending his streak to seven games with at least 12 points.
Against New Jersey, McGrady took a season-high 20 shots, but they didn't seem forced. At 6-foot-8, he can cause matchup problems while playing point guard, giving the Pistons an advantage around the basket — but he also makes sure to keep his teammates involved.
"He's really done a nice job of keeping the pace of the game. That's one of the things I love about him is his ability to calm things down," Kuester said. "He's always probing the court to see where there's a mismatch."
Perhaps most importantly, McGrady has played every game for the Pistons this season — and occasionally he looks like his spry old self. On Friday night, he leaped high to grab an offensive rebound with one hand, came down with the ball, then quickly jumped up again for an easy dunk.
"I felt good," he said. "My legs are starting to feel normal. I'm feeling like I'm getting my bounce back, so it's starting to show a little bit."
McGrady says playing on back-to-back nights is still difficult, but there's no question the Pistons are happy with his contribution amid a difficult season.
"Tracy has worked out even better than we expected," Pistons president Joe Dumars said. "He's a pro in every sense of the word."
The question now is where McGrady will be in a year. Dumars says he'd love to have him remain with Detroit, but the veteran may have earned himself a few options with his encouraging play.
McGrady will have plenty of time to worry about his future. Detroit finished Saturday night three games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and McGrady is hoping to help the Pistons finish strong after he's endured so much uncertainty in recent years.
"I'm not even thinking about what's to come for next season," McGrady said. "I'm excited about trying to make this push, and we'll see what happens this year."