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Wednesday, November 27
Why McGrady's better than Kobe

By Peter May
Special to

Once upon a time -- how's that for an original opening? -- Red Auerbach was put on the spot and asked a simple, yet complicated question: Who would Red draft if he had the No. 1 pick in a draft that included both Bill Russell and Larry Bird. (We're assuming it would be when both were in their primes.)

Auerbach uncharacteristically hemmed and hawed and hawed and hemmed until he finally made a decision: He'd draft Russell and then he'd try to make a trade for the second pick so he could then get Bird.

Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady uses his 6-foot-8, 210-pound frame to his advantage.
That's sort of the way I feel in trying to choose between Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. It's the basketball version of Lennon or McCartney. Do you favor "Yesterday" or "In My Life"? It's not an easy choice other than knowing, as Auerbach did when making his hypothetical selection, that he could not go wrong.

These are the two best mid-sized players on the planet, after all. They're young, gifted, and athletic and seem to be nice fellows. And, as Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said, "Well, for starters, they're both unstoppable. You can't guard them on-one-one." All that aside, I'm making a case for T-Mac, which, I understand, probably runs against the consensus.

Why? Well, I have a special spot in my heart for McGrady because he graciously once gave my daughter an autograph. I believe it was Tony Soprano who said, 'You take care of my family, you are my family.' Or something like that.

But, seriously, there are a couple of areas where I actually think T-Mac has an edge over Kobe, however slight it might be.

The first is undeniable -- size. McGrady is taller. Depending on which book you read, it can be anywhere from one to three inches. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot, but McGrady is long. He plays much taller than his actual height. You get him the ball inside and he's very, very hard to stop. With his length, he can simply shoot over people and I've seen him go from the wing to the hoop with two dribbles, tops. Sometimes, he needs only one.

That provides a nifty segue into another of McGrady's advantages -- the first step. No one has a quicker, longer first step than T-Mac. That enables him to get by people, get around people and get to the rim. He does that as well, if not better, than anyone in the NBA.

Then there's the physical quality. Yes, T-Mac has his back woes and those are going to be a career constant. But he can be a more physical player than Bryant when need be and, as we shall see, he needs to be physical.

Here's Celtics personnel boss Leo Papile talking about McGrady's physical side: "It's like they took Lawrence Taylor in his prime and made him into a big, tall, strong, skilled basketball player. And he's still developing."

The physical side of McGrady's game has never been more apparent than in the last two years, when he's had to do something Kobe never had to do: take an otherwise mediocre team, put it on his back and take it to the playoffs. McGrady didn't do it once. He did it twice.

The physical side of McGrady's game has never been more apparent than in the last two years, when he's had to do something Kobe never had to do: take an otherwise mediocre team, put it on his back and take it to the playoffs. McGrady didn't do it once. He did it twice. And if Grant Hill's foot continues to be sore, he will have to do it a third time in three years. And despite his sore back, McGrady has only missed 12 games in the last two-plus seasons.

You can't penalize Kobe for having the good fortune to play alongside the most dominant player in the game. And to play for a coach who merely wins championships and nothing else. But you and I both know how many rings Kobe would have if fate had placed him in McGrady's place in Orlando. (Remember, Shaq was making that pitch back in February 2001, when Kobe was still in his wilderness years mode, trying to convince everyone that he needed more space.)

The Lakers without Shaq? You saw them. You saw a Kobe-palooza as well, mainly because the Lakers are pretty much bereft of other reliable scorers when Shaq isn't around. You also saw them go 3-9. Orlando has been without Hill for basically the last two seasons. They made the playoffs both times, winning 44 games last year. McGrady's supporting cast isn't much better than Shaq's and Kobe's.

McGrady is a better shooter on a percentage basis, at least this year. He may not have the spurt potential that Kobe has, like a tornado passing through a town. But McGrady is shooting 48.2 percent from the field this season (Kobe was 42.2 heading into Tuesday's game) and he's a better 3-point shooter as well. Each one, as we know, has 50-point potential; McGrady lit up the Wiz for 50 last March.

Kobe backers will point to the titles and there's no argument there. The difference is that McGrady has Pat Burke and Andrew DeClercq while Kobe has Shaq. The difference is that Kobe plays for a marquee team in a marquee city and for a marquee coach. McGrady plays in what humorist Dave Barry referred to as "a suburb of Disney World." Lee Janzen qualifies as a celebrity at Magic games.

Bottom line, however, is that when two players are about equal, size generally trumps all. McGrady has got the edge there. He's done it alone. He may have to do it alone again. It isn't easy picking between them because they are in a class by themselves in terms of all-around, versatile, wing players. Only two players averaged 25 points, five rebounds and five assists a game last year. One was McGrady. The other was Kobe.

If I have to make the choice, I'll go with T-Mac. Then I'll make that trade to get Kobe.

Peter May, who covers the NBA for the Boston Globe, is a regular contributor to

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