T-Mac, Inching Back

McGrady’s selflessness, off-court demeanor boosts Pistons

Tracy McGrady scored 16 points, his season high to this point, against Atlanta on Tuesday.
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Tracy McGrady can still stuff a stat line. It’s the categories that have changed. Instead of heavy numbers in baskets, attempts, foul shots and points, the numbers he’s focused on now are assists and other areas considered peripheral to superstars.

If the casual fan drawn to the NBA mostly by star scorers hasn’t yet awakened to McGrady’s gradual re-emergence, don’t think Joe Dumars, John Kuester and everyone with a stake in the Pistons hasn’t noticed.

“We don’t sit and judge him on, wow, Tracy had a great game because he had 16 points (in Tuesday’s win over Atlanta),” Joe Dumars said. “He’s had some great games where he’s had six points, but he fed everybody on that second team, got them into a great rhythm, got them easy shots.”

McGrady has said all along that it would take him as much as half the season to get his body physically to the level where he would no longer have nagging questions in his mind about what he remained capable of doing. He’s well down that road, he said Thursday.

“Physically, I’m fine,” he said. “I think I’ve recovered from my surgery. It’s feeling more confident and comfortable on the basketball court, knowing what moves I can make and watching old films – really, just going back to what I used to be and what I used to do. All that stuff is starting to come back.”

The Pistons have been especially impressed that McGrady has understood the dynamic of his new team, where scorers outnumber playmakers, and slid willingly into the role of facilitator.

“His basketball IQ is off the charts,” Kuester said. “He’s done a real good job of distributing the basketball. You get into situations where players aren’t willing to adjust and he’s adjusted. He’s done a real nice job of accepting whatever role I’ve given him and that’s different for a superstar.”

McGrady is ready to score now when called upon, though, and that’s a different place than he was even a few weeks ago.

“A lot of people don’t see me putting up all the points I once scored, but I don’t necessarily have to do that because we have so many scorers. It brings joy to me to see one of my guys finish one of my passes. That’s most important to me. That’s the role I’m taking on. Yeah, I can still score the ball, but that’s not what’s most important for our team.

“There’s a part of me (that still feels the tug to score), but you’ve got to do what’s best for the team. I’m sure I’m going to have some nights, before the season is over, where I do put up those numbers and show I can score.”

As encouraged as the Pistons have been by McGrady’s progress since the season began and hopeful that the arc will continue heading in that direction, they’re just as thrilled with the way he’s contributed to the team culture.

“The guy has been exceptional off the floor,” Dumars said. “Just in terms of a bright guy, good teammate, positive guy – he’s been exceptional for us. We’ve been really pleased with his personality on the team.”

That’s reflected in McGrady’s well-thought answers to questions that could yield ambiguous answers. So when somebody asks if he can handle 30 minutes a night and he says he could, he completes the sentence with: “But we’ve got so many guys, coach has his hands full. It’s tough to have guys play 30 minutes. I’m a player. I just go by what the rotation is – whatever (Kuester) feels is best for our team. I don’t worry about that – glad I don’t have that problem.”

Blake Griffin and the Clippers come to town on Friday and Griffin’s repertoire of dunks has made him an Internet cult hero even though his team is limping along with a 5-21 record. Greg Monroe, who moved into the starting lineup in Tuesday’s win over Atlanta, knows Griffin’s playing style well from their time on the AAU and high school summer camp circuit, but he doesn’t expect to be guarding him.

Monroe likely will guard Clippers center DeAndre Jordan – though in their November meeting in Los Angeles, the Clippers went small and started Griffin at center – while somebody else draws Griffin. That somebody else is likely to be Ben Wallace, who sat out the last two days of practice after twisting his ankle against Atlanta but is considered probable for Friday.

“I know all the things he can do, so it doesn’t surprise me,” Monroe said. “That’s as athletic as you can be. He’s strong, gets off the ground, finishes at the rim, he’s aggressive – it’s a combination of a lot of things, but he’s definitely one of the best dunkers in the league right now.”

McGrady compared Griffin to the young Shawn Kemp during his “Rainman” days in Seattle.

“I had a little bit of athleticism,” he said, “still have a little bit left. I definitely wasn’t on that level.”

Said Kuester, “He’s as powerful a leaper as I’ve ever seen.”