Tracy McGrady vs Vince Carter is a comparison between two of the best wings to play in the early 2000’s. Both players were supreme athletes known for scoring, dunking and good shooting. Carter had the longer career but McGrady had the better career being the superior player on offense and defense.
Brief Biography: Tracy McGrady
Tracy McGrady became known as T-Mac in the summer before his senior year of high school. That is when he exploded from little-known Florida high school player to big-time prospect at the ABCD camp.
McGrady dominated in his senior year before declaring for the NBA Draft directly from high school like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant had in the prior two years.
The Big Sleep was drafted by the Toronto Raptors with the 9th pick in the 1997 draft. The 6’8” T-Mac would play three years as a wing for Toronto before moving on to the Orlando Magic where he became a star.
T-Mac led the NBA in scoring twice in his four seasons in Orlando and was a dominant scorer at that point in his career.
McGrady was then traded to the Houston Rockets where he would play his last 5 seasons as a true NBA star beside Yao Ming. After leaving the Rockets, McGrady kicked around the league for parts of three more injury-riddled seasons before moving on to the Chinese Basketball League and then an announcing career.Embed from Getty Images
Brief Biography: Vince Carter
Vince Carter played an unbelievable 21 seasons in the NBA. Vinsanity made two Final Fours in his three years at the University of North Carolina before being drafted 4th overall and traded immediately to the Toronto Raptors in the 1998 draft.
Air Canada was more NBA ready than his fellow wing and cousin T-Mac. Vince almost immediately became a star for that Raptors team.
Carter averaged nearly 26 points per game in his second year for the Raptors. One reason McGrady left the Raptors was he had to play second fiddle to Vinsanity.
Carter at 6’6” became most known for his thunderous in-game dunks and people began calling him Half Man Half Amazing.
Carter was traded from that Raptors team after nine seasons. He continued to score in bunches and throw down dunks for the New Jersey Nets for five seasons before transitioning to a smaller role later in his career.
Carter became more of a second or third scorer for a few teams before becoming mostly a veteran leader who provided good three point shooting and surprisingly good D later in his career. Vince had stops with the Grizzlies, Magic and others before ending his career in 2020 with the Atlanta Hawks.
Tracy McGrady vs Vince Carter: Traditional Statistics
The most obvious difference in this table is the number of games played. Vince Carter had an unbelievably long career playing in 603 more games than T-Mac. That is more than 7 full seasons of games.
Both players were considered underachievers in terms of winning in their primes. McGrady never won a playoff series, both players were accused of coasting on defense, and neither was known as an absolute killer competitor.
But Vince was able to stay healthy long enough to transition into a different role while injuries got to T-Mac.
Carter became a veteran presence who was valued for the leadership and small things he could do for a team. That transition allowed him to hang around the league for a looooong time.
Meanwhile, T-Mac burned bridges with coaches and admitted he cruised through practices. It is possible he could have changed too, but injuries robbed him of that chance.
The rest of their numbers are fairly comparable with McGrady mostly having the edge. McGrady scored more points, had more assists and got slightly more rebounds. Their steal and turnover numbers were close with Vince having the slight edge in both categories.
In the comparison of Tracy McGrady vs Vince Carter using traditional stats, I would give McGrady a slight edge. If you value length of career, Vince is the clear winner here because their other numbers are close enough.
But McGrady played in 15 seasons, so it is not like he was some flash in the pan who did not have a complete career. They both had lengthy NBA careers; it’s just that Vince’s was absurdly long. Given that, I give McGrady the edge because his traditional stats are mostly better than Vince Carter’s.Embed from Getty Images
Tracy McGrady vs Vince Carter: Advanced Stats
While the per-game stats can be a useful starting point to look at a player’s career, most modern analysts prefer some form of advanced stats. We’ll look at some below for Vince and T-Mac.
Usage measures the percentage of a team’s possessions a player accounts for while on the floor. Tracy McGrady had the higher usage percentage.
There is some debate about how good it is to have an offense focused on one player. But there is little debate that it is more difficult to score efficiently when asked to do so more often, so it is worthwhile to at least check usage.
In this case, both players accounted for a fairly large part of their team’s offenses.
True shooting % is like traditional shooting percentage but also accounts for 3-pointers and free throws. It is the best way to measure how good a shooter a player was. Vince Carter was the better shooter. Both players were pretty good.
Carter shot nearly 37% from three in his career on 4 attempts per game while McGrady shot a decent 34% on 3.4 attempts per game. Carter shot nearly 80% from the line while McGrady was closer to 75%. Neither was a poor shooter but Vince had a clear edge here.
The rest of these statistics attempt to capture a player’s overall contribution to their team on defense, offense or on both ends of the floor. None of them are the single stat to use to judge a player’s career, but, taken together, they can give us a good idea of the overall impact a player had on his team.
Player Efficiency Rating (PER) was the first widely-used statistic of its kind. The creators of PER admitted there are many things in basketball that can’t be measured easily.
But PER includes nearly everything that can be easily measured that a player does on the court. It measures these things on a per-minute basis, trying to capture a player’s overall contribution to the team.
Tracy McGrady has a clear edge over Vince Carter in PER: 22.1 to 18.6.
Offensive and defensive rating measure a player’s contribution on each end of the floor per 100 possessions. You want a higher offensive rating and a lower defensive one.
Both T-Mac and Vinsanity have similar offensive ratings of 108. It does not surprise me, for reasons I’ll get into in a later section, that T-Mac has a clear edge on defense with a better rating of 104 to Carter’s 107.
Neither of these is great but Carter’s is pretty bad. The worst defender I have written about, Dominique Wilkins, had a 108.
Win Shares also attempt to measure a player’s overall contribution to their team’s success. I am using win shares/48 to measure a player’s effectiveness per 48 minutes (which is per game essentially).
If you just use win shares, this stat can favor longer careers. Vince Carter has the clear edge there. You could argue that contributing to a team’s success over a longer period is more impressive.
To some extent, I agree. But with an outlier career like VInce Carter’s, he’d get a lot of credit for holding on. Win Shares/48 allows for a more fair comparison in this case.
The edge in WS/48 again goes to McGrady: .152 to .130.
Box plus/minus is another catch-all stat like Win Shares or PER. Since all three stats have some flaws and criticisms, looking at all three seems to me to give us the best chance of a fair comparison.
McGrady has a pretty big edge in Box plus/minus: 5.2 to 3.0.
Overall, the advanced stats pretty clearly favor Tracy McGrady over Vince Carter.
There is little doubt that Vince was the better shooter, and shooting is a big part of offense. But T-Mac was a pretty good shooter also and he was able to score more. He did so fairly efficiently despite having a high usage.
In addition, every stat that attempts to capture a player’s overall contribution to their team favors T-Mac (or is tied). That is a good amount of evidence in favor of Tracy McGrady.Embed from Getty Images
Tracy McGrady vs Vince Carter: Who Was Better on Offense?
Tracy McGrady was a 7 time NBA All Star, was voted to the All NBA 1st Team three times, the 2nd Team three times and the 3rd Team twice. Meanwhile, 8 time NBA All-Star Vince Carter made the All-NBA 2nd team once and the 3rd Team once.
You will see in the next section that neither made those teams based on defense! Vince had the longer career and made one more All Star team, but McGrady had the much higher peak on the offensive end.
Vince and T-Mac had similar offensive games. They were both freak athletes who could leap and dunk ferociously. Vince may well be the best in-game dunker in the history of the game. But T-Mac could drive and put it down too.
Beyond dunking, both were good shooters. Vince was better from three, but McGrady could shoot as well and had a strong mid-range game. One advantage T-Mac had was that extra bit of length at 6’8”. He could get his shot easier and could finish at the rim a bit easier in the NBA as well.
While their offensive games were close, the edge on offense goes to McGrady. The Big Sleep had an incredible peak on offense. He led the league in scoring twice, and was the league leader in WS/48, box plus/minus and PER one season.
Not only did McGrady have the better scoring peak, he was consistently the better playmaker as well. When you add his edge in scoring to his edge in playmaking, it is pretty clear Tracy McGrady was better on offense than Vince Carter.
Tracy McGrady vs Vince Carter: Who Was Better on Defense?
I have written full articles on both McGrady’s and Carter’s defense. If you want full breakdowns of their defensive games you can find them here for Vince and here for T-Mac. The shorter version is that neither player was incredible on defense but McGrady was clearly better.
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|1.5% (196)||1.9% (148)|
|44.6 (67th)||36.4 (136)|
McGrady was better at blocking shots, stealing the ball and rebounding. Beyond that, he was also better in the overall contribution stats.
Defensive rating was a stat I used above while defensive box plus/minus is similar to box plus/minus except only uses defense. Both show a clear edge for T-Mac.
Vince does have the edge in defensive win shares, but that is mostly based on his much longer career. There is almost no doubt that T-Mac was the better defender.
What is in doubt is how valuable that is in this comparison. When comparing Muggsy Bogues to Spud Webb, I did not include shot blocking for the obvious reasons: it is not a very relevant detail for two of the shortest players in NBA history.
The same might be said in comparing Vince Carty to Tracy McGrady: is defense where we should be comparing them? Not really. Both had reputations for coasting and did not contribute much to winning on that end.
Both players could defend at a high level because they were immensely talented players , but, all too often, they did not.
If one had been a great defender, it may have swung this comparison in their favor. But neither was very good on defense so the fact that McGrady was better is not something I would use too heavily in comparing them.Embed from Getty Images
Tracy McGrady vs Vince Carter: Who Was Better?
Tracy McGrady was clearly better than Vince Carter. Neither player played much defense, but McGrady was better at it. On offense, Carter was the better shooter but T-Mac had the better offensive peak being both the better scorer and play maker consistently throughout their careers. Vince Carter lasted longer in the league, but Tracy McGrady was the better player.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.