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The NBA
Ian Thomsen
March 05, 2001
Greatest Of Zzzz'sOnly 21, sleep-happy Tracy McGrady is carrying the Magic and making it look easy
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March 05, 2001

The Nba

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PLAYER, TEAM

MINUTES

STEALS

MINUTES PER STEAL

Allan Houston, Knicks

1,999

35

57.1

Wally Szczerbiak, Timberwolves

1,965

37

53.1

Mike Miller, Magic

1,437

28

51.3

Glen Rice, Knicks

1,489

30

49.6

Steve Smith, Trail Blazers

1,769

36

49.1

Greatest Of Zzzz's
Only 21, sleep-happy Tracy McGrady is carrying the Magic and making it look easy

The high-speed evolution of 21-year-old Tracy McGrady further accelerated on Feb. 20, when he threw down a career-high 44 points on a mix of three-pointers, midrange leaners and shot-out-of-a-cannon dunks. When the buzzer sounded, however, McGrady stood alone—stooped over, hands on knees—because his three missed free throws in the final minute had helped hand the Suns a 110-104 victory, snapping the Magic's nine-game winning streak. "It's like being thrown to the wolves," McGrady said of having to shoulder so much of the load for Orlando. "[Everyone's] saying, Let's see if the young guy can handle the pressure."

His response: "Bring it—I'll carry the team if I have to." Never mind the occasional mistake. Orlando had no idea it would get so much for its money when it signed McGrady to a seven-year, $93 million contract last summer. In his first season as a full-time starter, thrust into the leadership role vacated by the injured Grant Hill, the 6'8" McGrady was averaging 26.9 points on 45.5% shooting at week's end, with 7.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.57 blocks and 1.51 steals. With support from point guard Darrell Armstrong and rookie swingman Mike Miller, he had also lifted the Magic's record to the sixth-best mark in the Eastern Conference (28-26), despite a four-game skid.

"You can argue that we're the only team doing well with only one All-Star," says Orlando coach Doc Rivers. "Then you look at him—at age 21 he's carrying the burden for the sixth-youngest team in the league." Being young and supremely talented is not as easy as McGrady makes it look, Rivers adds: "His body is still maturing. That's why he sleeps so much. You turn off the lights for a film session, and he's out."

Almost overnight the Big Sleep (as his teammates call McGrady) has emerged as "one of the top five talents in the league," according to Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld. After serving as a complement to Vince Carter for the last two years with the Raptors, McGrady seemed destined to play a similar role for Hill this season. "I thought he was going to be like Scottie Pip-pen," says Rivers. "But Tracy scores too much. I don't try to compare him to somebody now"

When Hill returns next fall after the second operation on his left ankle, he might often be the second option. "I'm at the point where I want to win, and Tracy is as well, so we'll leave the bickering to the other teams," says Hill. Among the more credible believers in their potential synergy is Pippen. "The combination is going to be great—similar to when Michael and I played together," he says. Ask Pippen whom he would choose between McGrady and Carter, and he says, "I'd take Tracy. I like his ability to do more things with the ball."

McGrady is not as spectacular as his cousin Vince, but give him time. When McGrady grabs a rebound and dunks in one leap, the feat seems as effortless as if he were standing on a ladder. "Scoring is easy," McGrady says. "It's easy because there are guys who really don't want to play defense, and I know why. They don't want to get in foul trouble. They want to stay on the court. I don't respect guys who play that way. They score 25 but let their man hit them for 30."

At the beginning of the year the Magic planned to plant Hill or McGrady in the post and take advantage of the nightly mismatches. When it became clear after 15 games that Hill wasn't coming back this season, Rivers installed a motion offense around McGrady, who has brought out the best in many of his teammates. Armstrong earned Player of the Week honors in February, and the sharpshooting Miller averaged 15.2 points during the team's recent winning streak.

Though Rivers knows he can ask only so much of a player who would be a senior in college, he continues to demand more aggressive defense and better passes out of the double team from McGrady. Since returning from his All-Star Game debut, McGrady has resumed lifting weights on off days, which he hopes will help maintain his strength into May. "He's still learning to play hard every night," Armstrong says. "Some guys don't like to take on the responsibility of carrying a team, but I know he does."

As McGrady answered questions after the Phoenix loss—an interview that many elder stars would have blown off, given the missed free throws—he was joined in the locker room by his 16-year-old half-brother, Chance, who has the same father as Tracy. Chance has been living with Tracy since last summer while Chance's mother, who resides in Auburndale, Fla., undergoes treatment for cancer. Tracy sees that he attends school every day and even checks his homework. At night they take a little fishing boat out on the lake behind Tracy's house and look for small alligators.

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