We all know T-Mac, the elite player, but after his injuries, he changed his game. He's no longer a dominant scorer and he was never known for his defense. So let's take a look at what the new T-Mac can give the Spurs, how he fits and whether or not this move makes the Spurs better.
What kind of player is McGrady at this point of his career?
First of all, I think it's important to note that T-Mac isn't likely to get a lot of minutes unless Ginobili gets hurt again. Leonard, Green and Manu will share most of the wing minutes and Pop has said he wants Leonard to get around 35-40 minutes per game. McGrady had a riff with Larry Drew in Atlanta over playing time, but if he's signing with the Spurs at this point, and after Jackson was waived, I'm pretty sure he understands his role. His stint in China probably humbled him as well, since he couldn't find an NBA team that wanted to sign him at the beginning of the season.
Now let's look at his last two NBA stops to see how T-Mac produced. He had a bigger role in Detroit, where he got 23.4 minutes a game. With the Pistons he averaged eight points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Those are really solid per minute numbers, and while his shooting was not particularly good, he had to create a lot of his shots. In Atlanta, his minutes fluctuated and he ended up averaging only 16.1 minutes per game. His scoring and assists per minute took a dip, but his rebounding was better. He also shot 45% from three but that was on only 33 attempts, which explains an outlier for the career 33% shooter.
Looking at his numbers from China, I'm choosing to ignore the scoring because of the level of competition, but his playmaking and rebounding were stellar. So I think at this point T-Mac is a player that can provide some rebounding from the wing and can findman consistently. He can also create his own shot a bit, but don't expect him to be efficient at it, and he can hit an open three but he's not a volume shooter from beyond the arc.
How does he fit with the Spurs?
Now that Stephen Jackson is gone, the Spurs have a hole at back-up small forward that T-Mac ostensibly fills. But, as was the case with Jackson, McGrady is not a great spot up guy, which makes him an odd fit. The good news is that the Spurs already have excellent shooters, and if he gets minutes, McGrady should and likely will be used in a different role. T-Mac may still be a good enough creator that he can take the role of secondary playmaker, which in theory means less Neal handling the ball. Defensively, a unit that has Neal, Ginobili and T-Mac on the court at the same time will probably suffer, but offensively it provides the Spurs with a lot of options.
Similarly, if the Spurs need to go small, McGrady could provide size and rebounding on the wing. And according to PeachTree Hoops, he can be a good defender when he is engaged. I expect Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green to handle the other team's best scoring threat, but if McGrady can provide the Spurs with ten minutes of decent defense and versatile offense, he could find a role despite lacking the shooting prowess the Spurs want from their wings.
Another aspect of the acquisition is that it theoretically provides the Spurs with Manu insurance. If Ginobili can't play early in the playoffs or needs to have his minutes monitored, McGrady might fill in that role of facilitator. He obviously won't be as good as a healthy Ginobili (few are) but he has a high BBIQ and as long as he plays within himself, he could probably be an upgrade over the inconsistent De Colo.
Is he good enough to get Pop to play him over the players he already trusts? That's the big question. I've given up trying to figure out what Pop thinks, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him stick with Green as back up SF and I can't say I blame him. Green, who is a great shooter, has not been bad in that spot and there are not a lot of teams out there with quality back up small forwards, which means the Spurs can probably get away with the size disadvantage.
Something similar happens with Gary Neal, who is the only other player I can see T-Mac leapfrogging in the rotation. In theory, the Spurs could go with Joseph (for defensive purposes) and then have McGrady and Ginobili as scorer/creators negating the need for Neal to play back up PG. But with Ginobili struggling with his shot and McGrady being a mediocre outside threat, Neal might get some minutes at shooting guard next to Joseph or De Colo and relegate T-Mac to the bench. As much as I like the signing, I doubt this version of McGrady will lead to Pop altering his rotations significantly.
The other minor question that arises from the McGrady signing is who gets deactivated for the playoffs roster. The Spurs can carry 13 active players and have 15 under contract. Diaw is hurt, so for now, they only have to put one player in a suit. That would have definitely been Baynes before Boris' injury, but I'm guessing it will be Mills now. Once Boris returns, I'm assuming Baynes joins him in the inactive list.
Does this move make the Spurs better?
It's tough to say. McGrady alone won't move the needle an inch on the Spurs' title chances, but if he develops chemistry quickly with the rest of the bench guys, he could provide the Spurs with a more suitable option than Jackson. And it's certainly comforting to have another guy with size on the wing.
While McGrady is not a great three-point shooter (and neither was Jack, last playoffs notwithstanding) he seems to be a better playmaker and a comparable, if not better, rebounder. I'd give Jack the edge on defense, but the truth is that he was not a stopper. I don't expect T-Mac to have a big impact, but if he can do an adequate job when he's called upon, I'd say this is a good move for the Spurs. They don't seem to be measurably better but they are not worse than they were a couple of days ago and likely not worse than they were with Jackson on the roster.
All of these questions will be answered when Tracy McGrady actually suits up. For now I choose to be cautiously optimistic while assuming that Pop will find him a spot in the rotation, allowing him a chance to play well and improve the Spurs with his acquisition. It's been an eventful couple of weeks, but the playoffs are right around the corner, so let's put the whole Jack drama behind us, welcome T-Mac to the Spurs family and hope for the best.