Why Kobe Bryant Said Tracy McGrady Was the Toughest Player He Guarded in the NBA

Kobe Bryant played against a lot of players during his time in the NBA. People that played against Bryant will never forget those battles they had on the court. Bryant was the type of player who left it all out on the court no matter what. Not only did he want to be the best, but he wanted to play you at your best.

There is one player that Bryant always had a battle with on the court. That was Tracy McGrady. McGrady, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017, had a successful NBA career even with the injuries he faced. During his prime, he was regarded as one of the best players and scorers in the league. Bryant said that McGrady was one player that he had problems with guarding.

Defending McGrady in his prime

McGrady was drafted a year after Bryant in the 1997 NBA draft. Just like Bryant, he bypassed college and went straight to the league. It took a few years for McGrady to develop his game, but when he did, he was a problem on the court. During the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, McGrady was the NBA scoring champion. He averaged 32.1 and 28.0 points per game, respectively.

At 6’8, McGrady used his height and length to shoot over his defenders as well as drive to the lane and get a basket. During the 2002-03 season, McGrady finished fourth in the MVP voting, the season where he averaged the most in his career. His athleticism and sense of offensive skills made him a tough assignment for anyone during his prime.

Per ESPN, Bryant said, “Tracy McGrady was the single hardest matchup I had in my career, he could just do about everything on offense.” McGrady was taller than Bryant, and Bryant had difficulties trying to defend him. It was like Bryant was guarding a taller version of himself.

McGrady vs. Bryant matchups

Both of these players faced each other multiple times in their careers. In those early 2000s matchups, people would get their money’s worth watching those two players go at it. In the 21 games that they played against each other, Bryant won 14, and McGrady won seven. But looking at those wins don’t do any justice because people were focused on the individual matchup between the two.

McGrady’s highest-scoring game playing against Bryant was 38, and Bryant’s was 53. Now it’s likely these two weren’t guarding each other every play, but when their teams faced each other, that was their highest points they scored.

If McGrady could have stayed healthy

There have been a lot of talks and debates about Bryant and McGrady, especially during the early 2000s, because that was during McGrady’s prime. People would talk about who the better player between the two, and it was never an easy pick. That how much similar their game was.

If McGrady never had those injuries, who knows how much longer and impactful his career could have been. But he will always be the toughest player Bryant had to guard during his career in the NBA.