Over at TNIAAM, the discussion du jour is unpopular Syracuse sports opinions. Does Art Monk deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Is Donovan McNabb anything more than a run-of-the-mill NFL quarterback? Is Jim Boeheim really a good basketball coach or just the beneficiary of talented players? Among the entries is the notion that Gerry McNamara was truly an overrated player, an idea that Coach Boeheim clearly takes issue with.
Looking at his numbers, there’s nothing that makes G-Mac stand out as anything else than a gunner. Over 1,100 3pt attempts is a ridiculous amount for a career. Nearly 60% of his attempts were 3’s. And he wasn’t really great at it either. He shot a very pedestrian 35% from 3 for his career.
Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story, and all Syracuse fans know of G-Mac’s exploits. We know about six threes in the first half of the 2003 title game. We know about dropping 40 on BYU. We know about carrying the Orange to a BET title. It might seem like weak BS, but the argument for G-Mac is simply that he was a gamer. A winner. His basketball potential topped out when he was a junior in HS. He never got any better in his four years at Syracuse. He was the same player when he left campus as he was when he arrived. But he had a knack for finding a way to get the job done when it needed doing, and that’s something that surpasses any statistic. So, in that sense, it’s impossible to overstate G-Mac’s place not only as a all-time fan favorite but as an all-time great Orange player. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and say that Gerry McNamara was one of the most dominant scorers in Syracuse basketball history.
Before you start throwing rotten tomatoes at me, let me take a moment to define my view of a dominant scorer. Being dominant has less to do with how many points are scored and more to do with how those points are scored. A dominant player can’t be stopped. A dominant player can broadcast to the whole world what he intends to do and no one can prevent him from doing it. Some do it via superior skill (Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant), some through superior athleticism (Russel Westbrook, Allen Iverson) and still others through sheer power (LeBron James, Shaquille O’neal). A dominant player gets the shots he wants, regardless of what the defense does to prevent it. A dominant player is an unstoppable force for which there is no immovable object in opposition.
With that in mind, think of G-Mac’s game. He only did one thing well, shoot 3s and, again, wasn’t even really above average at that. Everyone knew that if got the ball behind the arc with 3 feet of space a shot was going up. It wasn’t a secret. And it wasn’t as if he was some physical specimen who could simply just shoot over everyone like, say, Kevin Durant. Yet some way, somehow he was able to get the shot he wanted off. Plus, unlike Jordan or Kobe, G-Mac didn’t have a repertoire of other moves to go to if the shot was too closely contested. Pull the trigger, that’s it. How many 6’2″ shooting guards can average 15.5 PPG over a four year career with only one real skill to rely on? One would think that a guy with only a single talent would be fairly easy to contain.
Then, of course, there’s the longevity of G-Mac’s success. True, he failed to improve much if at all during his time with the Orange. He arrived on campus, though, already an outstanding college player. Had he been four or five inches taller, we might be talking about a guy who left college after one or two years instead of a four year player. Outside of maybe Dave Bing, Derrick Coleman and Lawrence Moten, all of the all-time Syracuse greats either only played one year (Carmelo, Wes Johnson) or took their time getting there (John Wallace, Hakim Warrick). Not to belabor my earlier point, but G-Mac killed opponents with the same 3pt shot for four straight years. For four years, he was priority 1 or 1A on opposing coach’s scouting reports, and the best they could do was make him shoot an average 35% on the shot that everyone from Syracuse to Scranton knew he wanted to take. How is that any different than everyone knowing Jordan wants to shoot the fadeaway or Iverson wants to set his man up for the crossover?
Don’t get me wrong. G-Mac was far from an outstanding overall basketball player. He wasn’t Dave Bing or Derrick Coleman. Guys like that have the physical tools to go along with the talent and the savvy. G-Mac made a college career out of having the most guts out of anyone on the court. His ability to dare the world to stop him, and make them pay for trying, is made even more impressive by the fact that he most resembles the guy who does nothing than spot up in the corner during a pickup game at the Y rather than an NCAA champion. Maybe he’s not dominant, per se, but that’s the only word I can think of to describe it. And he’s certainly far from overrated.