It’s been nearly three years since Antonio McDyess retired from the NBA, which feels both recent and forever ago. It feels recent partly because Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, two players who came into the league at or around the same time as McDyess, are still holding on, so the door on that era of big men hasn’t closed just yet, but it feels like forever ago just from how long it’s been since McDyess was in a group with those two (and others) as the big men of the future. You know, when we entered a new millennium.
You can pick and choose which year McDyess became part of that group, one where he was a couple inches shorter than the rest but the most thrilling finisher at the rim. His lockout-shortened campaign was arguably the breakout season, starting with one of the more fascinating free agent stories as he returned to Denver despite being traded from there the previous season1, but ending quietly with the Nuggets going 14-36. McDyess eased those hard times by earning a spot on the All-NBA Third Team with averages of 21.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, and a 21.7 PER. He was only 24.
The dunks McDyess threw down made it understandable to overlook a respectable mid-range game and instead think back to all the defenders he put on a poster. 1999 McDyess was as active as ever from mid-range, taking a career-high 9.3 attempts per game and doing damage from the left baseline especially, but the top of the key also got some love too. 1999 was actually the most balanced shot distribution during McDyess’ second stint with the Nuggets. In the following years, like so many other right-handed, high-usage forwards, his shots outside the paint would shift more to the left side.
Denver and McDyess reached their peak in 2001. McDyess returned from Sydney the summer before with an Olympic gold medal, but was only getting started. He strung together some monster stretches in 2001, including a 21-gamer of 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, and a true shooting percentage of 56.6. The Nuggets flirted with playoff contention into the All-Star break and McDyess represented them that weekend. Below is the shot chart from his only all-star season:
2001 McDyess was more of a beast around the rim than usual, shooting 71%. As for the mid-range attempts, you can see just how much they shifted to where he was so effective from early on: That left baseline. The dots on the chart, mostly league-average or better, cover nearly all the space from the block to the corner three. That’s where 70% of his mid-range attempts came from, and 83% of his total made field goals came from that area of the floor or around the rim. McDyess finished 2001 with averages of 20.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and a career-best 22.0 PER. His true shooting (53.8) and effective field goal percentages (49.5) were just a smidge below his best as a Nugget, with those highs recorded in 2000 off fewer shots per game.
McDyess wasn’t voted to an All-NBA squad, however, like the once up-and-coming bigs like Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett were, but also Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Webber. The Nuggets drifted out of playoff contention after the all-star break, likely from a mix of a loaded Western Conference, more good luck than usual in the first half2, and the injury bug that we know now affected nobody on the team more than McDyess, specifically his left patella and patellar tendon.
But we also know that after going through three seasons of re-aggravated injuries and multiple surgeries, McDyess successfully came back a reinvented player. The shot chart of his first season with the Detroit Pistons is a beauty:
A fair amount of his made shots still came from around the rim, 31.4% in 2005 with above-average accuracy, but he rarely scored from there the way he used to. McDyess instead came back with a deadly mid-range shot, leading the league in field goal percentage from 10 to 14 feet minimum 100 attempts, via NBA.com. He was also effective from both baselines, taking nearly a third of his mid-range attempts from the right side and making 44.7% of them. The left side still remained the better one like so long ago, finishing 2005 48.5% from that section of the floor.
Over the second half of McDyess’ career, he expanded his outside shooting to the 15 to 19 foot range and became well-rounded from there, good to great not just from the baselines but also both wings and the top of the key3:
There are some rocky patches, specifically in the charts for 2007-08 and 2010-11, but among other things, McDyess’ shooting helped him become one of the NBA’s finest reserves before retiring in 2011. He was a key cog with the Pistons and Spurs as they contended for titles, and though McDyess never won a championship it’s still worth noting that he contributed into this decade rather than fading into obscurity. Quite a few of the stars he once belonged with are either still playing in the NBA or around the league in some way or another, their careers still fresh in our memory, but both McDyess’ peak and how he adjusted when it ended prematurely will not be forgotten either.
- I don’t know why, but nine-year-old me was watching SportsCenter early one weekend and I thought Minnesota traded for McDyess. I was so excited I woke my parents up (again, early on a weekend) to tell them about it. They could not have cared less. My best reasoning for believing what was obviously not true: McDyess, according to Basketball-Reference, signed with the Nuggets on January 22, 1999. That was a Friday and Tom Gugliotta, a Timberwolf from 1995 to 1998, signed with Phoenix on Saturday, and I must’ve heard only bits and pieces of that news as it unfolded. I don’t remember what I did after realizing the Timberwolves came up empty-handed, but I’m guessing it led to some of my most unhappy, button-mashing games on NBA Live ’98. ↩
- Denver finished 40-42, but their Pythagorean Record was 34-48. ↩
- McDyess’ field goal attempts from 10 to 14 feet and 15 to 19 from 2005 to 2011: 155-177, 88-283, 79-241, 53-272, 30-307, 39-233, 29-192. ↩