Q&A: Secrets of the Rockets GM

From ESPN.

Just two years into his tenure as general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey has already left an indelible imprint on the NBA. The 36-year-old is basketball's answer to Oakland A's GM and "Moneyball" protagonist Billy Beane, using elaborate statistical research and technological innovations to help make personnel decisions -- only with an academic background at Northwestern and MIT and an athletic career that ended long before the pros.

After years of first-round disappointments, the Rockets finally broke through in April, knocking off Portland to advance to the second round.

With Houston now battling the Lakers in the conference semifinals, Morey talked about finding bargain players, dealing with an economic recession, riding a statistical revolution and being willing to try new and different things to build a winning team.


Keri: Teams have made great strides in their analysis with the improvement and increased availability of play-by-play data. Are we seeing a similar trend in basketball?

The league does gather play-by-play data at the court level, we try to use that as much as possible. We're also tracking everything else under the sun. Public resources, but also our own internal efforts.

Can you offer an example?

Morey: You can tell how often a player gets a rebound when he's on the floor, versus just that he had eight for the game. You can figure out that eight based on minutes played, but also how many chances he got, how many times the ball was in his area.

I'll ask you the same question people asked Billy Beane after "Moneyball" came out: Is there a way to talk candidly about the value of a certain player or a certain philosophy, such that it enhances the public's knowledge of the game, but without giving away the real top-secret sauce?

What we try to do is keep things pretty close to the vest. If something is in the public domain, we're pretty comfortable talking about it. But otherwise we're good about keeping things quiet.

You talked at length to Michael Lewis about Shane Battier, a player you acquired because his contributions exceeded the obvious stats. Who else on the roster fits that mold, and how are their contributions best measured?

Morey: Any time a player's value is in large part tied up in the defensive side of the ball, he's going to be underrated. Chuck Hayes is an extreme example. You couldn't understand why he's in the league if you just looked at the standard box score stats. If you just looked at points, rebounds and assists, you'd think we all need our heads examined.

Keri: What makes Hayes so good defensively? Is it defending multiple positions? Defensive rebounding? Something else?

Morey: Not to give a smart-ass answer, but yes. He does all of those things well. He can … well he can come close to guarding 1 through 5. To guard the 5, you need particular strength, and he has that. It would be a little tougher for him to guard a 1. But against 2-3-4-5, he's one of the best. He has a unique combination of lateral quickness, strength and speed all wrapped up in a great defensive mind. Because he's so limited in other ways, much more so than Shane, he wouldn't be an NBA player if those things weren't true.

Keri: Since we're talking about defense -- Dikembe Mutombo, Hall of Famer?

Surefire Hall of Famer. His play already warrants it. He provided a unique aspect on the defensive end, where he got the glamour stats like blocked shots. But he also discouraged high-percentage shots for other teams. For sure he's one of the top-five players in the game of all time in that area. Add in his off-the-court contributions as well, which are extraordinary -- maybe the most significant of any active player. Add to that his ability to play late into his career, which is astonishing, add to that his impact in the locker room, his mentoring and leading by example. We gush about him, but it's all genuine. The impact he's made is almost hard to compare. It's almost a little intimidating to try and live up to some of the standards he has set.



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