Rocket Science: Daryl Morey Brings Hard-Core Statistical Analysis to the NBA

Houston's pro basketball team pins (at least a part of ) its hopes on a brainiac GM

Practice is over for the day. As the team huddles together to hear coach Adelman's final words, Morey climbs the stairs leading to his sparsely decorated new office. "I'm still in the process of moving in," he says. Pictures of his children — eight-year-old Karen and five-year-old Scott — populate his workspace. On the wall in front of Morey's desk, there's a magnetic board containing every player in the NBA — organized by team — and his salary cap number, the key ingredient which thwarts oh-so-many talk radio trades.

Morey eases into his chair, at ease within his 6'4'' frame. His features faintly resemble those of a less-angular Conan O'Brien, perhaps because of his affinity for junk food and Kraft cheese slices. "I eat those like a meal," he laments.

Wife Ellen says that despite his long hours, Morey spends a lot of time with his children. "He was obviously very into science when he was young, and he likes to do science experiments with my daughter. It's really fun to watch his love of learning rub off on them, and they get very excited about the time they spend with their dad," she says.

Daryl Morey is a new kind of stats guy.
Daniel Kramer
Daryl Morey is a new kind of stats guy.
After serving a one-year apprenticeship, Morey gets his time in the spotlight.
Daniel Kramer
After serving a one-year apprenticeship, Morey gets his time in the spotlight.

Morey's old boss from Parthenon, Kosmo Kalliarekos — who also happens to be one of the lead advisers to the Gates Foundation on the issue of American public school system reform — says it's a mistake to assume Morey is just a stats guy.

"Here's Daryl in the middle of the summer — probably in the midst of a lot of thinking about how to construct the team, the trades and all that—he calls me up as he was driving around and he said to me, 'Let's talk a little bit about education because that subject really interests me.' And we had like an hour-long discussion about why we have so many problems in our education, particularly in our inner cities and our urban areas. That floored me."

Morey doesn't spend time worrying about whether his lack of basketball experience could hinder his ability to get the job done. "I don't think it's really a factor. I mean, you don't have to be a farmer to run Hormel." Beane considers it a non­issue, too.

"I think the idea that you have to have a certain amount of experience and have to be a certain age to be in certain positions in sports is really out the window," Beane says. "I think a major portion of sports front offices are going to look not unlike what Wall Street looked like ten or 15 years ago: sort of the best and brightest. Because it is a business and sports does lend itself to analysis and people who have a significant investment in their clubs are going to look toward people who take more of an objective view than a subjective view."

"And the one thing I know about Daryl: He's going to use all the information he can, not just objective, but subjective. That's what people do. They realize there's no template that works year after year after year. I think the brightest leaders are the ones that are able to take a piece of everything and sort of mold it into their own philosophy and ultimately implement it within their organization."

Morey leans forward in his chair. He says he doesn't spend too much time concerning himself with the methodology. His concern is the end result. "I think as long as people see that it can help the team win, they're going to get behind it. We hope to be the champions, but at the end of the day, only one out of 30 gets to be happy in June."

For all the numbers that race through Morey's mind, that "one" is the only figure fans really care about. They're counting on him to take them there.

The Rockets rookie GM leans back and steals a glance at the magnetic board before him. He's working on it.

letters@houstonpress.com

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