If you've ever seen the movie Moneyball, you probably have a tiny inkling of what goes into the data-heavy methodology behind modern sports analytics. It's a complex mix of raw data, probability and computing power. Prior to Daryl Morey's hire as the Rockets GM, no one had seriously tried it in the NBA, and it has never ultimately worked in Major League Baseball -- the A's still have never won a World Series -- if the true goal of the sport is to win it all. But, like all things, there is more than one side to the story and Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard tried to explain the affable, geeky Morey in a long, fascinating article in a recent issue.
Ballard takes the reader inside Morey's world, which includes brilliant and complicated analytics, ping-pong and a real passion for winning. Despite being one of the more open and approachable GMs in the NBA, he is also the most cutting-edge, working with scouts, computer programmers and stat geeks to help him make decisions.
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Not surprisingly, his intense use of technology to help analyze drafts, trades, free agency and even coaching and player development makes him a threat to the way things have always been in the NBA, where traditional GMs are former players and personnel guys who think with their guts and their basketball IQ, not a database.
It also makes him a bit of a curiosity among fans, who both love him and are confused by him. So many of the things he does are based on probability and a very long endgame that it is difficult even for seasoned veterans of the NBA to follow or understand.
One thing is certain, however. His boss, team owner Leslie Alexander, has given him a ton of room to operate, but he wants to win more than anything and he won't allow the team to struggle forever. In the story, he says it will take them "two years" to figure out if Morey's plan -- a plan that really began this past year when the team finally sloughed off the last vestiges of the McGrady/Yao era and went hard on youth, landing Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and, the jewel in the current crown, James Harden -- is successful.
Admittedly, it is tough as a fan to see players dealt with regularity. It is difficult to develop a love of the team when its players are "assets" rather than humans we root for. But building a winner is about taking chances, and it is clear from the story that Morey and Alexander are willing to take some big risks if it ultimately means an even bigger reward.