When he’s not starting international scandals vis Twitter, Daryl Morey enjoys musical theatre (true fact!) and being the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. Alongside Adam Silver’s principled stance not to acquiesce to China, the reason Morey is still working for the Rockets is he is one of the best GMs in the NBA and a pioneer of analytics-based approach in
Morey got the job back in 2007, and immediately started implementing applying analytics to decision making, believing that what happened in baseball with analytics will work in the NBA as well. Anyone who saw Moneyball knows one of the keys was to find overlooked, undervalued players because they don’t fit an image of what an athlete should be. Funny mechanics or a “doughy” body don’t mean someone isn’t able to perform on the court.
One of the players Morey’s algorithm valued highly in the 2007 draft was a young Spanish kid named Marc Gasol. Morey didn’t push for Gasol as the Rockets scouts were strongly against and called him “Man Boobs.” As this was Moreys start as GM, he wasn’t confident enough to stick to his guns. Gasol was drafted 48th and went on to become a two-time All-Star, two-time All NBA player, the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA champion. Not bad for “Man Boobs.”
That sort of thinking was precisely what analytics is trying to weed out, and after learning his lesson, Morey banned Rockets staff from using any nicknames in the future, including “Man Boobs.” In addition to that, Morey asks his staff to make interracial comparisons to avoid having every tall European player a “new Dirk Nowitzki.” The idea is to look at the data and fins comparison regardless of appearance or reputation. (via The Undoing Project):
“We’ve said, ‘If you want to compare this player to another player, you can only do it if they are a different race.’ If the player in question was African American, for instance, the talent evaluator was only allowed to argue that “he is like so-and-so” if so-and-so was white or Asian or Hispanic or Inuit or anything other than black. A funny thing happened when you forced people to cross racial lines in their minds: They ceased to see analogies.”
Morey and his competitors still have some way to go. Seven years after Marc Gasol was “Man Boobs,” 40 players were selected before Nikola Jokic because of his athleticism.