ESPN the Magazine
by Eric Neel
April 4, 2011
The clammy desk jockey on the TV is describing a disaster: the worst single-day point drop in the stock market’s history. As he watches, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey shakes his head and says dryly, “Sounds like a buy-low opportunity.”
Spoken like a man who recently invested in some discounted Ron Artest. The 36-year-old MIT MBA often sees opportunity where others see alarm. Conventional wisdom says Artest is toxic. Morey has the numbers to show that the talented head case can reinforce an already vicious defense (Houston was second in efficiency in 2007-08) while boosting a middle-of-the-pack offense. And that makes him worth the risk.
Several teams, including the Nets, Nuggets and Cavaliers, consult a statistical analyst on personnel decisions, but the Rockets are the first to have built a division of numberjacks, and Morey is the league’s first GM who is committed to the new science. His group’s research is geared toward not only draft night and player acquisitions but also on-court combinations and coaching strategies.
Morey grew up reading Bill James’ Baseball Abstract and later worked for the stats guru, but his geekier tendencies might actually have more to do with his boyhood love of comic book antiheroes who cut against the grain, figures like Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. “In a league in which 30 teams are competing for one prize, you have to differentiate yourself somehow,” Morey says. “We chose analytics.”