With the addition of Daryl Morey as Presidential of Basketball Operations, the Sixers have pulled off a complete
180 360 in the front office.
No disrespect to Elton Brand, who was never qualified for the top job, or Brett Brown, who wasn’t really cut out to be involved in personnel (much less head coaching), but neither man had a vision. And with full disrespect intended toward Bryan Colangelo, neither did he.
Insert Morey—a perennial winner who has spent over a decade and a half building winning rosters, pulling off blockbuster trades, and mining undervalued assets in the name of analytics—and the Sixers have flipped the script, going from a laughing stock of the national media, local media, and executives around the league to one of the most respected, connected, and innovative front offices in all of sports.
What a difference a day can make.
The skinny on Morey, for those who aren’t already aware, is that he’s the NBA’s Billy Beane—the subject of Michael Lewis’s book and later adapted film, Moneyball, which focused on themes of unconventional thinking, empirical analysis, and utilizing (relevant) data-driven information to gain an edge on your opponent in areas where value may generally be overlooked. That’s Morey: unconventional, empirical, data-driven, and always hunting for an edge.
Obviously if any of that sounds familiar that’s because it should. Former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie is cut from the same exact cloth, having worked under Morey as VP of Basketball Ops/Director of Analytics for seven years in Houston before accepting his job in Philly.
The aforementioned author of Moneyball, Lewis, has written extensively on the relationship between analytics and sports, and Morey has been a frequent subject of study. Prior to his tenure as Rockets GM, Morey co-founded the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference which has since grown into the most influential forum for discussion of analytics in sports in the world—hosting names ranging from league Commissioners, professional athletes, former US Presidents, Silicon Valley/Wall St. execs, famed statisticians, and of course Sam Hinkie.
Given those credentials it’s obviously not exaggeration to describe Morey as a pioneer in his field, and he’s revolutionized the NBA in ways similar to Beane in baseball. They’ll each tell you that their respective sports (games) are different puzzles, with different sets of problems altogether, but the approach each takes to solving their respective puzzle is one in the same—employ robust data analysis to figure out what matters, what doesn’t, and how to effectively manipulate the former to work in your favor more consistently than your opponent.
As it was described by Lewis in his book, The Undoing Project, “[Morey’s] job was to replace one form of decision making, which relied upon the intuition of basketball experts, with another, which relied mainly on the analysis of data.”
The main critique of any executive associated with analytics is that they’re just a nerd who doesn’t really know the game, let alone have an in-depth feel. While it’s true there are instances where over reliance on data can lead to poor decisions (the examples are endless) there is no doubt that advanced analytics sharpens decision-making, and just about every bad move the Sixers have made over the last few off-seasons (Horford, re-signing Tobias, Butler, etc…) would’ve been weeded out as bad decisions by Morey’s data-driven form of decision-making, or “process” so to speak.