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Houston Rockets New Rivalry in West – Morey vs. Barkley

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets New Rivalry in West

Morey vs. Barkley: Proving the Analytical Argument

Tuesday night the Inside crew of NBA TV were opining on how Houston and Phoenix got out to a very active and productive half scoring a cumulative 131 points. Houston put up 70 points on their own, 40 in the first quarter and ended the game with a season high of 127 points.

This spurred Charles Barkley to say the two teams were the worst defensive teams in the NBA. What he meant (and he clarified later) was they were the worst two defensive teams currently in the playoffs.

The other main topic Sir Charles got into was analytics which he is not a proponent of either. Problem is these are both areas close to Houston General Manager Daryl Morey’s heart who utilizes the method for much of his strategizing, trades and drafts.

The exchange had several NBA fans pondering: Is this the Houston Rockets new rivalry? All kidding aside…

As you can see from the video Charles is never going to be someone who’ll change his mind about analytics. He says “Smart guys wanted to fit in, so they made up a term called analytics.

“All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics they have one thing in common  they’re a bunch of guys who ain’t never played the game and they never got the girl in high school and they just want to get in the game.- Barkley”

Further making his case Barkley lowered perhaps the worst shot saying: “All these guys who run these organizations who talk about analytics they have one thing in common  they’re a bunch of guys who ain’t never played the game and they never got the girl in high school and they just want to get in the game.

Charles main argument stems from a solid point that talent is what makes a winner and no amount of analytics can compete with it. He cited the creation of the Big 3 in Miami, the Spurs group and Jordan and Pippen as examples of the talent. He even went on to say money not analytics is what brought James Harden, Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza to Houston and that is the factor that is making them successful.

Breaking Down the Argument From Both Sides:

Though Ernie Johnson was using the spat between Morey and Barkley to create good T.V. it did pinpoint an interesting argument for both sides.

As Kenny Smith pointed out he sees both sides but tends to side with Charles and gave perhaps the best argument against analytics.

He said in his first five years in the league he only shot 82 three-pointers, but then he went to Houston to play alongside future Hall of Fame teammate Hakeem Olajuwon who drew double teams on a constant basis.

NOTE: when you look at his basketball reference statistics they actually show a little different story as his first 5 seasons he attempted: 39, 128, 83, 59 and 24 three point shots.

So, in reality his last two seasons prior to joining the Rockets were perhaps what he was remembering. When he arrives in Houston though his numbers do increase dramatically from behind the arc. In his first season he shot 139 and by his fifth season he attempted 331 threes.

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This presented Smith with a new opportunity to add an element to his game as he was often left wide open while Olajuwon was drawing double and triple teams in the paint.

Smith went on to say he probably took 82 attempts from beyond the arc in half a season because of the defensive alignment and opportunities created by Olajuwon.

Kenny’s point is valid as he never made the three-point shot a big part of his offensive arsenal prior to becoming a Houston Rocket likely because he wasn’t being left open as much. Therefore analytics couldn’t have predicted he would put the off season work in to improve his perimeter shot.

Nor can it accurately predict a player will succeed just by being given the chance to shoot more threes. Several players each off season work at increasing their range, but  there’s no guarantee they’ll succeed. Ricky Rubio has worked tirelessly to increase his range and only recently appears to be improving after years of off season effort. Since returning to the Wolves from his extended injury he’s now shooting the 3-pointer at 41.7% which is a huge increase of 8.6% over last season. It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to sustain it or ever become an accurate perimeter shooter, but his shooting motion is vastly improved even just from the eye test.

DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors is one of the hardest working players I’ve ever seen. He’s improved his game every single season and often can be found shooting past midnight in the practice facility in Toronto. I’d bet this summer he’ll make the three his priority which will make him virtually unstoppable. Having said that he’s tried for 5 straight years to get better from the perimeter and still doesn’t possess confidence in the shot or accuracy.

Now all of this attention on the Rockets was initiated by Ernie Johnson who showed Barkley and the panel Daryl Morey’s tweet in response to Charles’ earlier comment about the Rockets poor defense:

Best part of being at a TNT game live is it is easy to avoid Charles spewing misinformed biased vitriol disguised as entertainment

— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) February 11, 2015

Even the Houston website got in on the spat trying to set Charles and NBA fans straight with a tweet highlighting the Rockets defense. In fairness Houston has ranked in the top 5 all season defensively, so the only issue I take with Charles is saying those stats aren’t necessarily an accurate read of how good the Rockets defense is.

They simply are consistently good in too many defensive categories not to be considered a top defensive team. And, factor in they are missing their defensive stopper in Dwight Howard and were without Terrence Jones who was out with the flu. 

Further, the Rockets boasts 3 players in the top 12 in steals per game: James Harden is 3rd, Trevor Ariza is 4th and Corey Brewer: 12th. That is a solid defensive stat as anyone will tell you forcing turnovers which lead to easy buckets is a key to winning. In fact Houston rank second in the Association for steals with 9.7 per game (barely behind league leaders Philadelphia who get 9.8 per game).

In addition, the Rockets force the third most turnovers by their opponents which speaks to their activity on the defensive end.

Chuck said we’re one of the 2 worst defenses in the NBA. Def Rating: 5th (tied) Pts allowed: 12th (tied) Opp turnovers: 3rd Blocks: 5th — Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) February 11, 2015

Morey for his part is considered the leading NBA mind behind analytics as he created the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.  He chairs the seminar which is slated to occur on February 27 and 28 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Centre and has been sold out since mid December.

Morey’s strategy is to utilize as many three-point shots as possible with lay-ups and close basket looks or free throws as the key premise behind his offensive strategy.

In reality though, what the NBA Inside Show panel are discussing and what Morey is preaching are somewhat different things.

To Charles point, I’d agree no GM should be basing his hiring strictly on analytics because as Kenny pointed out you can’t determine a player’s ceiling based on things he’s had no opportunity to do.

Further, there is no accounting in analytics for heart and passion or will to win. It won’t for example tell you what a player’s propensity is to dive on the floor for lose balls, bring energy every game or what their pain threshold is.

Conversely when you utilize analytics the right way you can use them to determine other teams’ habits or analyze your existing teams successes. Case in point, Josh Smith couldn’t hit 3-point shots in Detroit, but has been much more successful in Houston.

Perhaps it’s because he is getting wide open shots or time to shoot or perhaps the team have reviewed what part of the floor he is more accurate from. Watching the games it appears he is primarily taking his threes either at the baseline or mid way between the baseline and top of the arc. These areas are shorter distances and could speak to why he has been more successful.

Further, by examining analytics combined with film a team can learn a lot regarding their opponents habits and where they are successful. For example if a team obtains the majority of their points from inside the paint and have a poor 3-point shooting team it stands to reason your defense should be geared toward encouraging perimeter shots.

In essence both sides have a valid argument (minus the semantics and dramatization) and the truth falls somewhere in the middle.

Bottom line, this whole display was created more as a segment for the show and although I can understand why Morey took such great offense he maybe should have let this one go because his tweet just created fodder for Barkley.

And, let’s face it Sir Charles is still the most entertaining sports figure on T.V.

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