Houston Rockets: Daryl Morey and The Undervalued Player


Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has made a name for himself as the NBA’s pioneer of the analytics movement. The Billy Beane of the NBA, Morey has been both praised and condemned for his use of statistical analysis in his attempt to build a championship caliber roster.

Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Morey’s most notable critic is Inside the NBA analyst, and NBA legend, Charles Barkley. While Barkley has made a number of negative remarks concerning analytics throughout the years, about half way through last season, Barkley said of Morey, “He’s one of those idiots who believe in analytics. He went out and got James Harden and got Dwight Howard, and gonna tell me that’s analytics.” Barkley went on with his argument, in which he basically said that championship teams consist of superstar talent, not rosters that were put together through statistical analysis.

Barkley has a fair point. In order for a team to win a championship, they must have superstar talent. What’s ironic about Barkley’s criticism of Morey, however, is that Morey has publicly agreed with Charles’ sentiment. “It takes three elite players and a good set of players that fit around them,” Morey told Houston Sports Radio 610 last summer.

Morey has no qualms with the assumption that teams wins championships because they have championship-level players. That notion is obvious. Off the top of my head the only team I can think of that has won a championship without superstar talent is the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons. What Morey’s analytics is interested in is something more subtle than elite players, namely, undervalued players.

Having to rebuild the Rockets’ roster after the McGrady and Yao era, Morey worked tirelessly to acquire assets and picks in order to eventually land superstar James Harden, and a year later, Dwight Howard. From there he has assembled a respectable cast of role players around his cornerstone of Harden and Howard.

The problem with trying to throw analytics out the window simply because teams need superstars to win championships is that rosters include about a dozen more spots than the team’s few spots reserved for the elite. While Morey has been impressive in bringing in elite talent that includes Harden, Howard, and now point guard Ty Lawson, he has been equally impressive in finding undervalued role players.

Within just the past few seasons, the Rockets have discovered Chandlers Parsons (2nd round draft pick), Patrick Beverley (2nd round draft pick; cut), Donatas Motiejunas, and Terrence Jones— all of whom’s production greatly outweighed their cost. Analytics help the Rockets to find value in places other teams overlook. After refusing to sign Parsons to max money last summer, the Rockets acquired Trevor Ariza for half the cost, and at least the same amount of production. Going into last season, many people believed it was a bad summer for the Rockets.

So to recap the Rockets' offseason: Traded Asik for nothing, traded Jeremy Lin for less and lost Chandler Parsons. But got Ariza! Yikes.

— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 13, 2014

The Rockets, however, managed to make it to the Western Conference Finals, thanks to a roster of superstar talent and undervalued role players. Brining back most of last season’s squad, and adding Lawson, the Rockets may be the deepest team in the NBA. Had the Rockets chosen to sign Parsons to a max deal last summer, they would be a completely different group, unable to afford the roster of players that they have.

Critics of Morey seem to misunderstand him. Morey believes, as do his critics, that champions win championships. That being said, Morey also believes that champions need top notch role players by their side. Morey’s analytics finds most of it’s success in discovering undervalued role players who can either be traded for greater talent, or paired alongside greater talent. Morey’s rosters have become increasingly better at perfecting this formula.

The Rockets 2015-16 roster may be the deepest Rockets roster of all time. It features superstar talent, and more than reliable role players. If the Rockets can improve upon last season’s success, it should be enough to silence Morey’s critics.

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