It's finally happened for Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. He's been long questioned and long insulted, fairly and unfairly since taking the job in 2007. His general managing career seemed like a drum roll that went on and on.
Finally, Morey landed a big star in James Harden. Seeing as how Morey made plays for Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, perhaps he got lucky in getting thwarted beforehand. At the present moment, Harden might carry more trade value than all but roughly five players in this league.
Morey, a 40-year-old self-admitted stat geek who graduated from Northwestern and M.I.T., was branded as the "Moneyball" GM, and his brand of Moneyball might be that he ignores small-sample-size fears.
He bet on Harden's numbers sustaining in an expanded starting role. So far, that gamble has paid off handsomely.
Harden is ninth among all NBA players in PER, and he's doing it in over 38 minutes per evening. He's crucial to Houston's spread pick-and-roll attack, and his foul-drawing ability frustrates and wears down the opposing defense on a near-nightly basis. Also, Harden's only 23 years old.
This was the big home run for Morey, the big bet that Harden's numbers would triumph over conventional wisdom assertions that he could only be a sixth man for some vague, unidentifiable reason.
Morey has had some other winners that could be credited to numbers facility.
Houston has built a top-10 offense (tops in NBA at 105 ppg) around the simple idea that three points are worth more than two points. You'd think that every team would embrace that gospel, but many old-hat NBA types believe in the "you don't live by the three, you die by the three" orthodoxy. The Rockets average the second-most three-point attempts in the league, and it's been paying off.
Morey has also done some bargain shopping for players who may never make an All-Star team. Omer Asik was plucked from the Chicago Bulls (3 years, $25 million), with the hope being that he could thrive as a defensive specialist who plays starter's minutes. So far, Asik has been great (averaging 10 ppg and 11.1 rpg), though Houston's defense is somewhat woeful apart from him.
Houston gave Jeremy Lin a $25 million contract in hopes that there was some substance behind a media frenzy. The results have been mixed, but Lin has demonstrated that he could be a quality guard if he ever improves that jumper.
Morey has also found a starter in second-round draft pick Chandler Parsons. The stretch-4 tweener plays over 36 minutes per night. Not a bad return for a guy making under $900,000 this season.
It all adds up to one of the cheapest rosters in basketball. The Rockets claim a franchise player in Harden and much cap room to spend on stars for the future. It took a while, but Daryl Morey is finally clearly demonstrating the advantages of analytics-based general management.