John Mitchell of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested to me at one point that I have my job only because of my last name.
When I questioned his use of the word “snitches,” when describing players who expressed their displeasure about the Sixers locker room during their losing streak last year, he told me I was “Mr. Born On Third Base.”
When I met Mr. Mitchell at the Sixers press conference to introduce Andrew Bynum, he was cordial and we talked about basketball for a bit, though slightly awkward when I introduced myself as “Spike, I was born on third base.”
In any case, John wrote a column today called, Inside the Sixers: ‘Analytic’ general manager wouldn’t work with 76ers. Now the headline is misleading sort of, as it suggests that a general manager candidate decided not to work with the Sixers. But often times the writer does not write the headline, so let’s move on.
The premise of his article is that Tony DiLeo was the right choice as Sixers GM, because basketball advanced analytics are not a trustworthy way to make decisions, and general managers who use this reasoning do not succeed. This would not be an impossible assertion to make. Clearly there is a art and science to all of this, and if there is too much science, there is an argument to be made, especially in these relatively early days in advanced basketball analytics. He could also explain why DiLeo is such a good choice, as there are many reasons for this.
Unfortunately, he didn’t do any of these things.
When the 76ers decided to promote good soldier Tony DiLeo to the general manager’s post after what on the surface appeared to be an exemplary performance in helping to rebuild the Sixers on the fly, some thought it wasn’t sexy enough.
They wanted the newest thing – the analytic – that guy who would go all Billy Beane on the organization, pop some numbers into equations that only a small minority of basketball people believe in, and spit out a world champion.
Alright, this is fair enough. I would say many thought this way. However, many also suggested that a GM who was focused on analytics could be a nice balance with Collins, who does not. I don’t know if only a “small minority” of basketball is at all accurate though. In fact, I would guess it is not at all accurate.
This is apparently the plan in Houston, where general manager Daryl Morey – widely regarded as the Dalai Lama of hoops analytics – continues to orchestrate what looks like an unchecked tail-chasing mission that has been going on ever since he was named general manager there five years ago.
I’m alright with this too. Morey gets a lot of praise, and I think you could make a case that it’s not quite deserved just yet.
Morey, who inherited a 52-win team in 2007, is the poster boy for reasons not to position an analytic as the basketball-operations rubber stamp, and further proof that the Sixers, still looking to add an analytic in a significantly smaller role, made the right decision in hiring DiLeo rather than the next would-be boy genius.
Under Morey, the Rockets have won just one playoff series and finished out of the playoffs three years running.
But the moves he made this summer – from gutting his roster in the failed hope of landing Dwight Howard to the drafting of Royce White with one of the three first- round picks – are legitimate reasons to doubt whether the MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management is properly equipped to be a top-tier NBA decision-maker.
White, the 16th player selected in last June’s draft, may be talented. But his anxiety disorder – he has an acute fear of flying, something that may make an NBA career impossible – forced him to miss training camp as well as the team’s first two preseason games.
Morey’s best solution for getting White from town to town is putting him on a bus. That’s something that might have proved successful when he was in college, but it is a laughable remedy at best in a league where teams regularly travel hundreds of miles overnight to play back-to-back games.
While this is problematic by itself, White had red flags that would have deterred other general managers from drafting him in the first round. He has a history of disciplinary problems that resulted in his transferring from Minnesota to Iowa State, and in his attending more than one high school.
This past summer, Morey purged a roster that finished above .500 for the third year in a row.
Morley’s signing of point guard Jeremy Lin to a $25 million deal this summer is a head-scratcher, especially when one considers that Morley waived Lin, then an undrafted, cheap free agent fresh out of Harvard, right before the start of last season.
Morey’s approach to franchise-building appears to be one of heavy wheeling and dealing on draft day to acquire assets and then crossing his fingers that they pan out.
Morey has made 32 trades over the last five years. Under his direction, the Rockets have made a trade at every trading deadline except in 2010. To his credit, he has stockpiled future draft picks that may one day prove to be wonderful assets. And in the five years that he has run the team, Houston has never finished with a losing record.
This approach may have worked in Houston. It would not, however, work here. The Sixers paraded a bunch of analytics through their offices at the Wells Fargo Center but ultimately made the right decision to go with a player-personnel veteran.
Not one solitary word about any of the candidates that the Sixers actually interviewed.
Not one solitary word about what advanced statistics are, who believes in them (besides Mor(l)ey) or why they do. Nor is there really one word about why advanced statistics don’t work. I spent some time defending Morey in here, even though I’m not that big a fan because I can’t tell what the criticisms have to do with Philadelphia.
Not one solitary word about why Tony DiLeo is a good choice. He very well may be, and I was totally good with the hire, but this doesn’t address that at all.
An entire column about one general manager, who has not had a ton of success so far. I could write 50,000 words on NBA GMs who have not succeeded who don’t have a clue what PER or rebound rate are.
I wonder who John’s father is, and what part he played in his success.