Morey’s emphasis on analytics is paying early dividends for the Sixers

NBA: MAR 10 Nets at Lakers
March 10, 2020, Los Angeles, California, U.S: Los Angeles Lakers Danny Green (14) shoots during an NBA basketball game between Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Ringo Chiu/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

Heading into the offseason, the Sixers were seemingly on the verge of falling even further behind in the rising Eastern Conference. With the inflated, regrettable Al Horford contract handicapping their free agency plans, the Sixers would have been lucky to add more than a middling bench option- a far cry from the true playmakers they needed to remain competitive.

Things changed quickly, though, when new team president of basketball operations Daryl Morey was onboarded. As impressive as the Sixers have been the last few years- possessors of a 146-91 record over the last three seasons- they simply were not constructed to compete in the ever-evolving NBA landscape, and Morey knew it.

Close but no cigar was the theme far too often during the Brett Brown era and practically became the identity of the team. Aside from the 2018-19 season when they had Jimmy Butler, the Sixers never really posed much of a threat in the postseason. Three years, three playoff berths, three early exits. Despite their best wishes, the Sixers were caught in the vortex of mediocrity that far too many franchises get trapped in.

If the Sixers were ever going to get over the hump, they were going to have to start playing a bit more like the teams on the other side of it. Knowing this, the analytically-driven Morey acted swiftly to transform the slow, post-scoring dependent roster that he inherited into one that better suits the small ball era they play in.

Gone is the horrendous Horford contract, along with his aging bones that often slowed the team’s pace severely. In are sharpshooters Danny Green and Seth Curry, in addition to promising 2020 draft selection, Isaiah Joe.

Morey publicly stated that he believes in the Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid tandem as a championship-caliber pairing and backed up his confidence by surrounding them with shooters.

Of the 14 active players to make at least 40% from 3 in their career (min. 1,000 3-pt FGA), Morey acquired two in Seth Curry and Danny Green. Surrounding the talented Simmons and Embiid with shooters may seem like the obvious play after years of watching them struggle with floor spacing, but it is also an incredibly analytically-driven decision.

Overseer of perhaps the most three-pointer friendly offense in the league in Houston for a number of years, Morey is no stranger to the success of having a surplus of shooters.

The once 13-year Houston Rockets general manager’s imprint on the franchise will far exceed his tenure and his work in Houston greatly influenced the positionless, small ball realm the NBA has become.

Operating with an extensive knowledge of and admiration for advanced analytics, Morey’s team all but abandoned the middle of the floor, relying heavily on three-point shooting and shots at the rim. Although the transformative change never yielded a championship, the Rockets’ offense was always incredibly potent and the team will be remembered as one of the perennial threats in what was a loaded playoff landscape.

Morey’s reasoning behind stressing the three-point shot stemmed from a fairly simple analytical finding. ​Three-point shots in basketball are more difficult because they are further away from the basket, but Morey realized that the 50% uplift in points received for the three-point shot (compared to a two-point shot) made it more mathematically efficient than almost all two-point shots other than layups and dunks.

Enticed by his discoverings, Morey worked meticulously to construct a roster to maximize this advantage. The Rockets began cornering the market on sharpshooters, surrounding their MVP James Harden with a three-point friendly, spaced-out offense.

The results worked wonders for the Rockets offense as they etched their names in history. Under Morey, Houston set the record for most three-pointers made by a team in a single season THREE times (2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19). Additionally, the team also set the record for most team three-pointers made in a single game with 27.

In a conference where Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are rostered on the same team, it was the Rockets that were setting records for their three-point efficiency.

Again, the theme of long-range shooting for the Rockets was not just an inability or unwillingness to do more, but of the analytically-driven methods of Daryl Morey.

Continued on the page below.

Photo by Ringo Chiu/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire