In the field of professional sports, essentially all of the athletes have reached such a high level in the mastery of their game that even the most minuscule advantages could make a major difference. When you look at sports in the context of data and analytics, these advantages can reveal themselves. For example, hockey players born in the month of January have a statistically better chance of making it to the National Hockey League than a player born in any other month. So clearly, teams are looking for these advantages wherever they can find them, and that’s where Daryl Morey comes in.
Daryl Morey has never played professional basketball, nor did he play for a college team. In fact, he earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science. Yet, for the last 12 years, he has served as the general manager of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets and had unmatched success thanks to his analytics driven approach, an approach that has come to change the entire way that the sport is played.
His new style, dubbed “Moreyball” (named after Moneyball), is grounded in making the most efficient plays possible in order to maximize the amount of points scored per possession. This should sound like an obvious thing that you’d think everyone had always been trying to do, but honestly, there was a fair amount of inefficiency out there that Moreyball exploited.
Take a look at the above shot chart. On the left, you’ll see the all of the shots taken by every team in the league, highlighted by efficiency of points per shot, meaning three pointers are worth slightly more than two pointers because, well, they’re worth one more point. What you’ll notice is that the most efficient spots lie just beyond the three point arc and directly below the basket. This is because the difference between shooting from just three feet away from the basket and shooting from three point range is nearly identical in terms of average shooting percentage.
Which may lead you to ask, “then why are teams still taking shots from all over the place?” Great question. Which is exactly why, if you take a look on the right, Morey’s Rockets have essentially eliminated them from their repertoire entirely, taking only the most point efficient shots.
As the years have gone on, many of the league’s other teams have started to pick up on the common sense of this efficiency and how it can contribute to winning games. So much so, to the point where as of last season, the league’s shot chart was what you see on the the right. Compare that to just 16 years ago, and it’s as if they’re playing a completely different game.
But is this almost-automated basketball okay? Does the increased efficiency make the game less enjoyable? For some fans, the dependence on three-pointers has become a bit too extreme.
- FiveThirtyEight: “Nearly Every Team Is Playing Like The Rockets. And That’s Hurting The Rockets.“
- Jon Bois: “Chart Party: We decided to erase the three-pointer“
- Harvard Business School: “Moreyball: The Houston Rockets and Analytics“