Sports tend to follow the Darwinian blueprint. Success is observed, breeds replication and passed on as a generation of talent rises up through the ranks.
Since Ken Sailors introduced the world to the jump shot, basketball has undergone a rapid evolution. Indeed, basketball sans the 3-pointer is almost unfathomable. It has become a center piece of the game.
Today, as strategies and player talents continue to advance, we see a new movement taking root on the hard court worldwide: the shunning of the mid-range jump shot.
Enter Daryl Morey. Morey is the current General Manager of the Houston Rockets. Morey’s background is based heavily in analytics: he is a MBA grad from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Since taking over in 2007, the Rockets have yet to have a losing season, and have reached the playoffs seven times. Morey is known for his innovation, his cunning and, within that framing, his shrewd trades. James Harden was snatched by Morey for practically nothing and has blossomed into an MVP contender. Moreover, the acquisition of Chris Paul was a masterclass in rule manipulation.
As Morey has played with this personnel mix, a intriguing reality has emerged. The mid-range jump shot has all but disappeared from the shot mix analysis of the Rockets. The Rockets play to maximize the chances of a three-point shot, layup, or free throw. They view the mid-range shot the same way the “Moneyball” A’s teams viewed the bunt and the steal: as a waste of a possession (or in the A’s case, an Out).
The great Billy Beane once said, “There are some really bright people in this business. You can’t do the same thing the same way and be successful for a long period of time.” The great front offices understand that basic truth.
Daryl Morey is a use case in the Darwinian evolution of the game of professional basketball. His success undoubtedly will have an evolutionary impact on how executives and coaches think about the talent and game strategy of the league in seasons to come.