The Philadelphia Inquirer has an article today welcoming new Sixers GM Tony DiLeo into the fold, sort of. Mostly, the column responds to the (straw man) critics that argued DiLeo's hiring "wasn't sexy enough," and who wanted "the newest thing—the analytic —that guy who would go all Billy Beane on the organization." Those opening lines telegraph the reactionary basis of the piece with admirable efficiency, but there are a lot of words afterwards, so let's read some of them together.
The author, John N. Mitchell, brings up Daryl Morey and his Houston Rockets almost immediately. Morey is sort of a misleading representative for those who try to incorporate stats into their basketball analysis, but he was mentioned by Michael Lewis in the Times four years ago, so let's go with it:
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.
"The analytic" is, as far as I know, a Mitchell coinage—it's usually an adjective—but Mitchell calls people analytics, and he means it as an insult. For Mitchell, an analytic is a basketball snob that thinks he knows more about the sport than, say, writers that don't like newfangled stats. You can tell he thinks they're snobs because he calls Daryl Morey "the Dalai Lama of hoops analytics" and takes great pains to mention his degree from MIT. Forget that Morey hasn't always followed his own advice, or that his ideas weren't always foundational for creating the statistics in use today—the guy's a stuck-up nerd and John N. Mitchell isn't afraid to say he's doing it wrong.
Just think: Morey made a failed run at Dwight Howard this summer—the Rockets were the the only team to get caught up in that—and he drafted Royce White, who has an anxiety disorder. It will be hard to arrange for travel, because White has a fear of flying. Also, Morey signed Jeremy Lin back, even after cutting him. Ipso facto, stats are useless.
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.
Thus far, they have not.
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.
Every part of this is true. Sometimes it's tough to tell what Morey is up to—the Rockets have a very odd roster at the moment—and he doesn't always seem to be building his team in the mold that an efficiency-obsessed statistician would recommend. (Teams that do? The Spurs and Thunder come to mind, and the Heat's attempts to fill out their roster with shooters and +/- stars weren't random.) And yet, as the column says, even the lapsed stat-head Morey is doing mostly good things. The Rockets have a lot of assets, and they consistently compete for a playoff spot.
And then that's it. We've read almost the whole piece. Here's what comes directly after:
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.
Today this looks like the right move.
Mitchell doesn't argue that that the Sixers have a unique mix of personalities whose strengths lie in intangibles or other things that don't show up on the stat sheet—he just literally says that compiling statistics as a way to evaluate players wouldn't work in Philadelphia, for no reason. The argument, as I understand it: The Sixers' new GM doesn't use stats much, Daryl Morey does (except when he doesn't), and he's done a commendable job either way. Therefore, stats are bad and the Sixers made the right choice in hiring a guy who goes with his gut.
Mitchell notes the Sixers are "looking to add an analytic in a significantly smaller role." Look for that role to get bigger pretty soon.
'Analytic' General Manager Wouldn't Work With 76ers [The Philadelphia Inquirer]