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Although no one they knew had seen him play, the few people who had laid eyes on him were still talking about it. Robert Upshaw, for instance. And he can shoot the three-ball! Back in , when he was hired to run the Houston Rockets and figure out who should play pro basketball and who should not, Daryl Morey had been the first of his kind: the basketball nerd king. His job was to replace one form of decision making, which relied upon the intuition of basketball experts, with another, which relied mainly on the analysis of data.

He had no serious basketball-playing experience and no interest in passing himself off as a jock or a basketball insider. It was like a cool way to use numbers to be better than other people. And I really liked being better than other people. Bill James was then busy popularizing an approach, rooted in statistical reasoning, to thinking about baseball. That particular suspicion had been born the year before, , after Sports Illustrated splashed his favorite baseball team, the Cleveland Indians, on its cover and picked them to win the World Series.

The Indians have sucked for years. Then he discovered Bill James and decided that, like Bill James, he might use numbers to make better predictions than the experts. If he could predict the future performance of professional athletes, he could build winning sports teams, and if he could build winning sports teams. He received not a single reply.

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If I was rich I could just buy a team and run it. His parents were middle-class Midwesterners. He was also a distinctly unmotivated student at Northwestern University. He nevertheless set out to make enough money to buy a professional sports team, so that he might make the decisions about who would be on it. The firm was advising Internet companies during the Internet bubble: That sounded, at the time, like a way to get rich quick. Then the bubble burst and all the shares were worthless.

No one can predict the price of oil. It was basically nonsense. Later, when basketball scouts came to him looking for jobs, the trait he looked for was some awareness that they were seeking answers to questions with no certain answers—that they were inherently fallible.

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Which future superstar had they written off, or which future bust had they fallen in love with? By a stroke of luck, the consulting firm Morey worked for was asked to perform some analysis for a group trying to buy the Boston Red Sox. When that group failed in its bid to buy a professional baseball team, it went out and bought a professional basketball team, the Boston Celtics. In the Celtics had encouraged him to use it to pick a player at the tail end of the draft—the 56th pick, when the players seldom amount to anything.

Hunter actually started for the Celtics for a season and went on to a successful career in Europe. Two years later Morey got a call from a headhunter who sait that the Houston Rockets were looking for a new general manager. We now have all this data. And we have computers that can analyze that data. And I wanted to use that data in a progressive way. When I hired Daryl, it was because I wanted somebody that was doing more than just looking at players in the normal way.

Learning that a thirty-three-year-old geek had been hired to run the Houston Rockets, fans and basketball insiders were at best bemused and at worst hostile.


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The local Houston radio guys instantly gave him a nickname: Deep Blue. In his approach to the world he was exactly the opposite. The closest he came to certainty was in his approach to making decisions. He never simply went with his first thought. He suggested a new definition of the nerd: a person who knows his own mind well enough to mistrust it. One of the first things Morey did after he arrived in Houston—and, to him, the most important—was to install his statistical model for predicting the future performance of basketball players.

Most people just do it subconsciously. Once you had a database of thousands of former players, you could search for more general correlations between their performance in college and their professional careers. Obviously their performance statistics told you something about them. But which ones? You might believe—many then did—that the most important thing a basketball player did was to score points. That opinion could now be tested: Did an ability to score points in college predict NBA success?

No, was the short answer. From early versions of his model, Morey knew that the traditional counting statistics—points, rebounds, and assists per game—could be wildly misleading. It was possible for a player to score a lot of points and hurt his team, just as it was possible for a player to score very little and be a huge asset. Why is someone ranked so low by scouts when the model has him ranked high?

If the player had broken his neck the night before the NBA draft, for instance, it would be nice to know. That counted as original, in Morey could see that no one else was using a model to judge basketball players—no one had bothered to acquire the information needed by any model. Any theory about basketball players had to be tested on a database of players.

They now had a twenty-year history of college players. The new database allowed you to compare players to similar players from the past, and see if there were any general lessons to be learned. There was nothing simple or obvious about it in They tracked the scoring in the game when a given player was on the court, compared to when he was on the bench. Points and rebounds and steals per game were not very useful; but points and rebounds and steals per minute had value. It was also possible to back out from the box scores the pace at which various college teams played—how often they went up and down the court.

Just adjusting for pace gave you a clearer picture of what any given player had accomplished than the conventional view did. Did it help a player to have two parents in his life? Was it an advantage to be left-handed?

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Did players with strong college coaches tend to do better in the NBA? Did it help if a player had a former NBA player in his lineage? If his college coach played zone defense? If he had played multiple positions in college? Did it matter how much weight a player could bench-press? But not everything. Rebounds per minute were useful in predicting the future success of big guys.

Steals per minute told you something about the small ones. The Rockets had traded their picks in That year, the Rockets held the 26th and the 31st picks in the NBA draft. The chance of getting a starter was roughly one in a hundred. He knew that his model was, at best, only slightly less flawed than the human beings who had rendered the judgments about job applicants since time began.

He knew that he suffered from a serious dearth of good data. And even that has problems with it. So how are we supposed to? Then came That year the Rockets had the 25th pick in the draft and used it to pick a big guy from the University of Memphis named Joey Dorsey. After he was drafted, Dorsey was sent to Santa Cruz to play in an exhibition game against other newly drafted players.

Morey went to go see him. We have a two-hour lunch. And he comes out and sucks the next game, too. The problem was his model. His signal was super, super high. This sort of thing happened every year to some NBA team, and usually to all of them. Every year there were great players the scouts missed, and every year highly regarded players went bust. His entire life had been shaped by this single, tantalizing idea: He could use numbers to make better predictions.

The plausibility of that idea was now in question.


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For that matter, Morey realized, there existed an entire class of college basketball player who played far better against weak opponents than against strong ones. Basketball bullies. The model could account for that, too, by assigning greater weight to games played against strong opponents than against weak ones. That also improved the model. Morey could see—or thought he could see—how the model had been fooled by Joey Dorsey. Its blindness to the value of DeAndre Jordan was far more troubling. The kid had played a single year of college basketball, not very effectively.

How could any model predict the future of a player who had intentionally failed? So long as it relied almost exclusively on performance statistics, the model would always miss DeAndre Jordan. The only way to see him, it seemed, was with the eyes of an old-fashioned basketball expert. As it happens, Jordan had grown up in Houston under the eyes of Rockets scouts, and one of those scouts had wanted to draft him on the strength of what appeared to him undeniable physical talent. One of his scouts had seen what his model had missed!

Morey—being Morey—had actually tested whether there were any patterns in the predictions made by his staff. In the end, he decided that the Rockets needed to reduce to data, and subject to analysis, a lot of stuff that had never before been seriously analyzed: physical traits. They needed to know not just how high a player jumped but how quickly he left the earth—how fast his muscles took him into the air.

That is, they needed to be even more geeky than they already were. The weights we placed on production in college had to go down, and the weights we placed on raw physical abilities had to go up. You needed, or seemed to need, experts to look at the tools in action and judge how well they would function playing a different game, against better competition. You needed experts. The limits of any model invited human judgment back into the decision-making process—whether it helped or not. It was to listen both to it and to the scouts at the same time.

Humans sometimes had access to information that the model did not, for instance. Humans were bad at. When it opened itself to information that might be useful in evaluating an amateur basketball player, it also opened itself to being fooled by the very illusions that had made the model such a valuable tool in the first place. For instance, in the draft there had been a player his model really liked: Marc Gasol. Gasol was twenty-two years old, a seven-foot-one center playing in Europe.

The scouts had found a photograph of him shirtless. He was pudgy and baby-faced and had these jiggly pecs. Man Boobs this and Man Boobs that. The odds of getting an All-Star with the 48th pick in the draft were well below one in a hundred.

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The 48th pick of the draft basically never even yielded a useful NBA bench player, but already Marc Gasol was proving to be a giant exception. All of a sudden he was right back in the mess he and his model had been hired to eliminate. If he could never completely remove the human mind from his decision-making process, Daryl Morey had at least to be alive to its vulnerabilities.

He now saw these everywhere he turned. One example: Before the draft, the Rockets would bring a player in with other players and put him through his paces on the court. How could you deny yourself the chance to watch him play? But while it was interesting for his talent evaluators to see a player in action, it was also, Morey began to realize, risky. A great shooter might have an off day; a great rebounder might get pushed around. Then why were they watching in the first place? Morey leaned on his staff to pay attention to the workouts but not allow whatever they saw to replace what they knew to be true.


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I think we should stop having these workouts. Please, just stop doing them. Just weight it really low. Soon Morey noticed something else: A scout watching a player tended to form a near-instant impression, around which all other data tended to organize itself. The human mind was just bad at seeing things it did not expect to see, and a bit too eager to see what it expected to see. Privacy Settings. Please enable Javascript This site requires Javascript to function properly, please enable it.

I'm a black nerd - a blerd! Biography Author Profession: Actor. Topics Black , Nerd. Love yourself for who you are, and trust me, if you are happy from within, you are the most beautiful person, and your smile is your best asset. Ileana D'Cruz. Smile Love Best Beautiful. Stay positive and happy. Work hard and don't give up hope. Be open to criticism and keep learning. Surround yourself with happy, warm and genuine people.

Tena Desae. Positive Work Learning Hope. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Nelson Mandela. Education Change You World Powerful. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke. Good Men Evil Nothing. Share your smile with the world. It's a symbol of friendship and peace. Christie Brinkley. Smile Friendship Peace World. Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

How Daryl Morey used behavioral economics to revolutionize the art of NBA draft picks.

Eleanor Roosevelt. People Great Small Ideas Events. Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. Benjamin Franklin. Learning Me Forget Remember. I believe forgiveness is the best form of love in any relationship.