Report Cards: Daryl Morey, Part 2; Discerning Morey’s Philosophy Part 7.1

This post is Part 2 of a three-part assessment of Daryl Morey’s performance in 2012.  Part 1 can be accessed here.  It is also cross-listed within the Morey series, an evaluation of Daryl Morey’s overall tenure with the Houston Rockets.

Awaiting verdict: Marcus Morris

Most people following this team would define Marcus Morris as a bust and one of Morey’s biggest blunders.  I don’t quite understand how that conclusion is reached regarding a guy who played a total of like seven minutes the entire season.

First, as just stated, it’s silly to form conclusions off such a limited sample size.  Marcus Morris could be a bust.  But it’s just too early to tell.

Second, let’s stop pointing to Kawhi Leonard—whom the Rockets took a white version of in the second round—as evidence of some blunder.  Leonard’s been fantastic for the Spurs.  But he’s also gotten a chance, unlike Morris.

The Spurs start slowly each year because they sacrifice games in taking time to integrate new pieces.  In the Kevin McHale assessment, I discussed ‘agency cost’ whereby agents of a corporation may not necessarily have motives in line with the best interests of the corporation itself.  Poppovich enjoys lifetime tenure with the Spurs; McHale must scrap for every win to prove his worth.  Consequently, the latter decided not to take the risk of playing Morris.  That Morris did not get playing time is not some indictment upon Morris’ abilities.

Furthermore, to contest the above point, critics of the Morris pick point to Chandler Parsons.  “If Parsons as a rookie was able to get playing time, then the theory that McHale didn’t play young players has holes,” went the argument.

What the critics fail to understand is that Parsons and even Patrick Patterson don’t have those weaknesses that require most young players years to overcome.  In that sense they’re anomalies – there was no reason for McHale to not play them.  They are both mentally strong and smart, like veterans.  Their weaknesses are physical limitations.

Morris, on the other hand, has physical gifts.  It’s in the mental adjustment where he’s lacking, as is customarily the case.  Coaches under fire can tolerate players being too short or slow; it’s missing defensive assignments that really grinds their gears.

Lastly, the Rockets began the season as one of the worst defensive teams in the league, coming off a season when they boasted one of the best offenses.  McHale needed defense and Parsons provided it.

When assessing a pick, one needs to consider the thinking that went into the selection.  The same critics that dismiss Morey as overly conservative fail to realize the thought process used last June.  The Rockets know they need impact players, having a team of role players.  They could have taken a cookie-cutter positional type, like Leonard (whom the critics retrospectively pine for), and gotten nowhere.  Instead, they took a gamble.  There isn’t impact talent available at 14.  But the thinking went that envisioning Morris as a future ‘3’—identifying a potential market inefficiency—was the best bang for the buck; it was the best chance at ‘impact’ that low in the draft.  It could have been a complete waste – we don’t know.  Time will tell.  But the point is that it was a calculated risk and that it’s too early to reach a verdict.

Outstanding: Chandler Parsons

Based on the early returns, Chandler Parsons might be the best draft selection Daryl Morey has ever made.  With plus-size, ball-handling ability, and elite defensive instincts (both team and individually), one can see Parsons developing into a fringe All-Star type in his prime.  His biggest, or maybe only, weakness is an undependable shot which sees his elbow jut out like a hanger.  This is saying a lot considering he boasted a +50% shooting average during one stretch of the year using this same form.

The Parsons pick demonstrates Morey’s drafting methodology: You take players with warts you can fix and talents you can’t teach.  It’s not possible to develop defensive instincts at the level Parsons operates; that stuff is innate.  But a shooting form can be fixed.  Just put the damn elbow in.

The Good:

1. The Camby trade:

At the deadline, the Rockets were too far to turn back and were headed forward for playoff positioning.  Morey traded the corpses of Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn (a package wielding the same trade value as the Which-Which sub I just purchased for $5.95 downstairs) for a guy I wonder how they ever lived without.  More than what he brought defensively and on the boards—which was a whole hell of a lot—Camby changed the entire dynamic of the team’s offense with his passing.  It was so striking that the team seemed to fall apart on that end when he’d go to the bench; they couldn’t run inverted pick and rolls from the high post any longer.

Camby should be back next year and will be a big part of the team.

2. The Fisher trade:

This was another good deal where the Rockets jettisoned a player for whom they no longer had use for a future draft pick.  The brilliance behind the deal was that through a hardline stance, the entire process was completed with very minimal (almost negligible) damage to the team’s 2013 cap, despite Fisher’s right to a player option.  This aspect of the trade was not given proper attention in the press.

As for Hill and his contributions with the Lakers, I discussed that issue on my tumblr:

Jordan Hill had an impressive performance in yesterday’s playoff opener for the Lakers.  But let’s please not get carried away and say the Rockets made a mistake.  Playing next to high-level talent relieves pressure and allows players to do what they do best.  In Hill’s case, that’s rebounding, and that’s all he’s had on his mind while sharing the court with Bynum and Gasol.  In Houston, with no other notable big men, he was asked to anchor the defense and the team suffered badly, as evidenced by the numbers.  L.A. can afford Hill’s mental lapses.  Houston, with already a slim margin, couldn’t.

Simply put, he was a sunk cost.

3.  Not panicking:

Finally, I have to credit Morey for not panicking.  Fans want instant gratification, discretion be damned.  Morey had an order to ‘win now.’  He probably could have made some move for an overpriced 30+ Class-B star and possibly saved his job in the process.  (For ideas on who all might have been possibilities, think “WWCDD? – What would Carroll Dawson do?”)  But instead, he kept his hand and went for Camby, keeping the team’s flexibility intact.  I’ll discuss this in future posts, but it’s a tough tightrope he’s walking.

Stop wasting my time: Linsanity

As an Asian (albeit South Asian), Linsanity was of particular interest.  As a friend put it at the time, “he seems like someone I grew up with.”  In a human interest element, Lin’s story is unrivaled.  But from a basketball sense, let’s not waste each other’s time.

Lin’s a pretty good player.  Dragic and Lowry are each significantly better.  Most around these parts would likely concede that point.

But critics point to Jonny Flynn, claiming Morey chose the current Blazer over Lin on the merits.  Not true.  On this topic, I spoke to Lin myself:

They cut Lin because Flynn had guaranteed money and an expiring contract that could be used in a trade at the deadline.  That same contract was the bait in acquisition of Marcus Camby.

Morey probably knew that Lin was better than Flynn.  (Considering that Flynn might be the worst player in the NBA, this is likely.)  But for a distant third-string spot, keeping the former wasn’t worth the financial ramifications.

If anything, Morey should be given credit for bringing in Lin when only Golden State and Dallas had also given him a chance.  Even New York was on the brink of cutting him loose before feces hit the fan and had even relegated him to the D-League.  Had Dragic been dealt to New Orleans, as had been expected, Lin would have been the backup point.  The team even tried to keep Lin, waiting until the last moment, until they had to clear the roster spot for Dalembert.

Referendum:

2012 was also a referendum on moves made before.  After a stellar first season, Patrick Patterson severely regressed.  Terrence Williams flamed out and was cut loose.  Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee proved to be principals of trades which were clear wins.

These four, all acquired the previous year, don’t factor into 2012’s grade.  At the same time, interesting notes can be gleaned.

Does the Williams fiasco make Morey more risk-averse?  Like Morris, we can chalk up Williams’ lack of playing time to the aforementioned ‘agency cost.’  Adelman and McHale didn’t care to deal with his BS to see to fruition his tantalizing skillset.  Does Morey then stop using picks on these types of high-potential guys when his coaches won’t play them?

In Part 3, I will look ahead to the next step for the team.

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About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of Red94.net.

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