Ball don’t Lie: Michael Beasley and Moreyball

When the Rockets announced that they had signed Michael Beasley, I have to admit I was extremely surprised.

I went to school in Minnesota during the years that Beasley was with the Timberwolves, and went to a lot of games because tickets were cheap. So I have watched a decent amount of Beasley over the years, and my conclusion was that Beasley is not just a bad basketball player. It is that he is a bad Moreyball player – someone who scores efficiently and who can be snagged for a low price. Beasley with the Wolves took a bunch of midrange shots which went in enough for him to draw high volume scoring totals, but it did not make him a player.

In general, Beasley’s fundamental problems are that he is not a good off-ball player because he always has to dribble before he shoots, he cannot shoot threes, and he is not much of a defender. When you also consider the fact that he is 27 and that the Rockets have plenty of power forwards, I did not understand why Morey signed Beasley as opposed to some younger D-League player with potential instead.

And while Beasley has performed far better than expected, I should caution Rockets fans on massively overevaluating Beasley. There is one, simple statistic which should concern those who think Beasley is a long-term solution: Over these past five games as a Rocket, Beasley is shooting 62.5 percent from 10-16 feet.

In short, those mid-range jumpers Beasley takes all the time are actually going in. But this is an anomaly and will regress. Beasley’s best percentage over a full season from that space on a court is 46 percent. And if you want to claim that Beasley has just learned to shoot better, Dirk Nowitzki’s best percentage over a season is 51 percent.

So when those mid-range jumpers stop falling for Beasley, what then? I will note that Beasley has been much more aggressive getting to the rim than I have ever seen, so that is a good sign for his scoring potential. Perhaps he will continue to do so, be a reliable scorer, and stick it out on the Rockets rotation for this season and perhaps the future.

But given the defensive problems as well as his lack of three-point shooting ability, I would not describe Beasley by any stretch as a “Moreyball” player of the kind that Daryl Morey would sign in the past. And as the Rockets finish this season off with massively lowered expectations and Morey’s seat grow warmer, I cannot help but ask:

Does Moreyball still exist?

History repeats itself

If we wind the clock back a decade, we can remember just why Morey was brought in to manage the Rockets in the first place. The Rockets had two superstars, and Morey was supposed to find undervalued role players around them that he could get at a cheap price, just like Billy Beane did with the Oakland A’s ( or at least I understand he did, since I pay zero attention to baseball).

From that perspective, perhaps Beasley is undervalued and thus ties into the Moreyball philosophy. But the catch is that the moves Morey made in this offseason were not really about bringing in “undervalued” guys.

Was bringing Corey Brewer and Patrick Beverley back at those elevated contracts an example of Moreyball? What about the Ty Lawson mess? While critics have attacked Morey this season for not understanding the role of chemistry and overevaluating statistics, I would argue that this season has been distinctly unMoreylike. To avoid tampering with chemistry, Morey just brought back the same team with some minor changes, and did not bother to look at the warning signs which surrounded the Rockets at the end of last season.

And as I watch Beasley fire off another mid-range jumper, I also cannot wonder if Morey might be moving away from the three and inside shot philosophy he has held for most of his tenure. No one is going to outshoot Golden State from long range for some time, and there is no point to such an arms race. Instead, the best avenue is to find another avenue of attack so that Golden State can be countered in another way.

What is that other way? If I knew, I would be working for the Rockets, not writing this article. But as we watch the Warriors come ever closer to breaking that Bulls record, I cannot help but wonder if this era, in addition to changing what we knew as basketball, will change what we knew as Moreyball over this past decade.

And perhaps the Beasley signing is a road onto that path.


About the author: The son of transplants to Houston, Paul McGuire is now a transplant in Washington D.C. The Stockton shot is one of his earliest memories, which has undoubtedly contributed to his lack of belief in the goodness of man.

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