Interview with Daryl Morey, SSAC Co-founder

Daryl MoreyThis week on the blog, we’re taking you behind the scenes for an exclusive interview with SSAC Co-founder, Daryl Morey. Morey is the General Manager of the Houston Rockets, and has co-chaired SSAC since its inception. Read below to find out what he’s most looking forward to at #SSAC18, and how he interprets this year’s theme of #TalkDataToMe!  



Can you guide us along your path from Northwestern to Sloan to Parthenon to the Celtics and on to the Rockets?

When I got to Northwestern, I was reading one of Bill James’ abstracts and in the back it said it said they were starting a company called STATS Inc. I joined STATS Inc. full-time while at Northwestern, and after that, I thought I’d work for a team, but no one really returned any of my resumes. So I decided I’d have to make enough money to buy a team. I then went to business school at MIT, after which I ended up working at Parthenon primarily because I was intrigued by the compensation model.  They were giving out shares of internet companies they were working with during the internet bubble, so I thought I’d make a lot of money that way. That didn’t work out, but what did work out was that one of our clients was the Red Sox. Wyc Grousbeck came along, and Steve Pagliuca, who was part of the Celtics ownership group, recommended hiring Parthenon because he had seen our work with the Red Sox. Later on when I was at the Celtics, Leslie Alexander, the former Rockets owner, saw the work we were doing in Boston, and brought me down to Houston. 

How did your SVP role in basketball operations at the Celtics turn into an offer to be the GM of the Rockets?

I was basically splitting time between working with Rich Gotham, the COO of Celtics at the time, and GM Danny Ainge, and I wanted to move into a full-time basketball role. When Leslie called and offered to have me interview there, I jumped at the chance to be in a 100% basketball role.

What evolution have you seen regarding the role and use of analytics within the Rockets organization during your time as GM? 

Within the Rockets, it’s been a lot of trying to stay ahead of everybody. Other teams are catching up fast. They’re all run very well and our advantage is eroding, so it’s a constant push to stay ahead of other teams in the league.

Key players on your roster, like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, were seemingly constantly injured prior to arriving in Houston. They are later in their careers yet healthier than ever. To what do you attribute their good health since arriving in Houston?

A lot is attributed to our training staff, led by Keith Jones and Jason Biles – they’re both forward-thinking, scientific guys. I think the biggest thing they’re good at is avoiding stupid stuff – there’s so much pseudo-science out there to avoid. Javair Gillett, who is our Performance Coach, is a big part of getting their bodies at peak performance. We use wearables, we monitor everything, we use a lot of science, and we have great people so hopefully that adds up to players playing better for us and being healthier.

What has been the most pleasantly surprising aspect of your season thus far?

I would say a of couple things. The Chris Paul marriage with James Harden – we thought it would go well, and it’s been even better. Our acquisitions we made this year – PJ Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Tarik Black have all played really well and filled in a lot of key roles. All of our free agents played well, and that’s not usually the case.

Can you share with us what you are up to in the esports world? What is your formal/informal role in that world?

My formal role is part owner, as one of 10 -15 owners of the new Clutch Gaming franchise that Tilman Fertita owns. It’s a new franchise of the North America League of Legends series. We’re obviously biased but League of Legends is the number one esport in terms of viewable hours and attention from fans. We were pretty excited to get one of the first franchise spots (they just started franchising this year) in the number one esport in the world. I help where I can – mostly I have to worry about the basketball team, but Sebastian Park is our fearless leader and so far he’s done a good job. Our first game is on January 20th against the team owned by the Warriors

How do you see SSAC changing in the coming years? What is one thing you hope to see at the conference in five years?

Obviously having former President Obama at the conference is amazing. I’m not sure where to go from here – he’s been a dream to have. From reports, he uses a lot of data in his decisions so we’re very excited about him joining us this year. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing which is staying on the cutting-edge. We were the first conference to ever have an esports panel six years ago; pretty much all the new trends in sports were at the conference so we’ll just have to keep doing that.

Which panel or non-presidential speaker are you most excited for this year?

Steve Nash – I’ve always been a big admirer of his and his game. He’ll be able to tell me how much Mike [D’Antoni] knew what he was doing back then, or how much he stumbled into it (just kidding – he knew what he was doing).

What does the conference theme—“Talk Data to Me”—mean to you?

A big thing that’s been a part of my career is not only doing the analysis, but being able to convey it to the decision-makers at the right time and help make better decisions. That’s what its about, making better decisions. As everyone in the analytics world knows, all the data in the world isn’t very helpful if you can’t bring that information and analysis to the point of decision at the key moments, and make the right ones. That’s to me what it means.