In early April, news that Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey would be evaluated at season's end along with interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff opened the door for opponents of analytics to be critical of the situation in Houston.
Morey has been vocal in his belief that analytics help teams make smarter basketball decisions. With the Rockets struggling to make the playoffs this season and putting up little fight against a Warriors team dealing with Stephen Curry's injury situation, it's to be expected that vultures would strike. The Charles Barkleys of the world can continue arguing that Morey’s lack of a championship during his tenure is proof that analytics do not work in basketball. But those sentiments aren't worth worrying about anymore. (Note: I know Daryl and he has always been very generous to me, so I do have personal concern for him and his family.)
It is not that the vultures won’t be out -- they will be out in force. But using analytics in NBA front offices and on the benches is essentially a settled matter. Those who are not comfortable with analytics or who dislike Morey personally will say the same uninformed things, but the truth is that analytics, as part of how basketball operations work in the NBA, are here to stay.
While Morey was an early adopter of analytics, he is no longer the only GM incorporating advanced data into decision-making. Far from it.
Consider the following:
Ten years ago, four or five teams had either one full-time or one part-time consultant. Today, all 30 NBA teams have at least one full-time staffer whose primary responsibility is analytics, and most teams have an analytics staff that consist of at least three full-timers.
Ten years ago, most analysts were either part-time consultants or had titles such as basketball operations analyst; now, teams have VPs and directors of analytics who manage a staff.
The San Antonio Spurs, who have been a leader in the NBA in using analytics, recently added to their robust analytics staff by hiring Kirk Goldsberry at the VP level.
Of the five teams given the best chance to win the championship this year by ESPN's Basketball Power Index, all have made significant investments into analytics and utilize them in front office and coaching decisions.
Salaries for analytic personnel are growing significantly. While teams previously demanded analytics specialists work for peanuts, recent hirings have demonstrated that salaries have increased significantly.
Ten years ago, players were mostly discussed in terms of points, rebounds and assists per game; now, efficiency numbers are used commonly in NBA offices and by fans.
The most glaring data point that illustrates the impact of analytics on the NBA is 3-point attempts. Three-point shots were identified early by analysts as an underutilized tool because they were far more efficient than midrange 2-point shots. Since the 1999-2000 season, 3-point attempts have increased by 55 percent. Even after subtracting all of the Warriors' attempts this season, the NBA set a single-season record for 3-point attempts in 2015-16.
The anti-analytics crowd will argue that you can’t make basketball decisions by data alone. That is a false argument. No proponent of analytics -- Morey included -- would suggest that using only data is any way to build a team. Coaches, scouts, and general managers have a wealth of vital information and expertise that is not reflected in the data.
At its core, good analytics provide another piece of information, and most hyper-competitive front office personnel and coaches have learned that having more information than your opponent can provide a competitive advantage.
The state of analytics in the NBA is strong, with no small credit belonging to Morey himself.