ESPN.com sat down with Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Tuesday to discuss his team, just two weeks into the season. Not only did Morey talk about the health of big men Dwight Howard and Donatas Motiejunas, but also about how difficult the Western Conference is and the annual MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
ESPN: Two weeks into the season how are you feeling about the season?
Daryl Morey: I think Coach (Kevin McHale) and I are constantly watching how the team is playing especially early, not as worried about what the record is. But we’ve won enough games and I think we want to continue to play well on offense like we have the past few games and tighten up the defense.
Were you ever worried about James Harden’s shot?
Morey: No. That’s one thing I wasn’t (worried) about. People asked me was I worried about the start (0-3), I was worried about the start a little bit but I was not worried about James Harden. He’s got a long track record of being very good. I was not worried about him.
The West is so dangerous. Are there more teams to worry about this season than last?
Morey: I think the West is always tough; we’re trying to be the best of the best right now obviously. If that’s your measuring stick you don’t need many teams -- you got Golden State playing terrific ball, Oklahoma City, the Spurs, the Clippers. It feels just as bad as normal.
How has Ty Lawson been playing?
Morey: He’s been excellent. Really starting to mesh well with James and Dwight and I think again, we're trying to get that chemistry down to where everyone is working together, where sometimes we’ll take turns on offense and trying to get our chemistry together defensively.
Clint Capela's emergence -- his development has been so good.
Morey: Sky's the limit for him. To do what he’s doing at 22 is amazing in the NBA against the talent in the league and to come from playing mostly in the D-League last season, to start a few games for us, and in games that we’ve won, is huge. His ability to protect the rim, run the floor, rebound -- we really feel like he’s got a chance to be a high-level player.
How long before Dwight Howard starts participating in back-to-backs?
Morey: It’s going to come down to the doctor's advice. Since his return from being out last season, he has not played back-to-back and he’s played at an extremely high level. So I think the doctors are looking at that and feeling like that’s the smartest course at this point. If he gets to no symptoms whatsoever and playing at a high level, I think they might mix him in at some point. For now and the foreseeable future, I think they want him to sit out back-to-backs.
Is there a timetable on Donatas Motiejunas' return?
Morey: No -- I think again, the doctors are taking the lead there. He’s already back on the floor playing basketball, restriction-free. (Now) because it’s a back injury the doctors want muscles that support the back and the legs, in the back area, to be as strong as when he went out, maybe stronger. Also to have (the muscles) to be very balanced and that’s what the doctors are waiting on. Once those are good, then we’ll get the green light.
The 10th anniversary of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference is coming up. So we’re having a big party?
Morey: Everyone should join. We’re going to have some pretty cool stuff. We’re going to have the original "Moneyball" crew -- Billy Beane, Michael Lewis and Bill James will be there. We’ll have two commissioners at least, might have more. We’ll have (NBA) commissioner (Adam) Silver, (NHL) commissioner (Gary) Bettman. Lots of great owners, coaches, GMs -- pretty excited.
Hockey has embraced analytics more than ever, is that because of what you guys have started?
Morey: I think baseball gets credit -- Bill James, the "Moneyball" crew. Originally, I think basketball is closer to hockey than baseball. So I do think they’ve taken some things. Although we’ve taken some things from hockey, the plus/minus stat first came from hockey, that’s become prominent in basketball and with commissioner Bettman, I think it will be our best hockey season ever.
Football harder for analytics?
Morey: You saw (Patriots) coach (Bill) Belichick going for it on fourth down, onside kicking, I think it’s coming. Yeah, football is tougher maybe to use some of the analysis approaches -- less games, less data. There are still a lot of things you can do and very smart organizations in football are doing that.