The Evolution of Morey Ball

On May 11 the San Antonio Spurs ousted the Morey Ball Rockets from the playoffs in a 39-point blowout sans their MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. The Rockets entered the series against the Spurs as the favorite despite the lower seed and lack of home court advantage. The Spurs were viewed by many as “Kawhi Leonard and Friends” versus a run-and-gun rebirth of seven seconds or less offense with a penchants for the long ball. But as has been the case for many a Mike D’Antoni team in May, they faltered against the Popovich wall. Daryl Morey, the architect of the association’s new geometry has built a team around three-pointers and three footers, but has the NBA’s greatest coach figured out the solution?

The Houston Rockets epitomized the logical conclusion of the three-pointer, and the styles of coach Mike D’Antoni’s former Suns teams. The goal is pure mathematics: threes are worth more than twos, so if you’re going to shoot twos, they best be high-percentage shots. General Manager Daryl Morey worked with D’Antoni to recruit players who fit this vision, like the oft-injured but sharp-shooting pair of Pelicans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson and mid-season acquisition Lou Williams. The team shifted James Harden to run the point and surrounded him with shooters and rim-runners, jettisoning Dwight Howard along with his attitude and calls for post touches. In theory, it worked: in the 2016-17 season, the Rockets paced the league in three-point attempts with 3,306 – over 700 more than the next most. 46.2% of the Rockets field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, while another 32% came from within three feet of the basket. They also slogged to a last place finish in attempts between 10 feet and the three-point line – just 9.3% of all field goal attempts.

The Rockets are hardly the only team moving in this direction. Both the Cavaliers and the Warriors attempt roughly two thirds of their shots from either beyond the arc or from within three feet of the basket. Brad Stevens’ Celtics lean this direction as well, accounting for four of the league’s top five teams in the 2016-17 season embracing Morey-Ball. The outlier, of course: Popovich’s Spurs.

Morey

The top offenses in the NBA today are predicated on ball movement, making the extra pass to go from good shot to great shot. The Warriors, Rockets, and Celtics were three of the top four teams in assists in addition to pacing the league in Morey Ball shot selection. But the quality of those assists matters. If the goal is a clear three-point attempt, and the Rockets’ attempt numbers certainly suggest it is, then creating an open attempt via a pass should be the ultimate cog in the offensive game plan. The Warriors – the greatest assisting team of the decade – assist on 83.1% of their three-point field goals. The Celtics, the Morey-Ballers of the Eastern Conference, assist on 83.7% of theirs. Yet the Rockets, architected by Morey and D’Antoni finished dead last in the league assisting their long distance shooters at only 76.9%.

This is the compromise for playing James Harden at the point. He’s a guy who can create his shot as well as anyone in the league, and in an offense that stresses threes he creates a high number of them himself. Gordon, Anderson, and Patrick Beverley can be utilized as spot-up shooters, but Gordon and Beverley are called in for on-ball duty in the minutes Harden is off the floor. Lou Williams, who only spent half the season in Houston, plays similarly to Harden and likes to create off the dribble even if a catch-and-shoot opportunity arises. Houston’s assist rate inside the arc is in the middle of the pack among NBA teams. Unlike their outside shooters, bigs like Clint Capela, Nene, and Montrezl Harrell are reluctant to put the ball on the floor. This is one of the reasons Houston has so often been linked to passing big men like Pau Gasol and Chris Bosh – guys who can get the ball in the post and pass to the open three-point shooter after drawing the help defender in the paint. Absent a pass-first big and with Harden creating the majority of his shots on his own, the Rockets are unlikely to sprint to the top of assists on three-point attempts. It’s an interesting dilemma for the Rockets, who just gave up on a big in Howard who would demand the help defender and create that passing lane. Howard was an ill-fit for the D’Antoni system, as are most back-to-the-basket types, but having that option opens up more high percentage threes. It’s one of the reasons Popovich was reluctant to move away from the aforementioned Gasol in the series as he created better opportunities for a Spurs team that doesn’t attempt many threes, but assists on over 87% of them.

Enter Greg Popovich, basketball savant and interview extraordinaire. The strategy seems simple enough, guard the three-point line with your life and live with the mid-range jumpers and floaters. The Spurs allowed the entry passes into the paint and let their defenders go one-on-one against the Rockets’ bigs. The lack of a great passing big hurts more when no help defender comes and gives up a passing lane, but what hurt the Rockets more was playing a brand of basketball that they looked visibly unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. Throughout the season, the Warriors have intentionally played un-Warrior like possessions, ceding minutes at a time to Kevin Durant isolations and lineups where Ian Clark is the lone three-point option alongside non-shooters like Shaun Livingston in the backcourt. It’s the difference between good teams and great teams. Morey Ball has outlined the Rockets strategy for the future, and perhaps they’re only a few pieces away from transforming it into a championship winning game plan.

NFL Captions: Week 2

"Are you Mark's stunt double?"

“Are you Mark’s stunt double?”

"For Channel 4 News, I'm Ron Burgundy. You stay classy New England."

“For Channel 4 News, I’m Ron Burgundy. You stay classy New England.”

"I know guys, the dry cleaners said the hoody wouldn't be ready until Sunday."

“I know guys, the dry cleaners said the hoody wouldn’t be ready until Sunday.”

"Who the hell are these guys?"

“Who the hell are these guys?”

"Is this the line to play quarterback?"

“Is this the line to play quarterback?”

"This, right here, this is why I didn't retire."

“This, right here, this is why I didn’t retire.”

"1-2-3-4 I declare a thumb war!"

“1-2-3-4 I declare a thumb war!”

""Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!"

“”Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

"Damn it Urlacher! How did you even get this number?"

“Damn it Urlacher! How did you even get this number?”

"All by myself..."

“All by myself…”

"These State Farm commercials just keep getting worse."

“These State Farm commercials just keep getting worse.”

"Hot potato!"

“Hot potato!”

"God damn you diabeetus!"

“God damn you diabeetus!”

"Hey Romo, remember me?"

“Hey Romo, remember me?”

"No, why would I find the word 'Redskins' offensive?"

“No, why would I find the word ‘Redskins’ offensive?”

""Shhh. Don't fight it, just let it happen."

“”Shhh. Don’t fight it, just let it happen.”

"Can a brother get an 'Amen'?"

“Can a brother get an ‘Amen’?”

"Why do you suck again Joe?"

“Why do you suck again Joe?”

"Oh my God! We're having a baby!"

“Oh my God! We’re having a baby!”

"Everyone gather around and feel what good hands are like."

“Everyone gather around and feel what good hands are like.”

"I have a drinking problem."

“I have a drinking problem.”

"Oh shit, it's Darren Sharper!"

“Oh shit, it’s Darren Sharper!”

"Never leave me again!"

“Never leave me again!”

"You and me? Against the other 20 guys on the field? Yeah, I think we could take them."

“You and me? Against the other 20 guys on the field? Yeah, I think we could take them.”

"Hi Mom!"

“Hi Mom!”

"Have we tried turning the lights off?"

“Have we tried turning the lights off?”

"Look me in the eye and tell me that Mark Sanchez should've left college early."

“Look me in the eye and tell me that Mark Sanchez should’ve left college early.”

"Whatever happens, just remember I love you way more than I ever loved Alex."

“Whatever happens, just remember I love you way more than I ever loved Alex.”

 

NFL Captions: Divisional Round

"Ray Lewis has, in fact, threatened my life. Unfortunately, we will be forced to let him win."

“Ray Lewis has, in fact, threatened my life. Unfortunately, we will be forced to let him win.”

"Guns don't kill people. I kill people."

“Guns don’t kill people. I kill people.”

"Quit scoring return touchdowns! Our defense is getting tired!"

“Quit scoring return touchdowns! Our defense is getting tired!”

"Please can I win a cold weather game Ray?"

“Please can I win a cold weather game Ray?”

"I love that this thing has crotch access."

“I love that this thing has crotch access.”

"See? Only elite quarterbacks get hugs!"

“See? Only elite quarterbacks get hugs!”

"Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."

“Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

"Hey, can I challenge drafting Alex Smith ahead of Rodgers?"

“Hey, can I challenge drafting Alex Smith ahead of Rodgers?”

"All by myself..."

“All by myself…”

"Screw you guys, I'm going home."

“Screw you guys, I’m going home.”

"At least I get another week to work on State Farm commercials."

“At least I get another week to work on State Farm commercials.”

"And then we'll put a flaming bag of poop on Alex's doorstep!"

“And then we’ll put a flaming bag of poop on Alex’s doorstep!”

"I wish they would replace you guys again."

“I wish they would replace you guys again.”

"Coach, interpletion isn't actually in our playbook."

“Coach, interpletion isn’t actually in our playbook.”

"It's still 10 AM Pacific time, we should be asleep."

“It’s still 10 AM Pacific time, we should be asleep.”

"Yeah, fuck it. Let's go for the onside kick."

“Yeah, fuck it. Let’s go for the onside kick.”

"Kiss and make up?"

“Kiss and make up?”

"We won a playoff game! I'm going to Disney World!"

“We won a playoff game! I’m going to Disney World!”

"So how about we let them hang around for 2, maybe 3 quarters?"

“So how about we let them hang around for 2, maybe 3 quarters?”

"Tom! There is literally no one within 50 feet of me!"

“Tom! There is literally no one within 50 feet of me!”

"You keep playing like this and I'm gonna have to put in the kid with the puffball hat."

“You keep playing like this and I’m gonna have to put in the kid with the puffball hat.”

"It has been an honor to continually lose here."

“It has been an honor to continually lose here.”

"NOTHING CAN STOP THE CLAWWWW!"

“NOTHING CAN STOP THE CLAWWWW!”

"I just want you to know, you're the only one I've ever really wanted to be ontop of."

“I just want you to know, you’re the only one I’ve ever really wanted to be ontop of.”

NFL Captions: Week 9

“Nope, defense is staying on the field. Apparently our best offense is just our defense.”

“It’s been a pleasure wondering why you aren’t as good as I think you are.”

“Congrats man, one more week of employment!”

“The fans seem less angsty this year.”

“One day, if you’re lucky, your hair will receed like mine.”

“You’re my white Marvin Harrison.”

“I know, but don’t let Joe know he’s not elite.”

“Beating the Browns, now that’s elite.”

“That guy would make a great extra in my next commercial.”

“Which receiver is this?”

“Good quarter guys, we’re gonna let the fans play the next 3 to even it out.”

“I forget whose turn it is to intercept it.”

“If I put the ball down here, they can’t find it.”

“Yeah! We have the same number of touchdowns!”

“You remind me a lot of this Peyton kid who once played here.”

“Not consensual!”

“Why not? Belichik can pull it off.”

“RG3 for Rookie of the Year!”

“Yeah, so have fun being the ‘better’ me.”

“We used to be Lions fans!”

“Why don’t we ever play any close games?”

“That dude took my number!”

“This has got to be a joke. NFL running can be this easy.”

“I actually caught that one!”

“Don’t get in the way of me winning forever!”

“I think you might win no-shave November.”

“No means no!”

“We could do worse…”

“Are you clapping sarcastically?”

NFL Captions: Week 7

“I don’t want my team to see what I’m yelling. You’re doing a great job!”

“Down boy.”

“Congratulations on being 90% of our offense.”

“Hey, I’m an elite quarterback down here.”

“I came back for this?”

“I don’t know guys, we’ve already used everything.”

“It’s a bird, it’s a plane… Oh shit, it’s an interception.”

“Hey defensive backs! 300, dead or alive!”

“We look even worse as Creamsicles.”

“You do realize there’s no way Goodell is going to let this game count?”

“Okay, you’re turn to lose the ball.”

“That’s five more wins than I thought we’d get!”

“Favre Style!”

“Discount double-kick!”

“Congrats on going straight from college to being an old, washed-up quarterback on an awful team.”

“Is this what a run is supposed to look like?”

“Thanks for showing up. See you next week?”

“Tag, you’re it!”

“Concussion symptoms on 3!”

“Did we win? Oh, cool.”

“Good game Bob.”

“Sideline, sweet sideline. You’ll be my new home.”

“Well, there goes Ruxin’s season.”

“No touching of the hair or face. That’s the rule sir.”

“Tebow-Time”

“So how do you like playing linebacker? Rex has me on the depth chart there next week.”

“Wait, you’re this team’s quarterback?”

“I honestly don’t recognize any of those guys playing running back.”

“Hey up there! This qualifies as consent.”

NFL Captions: Week 6

“Hey Roethlisberger, you’re a loser. With a lower case L.”

“Just throw up in your mouth a little bit?” “Yep.”

“Everybody’s hands go up…”

“And they stay there!”

“Who let that small child onto the field?”

“I’m not crying because we lost. I’m crying because we’re in Cleveland.”

“And good luck raising the bail money for half of your team next week.”

“Stop watching Star Wars before all our games. Force grip doesn’t exist.”

“Come help me plant this Bush.”

“First down, it’s a miracle!”

“Well, this is awkward…”

“Sorry Tim, I just saw my shadow so that’s three more weeks of Sanchez.”

“Ball still in my hand, this is progress.”

“Just don’t let him take a bite out of you.”

“Practice makes perfect coach.”

“Hashtag Quinn-ing”

“Maybe that whole ‘Wait until the last second to start playing’ theory was off.”

“He’s just as soft as the real thing, and has a higher QBR!”

“How’s that bench taste Orton?”

“Shhh! Don’t say they aren’t elite, they’re right behind you.”

“Next time you should sack him like this.”

“This man needs a doctor. His hype level is inappropriately high.”

“Hell, if Wes Welker can be an NFL player, I’m sure you can too.”

“Good job, guy who’s not Gronkowski.”

“Ref, you saw that! He touched me!”

“So when you catch a touchdown you’re supposed to have possession of the ball? Weird.”

“Look, as long as you don’t swallow your own tongue we’re going to keep you out there.”

“No man, I think ‘pondering’ is already a word.”

“Eli stay. Good boy.”

“Okay, on 3 I’ll throw this so-called ‘football’.”

“So when the defense is on the field, I stand over here?”

“We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”

“No means no!”

“What would David Tyree do?”

“I have no idea what just happened, but that is a really cool hat.”

“Undecided 2012!”

“Gangnam Stlye!”

“How does this work for a touchdown dance?”

“Huh, I guess Favre did teach me something.”

NFL Captions: Week 5 Monday Night Football

“Maybe you should try throwing it underhand.”

“Praise Tebow.”

“But Tebow Time is supposed to be more than 30 seconds!”

“Slap on the wrist for an incompletion.” “Then why do you still have wrists Mark?”

“Play call? This is my pocket bible.”