Daryl Morey believes two bad shots are better than one good shot (always), but data wasn’t significant enough for Jeff Van Gundy to change


BOSTON — There was a time when Rockets general manager Daryl Morey believed that getting two bad shots was better than one good shot — always. And maybe, he still does.

But while the statistical data may show that, it’s not always easy to get a head coach to buy in, and make that strategy a part of his team’s routine — especially when the amount it may change a club’s fortunes in terms of wins and losses is proven to be statistically minimal, at best.

Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday, Morey recounted a story about trying to change then-head coach Jeff Van Gundy’s mind where two-for-one opportunities are concerned. These situations can come up at the end of each quarter, when a team has the chance to shoot the ball with maybe 30 or more seconds remaining in the period, in order to ensure they get it back in time (thanks to the other team needing to shoot it before the 24-second clock expires) for one more potentially-critical possession.

“Jeff had never been in favor of two-for-one,” Morey said. “It made no sense (to him) whatsoever. And basically I was like, why are we not doing this? There’s 100,000 trials, and it doesn’t matter who’s on the floor, it doesn’t matter the context — two bad shots are better than one good shot. Always. There’s like, no exception.

“So I was like, why are we not doing this? And Jeff, of course, is very smart. So he said, ‘OK. If I do that two-for-one thing, every time instead of not, how much more are we going to win?’ I was like, oh. That’s a good question. So I went back. And I was like, we’ll win … one more game every two years.

“And he was like, ‘I’m not doing that!'”

Extra possessions are to be valued in basketball, certainly. But it’s long been believed that two-for-one shots indeed end up in two poor attempts — the first one is rushed due to time constraints, and the second one usually comes in isolation, forced up over one or more defenders just before the clock expires.

But while the percentages of success are extremely small (i.e., making both of these unnecessarily difficult, somewhat forced shots), the numbers do show an advantage to adopting this strategy, however small it may be. Still, this is the challenge for those at the forefront of using the data to make sound decisions — convincing those on the court calling the shots that what the numbers say to do is indeed the right choice.

“I think this is where analytics gets a little confused,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not what you know, it’s what you can impart on people like coaches that don’t believe in it, so that they will then get it to their team.

“So I think what’s been undersold in all this is not this term (analytics), it’s trying to analyze and make the best decision for the team. And what he did was, he made me as a coach — if I disagreed with him for something like this two-for-one — you have to sit back, and if the numbers say I should do it, it makes you think. If the numbers are saying it and I’m not doing it, why am I not doing it? And then try to come to some reasonable explanation.

“And often times, and even on that one, if I’m wrong, I should change.”