BOSTON — Jeff Van Gundy was the head coach of the Houston Rockets from 2003-07, and along with Daryl Morey as GM and Shane Battier on the roster, those teams have been credited with being the first to use advanced analytics to make decisions more than any other, and pushing the statistical movement into the spotlight.
But despite what the data showed, not all of those decisions were easy.
Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference on Friday, Morey recounted a tale of when the numbers showed that Dikembe Mutombo was a better on-court option than Yao Ming was. But when he wasn’t ready to use the data to pull the trigger on making the decision, Van Gundy called him out for questioning what the numbers showed.
“One of the things we showed, and I don’t know if you remember this Jeff, but we basically showed that Dikembe Mutombo was better than Yao Ming,” Morey said. “And Jeff correctly called me out, because I was like, well, it shows he’s better, but, nah, we’re going to play Yao. And he was like, ‘Well you either believe this sh-t or you don’t.'”
Morey still wasn’t ready to play Mutombo over Yao. But when at one point injuries forced his hand, it turned out that the numbers happened to be right.
“What was interesting was, when we had our winning streak — this was after Jeff left — about 12 games in, Yao goes down, and Dikembe comes in,” Morey said. “And we’re better! We were better.”
“I’m not saying [Mutombo] is better,” Morey said. “But it was interesting.”