Despite Recent Trends, Daryl Morey is Not Anti-Big Man

USA Today Sports

Did you notice that Daryl Morey had a lot of great things to say about Joel Embiid at Monday’s press conference?

The Sixers’ new President of Basketball Operations said “all of the right things” on his introductory Zoom call, but spoke especially glowingly about the team’s 7’2″ big man while Ben Simmons seemed to be a peripheral mention. That’s my take, so don’t get it twisted. I personally believe, in reading between the lines, that Morey seemed to be a little more enthusiastic about Embiid than Simmons, but that can be interpreted differently by individual fans and media.

For now, let’s talk about the narrative that Morey loves small ball and hates big men. It’s not true, or at least it was not in the past. For all the talk about spreading the floor and chucking threes and playing without a legitimate center on the floor in Houston, this is the same Morey who won 50+ games with Yao Ming and Luis Scola and gave a lot of money to Clint Capela before trading him to to the Hawks.

Said Morey in his very first answer to the very first question:

“There aren’t many opportunities where you get a chance to win, and I really felt like this was the right fit. Joel is a dominant, dominant big man. I’m excited to get back to that. I worked with Yao Ming and we got very close in Houston with Yao Ming. I think we can go all the way with Joel.”

Case closed right there.

And sure, that was a long time ago, more than ten years, so you wonder how relevant it is in 2020, in the modern day NBA, where three-point shooting and analytics are much more prominent than they were 10 years ago.

Here was another response where Morey brought up Embiid without mentioning Simmons:

“I’d say that how we play is going to be up to Doc, and that’s one reason I’m excited to be here, to work with a championship coach like Doc. I think he agrees, and he can jump in, but the best way to win in the NBA is to take your talents and figure out how to utilize them the best. It’s not to take your talent and hammer it into a particular system. It’s to try to get the most out of who you have. It doesn’t take much to look at when Joel is on the floor and healthy, and he’s been in here twice a day for quite a while, he’s very focused and motivated – that this is an unbelievable defensive team. And he’s an extremely good offensive player. He’s the kind of player you win championships with. We were trying to build the best kind of team around our talent in Houston, but here Doc is gonna take the talent we have and use them to the best of their ability.” 

Again, no mention of Simmons, so read between the lines there if you want.

For some background, here are some of the big men Morey had during his Houston tenure, which ran from 2007 to 2020:

  • Yao Ming (won 53 games in 2009 and lost 4-3 to Lakers in conference semifinals)
  • Chuck Hayes
  • Dikembe Mutombo
  • Luis Scola
  • Omer Asik
  • Dwight Howard
  • Donatas Motiejūnas
  • Clint Capela
  • Nene


And a few others. They only recently got away from bigs, and tried the ultra-small ball routine with Mike D’Antoni coaching a unique superstar in James Harden.

But there are plenty of examples to suggest that Morey is not married to small ball. This same Houston franchise won 56 games with Kevin McHale at the helm and Howard and Motiejunas playing 28 minutes per game. Rick Adelman won 53 games with Yao, Hayes, and Scola. Different styles of play for different rosters.

Morey and Rivers will create a system to fit the squad, and they won’t necessarily try to replicate what they did elsewhere…

…unless a blockbuster trade is coming down the pike. We’ll see!

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