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Morey and the “No-Star” Rockets

Posted by Justin Kubatko on April 8, 2010

This morning, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted the following:

Season ending 2 soon but some hope-we are best tm ever without an all-star player

Henry Abbott then followed up with Morey, as Abbott (and I'm sure many others, including me) was unsure what Morey's criteria were. Morey responded:

[The Rockets are the] only team since ABA/NBA merger (1976) with over a .500 record without an All-Star playing over 100 minutes.

Abbott also wrote:

[Morey] went on to explain that by "All-Star" he meant anyone who had ever been an All-Star, not just a current one [...]

My first reaction to this was "Is Morey correct?" My second reaction? "Wait a second, I can easily check this." So I did...

Starting with the first season after the merger (1976-77), I looked for all teams whose total minutes contribution from All-Stars was less than or equal to 100. In determining which players should be considered All-Stars, I looked at all All-Star Game selections up to and including the season in question. (I later found that this was not the definition that Morey used, but more on that in a second.) I found 82 teams that met my criteria. However, the 2009-10 Houston Rockets were not at the top of the list when I sorted by descending wins:

+------+------+------+--------+-------+
| Year | Team | Wins | Losses | AS MP |
+------+------+------+--------+-------+
| 2004 | MEM  |   50 |     32 |     0 | 
| 1983 | KCK  |   45 |     37 |     0 | 
| 2005 | MEM  |   45 |     37 |     0 | 
| 2004 | DEN  |   43 |     39 |     0 | 
| 1994 | MIA  |   42 |     40 |     0 | 
| 1987 | IND  |   41 |     41 |     0 | 
| 2006 | CHI  |   41 |     41 |     0 | 
| 2010 | HOU  |   40 |     38 |    46 | 
| 1992 | NJN  |   40 |     42 |     0 | 
| 2008 | PHI  |   40 |     42 |     0 | 
+------+------+------+--------+-------+

Now, obviously I'm doing something different from Morey, and it's the way I'm counting All-Stars. For example, in 2003-04 the Grizzlies did not have a single player who had been an All-Star selection, but since that time Pau Gasol has been selected to three All-Star Games. Should the fact that Gasol was selected to an All-Star Game two years later really disqualify the 2004 Grizzlies? I don't think it should, but regardless, I adjusted my definition of an All-Star and included selections before, during, or after the season in question:

+------+------+------+--------+-------+
| Year | Team | Wins | Losses | AS MP |
+------+------+------+--------+-------+
| 1987 | IND  |   41 |     41 |     0 | 
| 2006 | CHI  |   41 |     41 |     0 | 
| 2010 | HOU  |   40 |     38 |    46 | 
| 2008 | PHI  |   40 |     42 |     0 | 
| 1991 | ORL  |   31 |     51 |     0 | 
| 2001 | LAC  |   31 |     51 |     0 | 
| 1997 | TOR  |   30 |     52 |     0 | 
| 2003 | CHI  |   30 |     52 |     0 | 
| 1991 | MIN  |   29 |     53 |     0 | 
| 1996 | LAC  |   29 |     53 |     0 | 
| 2009 | GSW  |   29 |     53 |     0 | 
+------+------+------+--------+-------+

This must be the definition Morey was using, but there are two points worth making:

  • The Rockets still need to win two more games to clinch a winning record and the top spot on this list.
  • If any one of the Rockets regular players (Kevin Martin, Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, etc.) is selected to an All-Star Game in the future, the 2009-10 Rockets will drop off of this list.

In my opinion, it's the latter point that is most important. The way Morey has defined minutes played by an All-Star means that teams of recent vintage have an unfair advantage, as we don't know if any of these players will become All-Stars in the future. There's also the issue that, as we move forward, teams will be dropped from this list if/when their players become All-Star selections.

Let me close by making two more points:

  • None of this is meant to disparage what the Rockets have done. I did not think they would be a .500 team without Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, and they have proven me (and many other analysts) wrong. I also think that Morey has done a brilliant job this season, keeping the team competitive while, at the same time, setting them up nicely for the future. But...
  • Morey's statement doesn't mean a whole lot, because he's using what I consider to be a faulty definition of All-Star players, not to mention that in two or three years the Rockets may not even qualify for the list using his criteria. The 2009-10 Rockets are a good story, and they don't need anecdotes like this to prop them up.

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7 Responses to “Morey and the “No-Star” Rockets”

  1. mrparker Says:

    Yeah but probably the least wins per minutes spent in front of a computer by any GM in the history of the NBA.

  2. Chronz Says:

    All-Star caliber players still count as All-Stars in my book, this Rocket teams reminds me alot of the 00 Magic who had a young scrappy Ben Wallace/Bo Outlaw filling the stopper roles Chuck Hayes and Battier perfected, Armstrong filling the energetic midget role(Brooks) with quality backups Chucky Atkins(Lowry) behind them, Ron Mercey/Tariq filling the prolific chucker role (Ariza). Theres no one quite like Scolandry though and thats what makes them better but both teams overachieved and were ready to take the next step the following year with FA splurges. Grant Hill and Tmac were suppose to do that, I just hope Yao+Kevin Martin are enough.

  3. Walter Says:

    This is totally ridiculous. Pau Gasol is not considered an all star because he made the team later, he's an all star because he played at that level on Memphis. In 04 he didn't make the team because the West was LOADED with elite front court players which realistically only means Pau was that much more of an all star since he was an uber-successful franchise player vs incredibly tight competition. It's totally silly that you failed to mention that Pau's Griz played in the most intensely competitive conference of all time. If Kevin Martin becomes an all-star later will it really make a difference anyway since he was only there for 20 games? It's not like he boosted their record anyway. If anything having to adjust to losing Landry and incorporating Martin cost them wins and the playoffs.

    Then you criticize Morey's 'definition of an all star' when his point obviously was that no team without legit stars has ever played this well. I'll bring into question your definition of 'better' since you seem to think one more win is significant of anything given that you've got the Bulls in 06, playing in one of the weakest conferences ever, and imply it's in any way comparable to winning the same games in the packed West.

  4. Walter Says:

    All Star is another way of saying 'elite player'. I think it just makes sense. Even if you look at those Bulls, Loul Deng was an elite player. Brandon Jennings is elite. Melo, Nene, Camby are elite. Even Ben Gordon. Aaron Brooks, Chuck Hayes,, Battier, Landry, even Scola are role players, not elite players.

  5. david Says:

    walter,
    Are you seriously calling Luol Deng elite. He is a role player at best!

  6. Hank Says:

    After watching him in Portland, Sacramento, and now Houston, I've concluded that Rick Adelman is the best coach in the NBA. Any way to test that hypothesis statistically? Actual wins vs. wins predicted by the players' stats? Who else is in contention?

  7. Josh Says:

    Brad Miller was an allstar twice. The rockets do not qualify for this achievement this year.