Daryl Morey had less than a month to prepare for the 2020 NBA Draft after the Sixers hired him as team president in late October. That was enough for him to walk away with one of the field’s best values in Tyrese Maxey, whom the Sixers snagged with the No. 21 overall pick and who has emerged as a promising point guard and valuable trade asset. This year, though, the board could look a lot different by the time the Sixers are on the clock at No. 28. And Morey could go in a lot of different directions.
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During his time in Houston, Morey usually entered draft day in a situation similar to the one he now finds himself with the Sixers. A good team, a late pick, a crucial free-agent signing period looming. While every year is different, a look back at his track record with the Rockets yields some recognizable patterns. What will the Sixers do on draft night? The answer might lie in one of the following three maxims:
1) Draft picks are as much a medium of exchange as they are a vehicle for capital investment. Spend where their value is highest.
In Morey’s 13 seasons with the Rockets, he only drafted 10 players who remained with the team. To put that in perspective, the Sixers have drafted 10 players in the last five drafts who have played at least one game for them. In fact, between 2007-19, the Rockets selected nearly as many players for other teams as they did for themselves, trading away seven of them before the start of their rookie season. These have included draft-day deals (Nicolas Batum, Nikola Mirotic) and deals in the months leading up to the season (Jeremy Lamb).
Generally speaking, Morey-nomics says that late first-round picks have more value on the veteran trade market than they do in the actual draft. In each of his last four drafts as Houston GM, Morey entered draft day without a first-round pick. His 2016 pick was traded for Ty Lawson and a second-rounder the previous summer. He traded his 2017 pick at the trade deadline for Lou Williams. The Rockets’ 2018 first-round pick was part of the deal that landed them Chris Paul. And their 2019 pick was swapped for a trade deadline package that included Iman Shumpert.
Morey’s history suggests that the Sixers are as likely to land a veteran with the No. 28 pick as they are to come away with an amateur. One potential outcome is for the Sixers to combine the pick with the $8.2 million trade exception they have as a result of the Al Horford deal last year. The exception, which expires in December, allows the Sixers to add up to $8.2 million in salary without shedding any from their current payroll. That’s enough to land a veteran who could offer them some rotation optionality and who would also give them another contract to deal at the deadline. Veterans in that salary range include Rockets point guard D.J. Augustin ($7 million), who has averaged 10.2 points and 4.3 assists while shooting 39.8% from three-point range over the last four seasons. Or Nuggets four-man JaMychal Green ($7.6 million), who is a 39.5% shooter from three-point range over the last three seasons and could make some sense as an offset to any Ben Simmons departure.
2) Don’t be afraid of calculated risks, but learn from your failures.
Witness his 2012 draft day acquisition of Jonny Flynn, a move that he probably did not include on his resume when interviewing with the Sixers. In addition to fourth-year forward Chandler Parsons, Houston traded a future first-round pick and Nikola Mirotic, whom they had drafted at No. 23, in order to acquire Donatas Motiejūnas, whom the Timberwolves had drafted at No. 20, and Flynn, the former Syracuse star who was the No. 6 overall pick two years prior. Flynn played just 11 games for Houston and was out of the league the next season, while Motiejūnasspent four years in Houston as a borderline rotation player.
Morey’s track record is full of similar deals, albeit not all of them on draft day, and with varying results. When Houston acquired a 22-year-old Kyle Lowry in Feb. of 2009 in exchange for Rafer Alston, Lowry was shooting just 26% from three-point range in 169 career games. In Feb. 2013, he acquired the previous year’s No. 5 overall pick in Thomas Robinson, who finished the season in Houston and then was traded over the summer. Morey also traded for Hasheem Thabeet two years after he went No. 2 overall, and Marquess Chriss two years after he went at No. 8.
3) It is difficult to find value at the end of the first round. But it isn’t impossible.
Morey’s most notable success is Clint Capela, who he snagged at No. 25 in 2014. Selecting Marcus Morris at No. 14 in 2011 sounds like a solid pick until you consider the fact that the next two picks that year were Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Vucevic, and that Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler also went later in the first round. That said, Morey has been able to find solid rotation players when the pickings were slim.
Take his first draft in Houston, when the Rockets selected Aaron Brooks at No. 26 overall. The former Oregon point guard started 129 games for the Rockets, including 82 in his third season, when he averaged 19.6 points and shot 39.8% from three-point range. The following season, Morey shipped Brooks to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick.
In 2010, when the Rockets were on the clock at No. 14, there were only three players left on the board who would go on to play more than 12,000 minutes in their careers (to date). Morey landed one of them in Patrick Peterson, who would average 21.9 minutes per game for Houston over 2 1/2 seasons before he was traded in the deal for Robinson.
In 2012, he drafted Terrence Jones at No. 18. Jones didn’t have much of a career for the Rockets, but there was only one player drafted in the rest of the first round who has accumulated at least 7,000 career minutes (Evan Fournier). The second round was where the players ended up: Jae Crowder, Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Will Barton, Mike Scott, and Tomas Satoransky.
Right now, Maxey looks like he has the potential to play his way toward the top of this list. Or, he could wind up like so many of the players who passed through Houston during Morey’s tenure there: on his way to some other city.