With the 76ers decision to hire Sam Hinkie as their new President and General Manager, it proves that their strategy for winning and building a new team is deeply embedded in advanced analytics – or the moneyball approach – something basketball teams are just beginning to embrace.
Sam Hinkie, formerly the Houston Rockets’ Executive VP of Basketball Operations, proves to be an analytics guru on and off the court. Hinkie recently spoke at the M.I.T. Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, a yearly conference attended by statisticians across each of the major sports leagues, about the analytics revolution in basketball. With an MBA from Stanford, this sharp professional is no stranger to number crunching and previously advised N.F.L. teams on improving their draft strategies.
Hinkie believes that understanding the core philosophy of advanced statistical analysis requires a familiarity with the economic theory of valuation. When questioned, Hinkie can easily justify how ranking players beyond their shooting percentage, rebounds, and assists can provide better insights as to individual player performance.
Although his approach may be similar to 22 of the 30 professional basketball teams in the league that have an analytics department, Hinkie sets his strategy apart by pointing out that the data he will be collecting is different from the current data used for player evaluation.
In theory, it sounds logical and smart, but there are still some skeptics who question the value of the weight of analytics on decision-making.
When former 76ers head coach Larry Brown was asked about the hiring decision and shift in mentality, he responded, “I’m not that kind of guy. You’re asking the wrong guy. This is not baseball. Guys hit better during the day than they do at night. You have lefties and righties. But this is not baseball. In this league, it’s about teaching players and making them better.”
But Brown didn’t completely deem the role of analytics in building a better basketball team as a failing strategy.
“All the information, I’m sure, helps,” Brown said. “But at the end of the day, this is a basketball town. They love kids that play hard, play together, play smart. And the best way to tell that about a kid is to look him in the eye in the most crucial moments of a game. That tells you so much. But you have to give this a chance,” said Brown.
Only time will tell if this approach can bring a championship win to the city of Philadelphia.
Image credit: Philadelphia 76ers Press Release, May 14, 2013