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By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Analaytics Era has begun for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The team today introduced their new general manager and president of basketball operations, former Houston Rockets Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations. Hinkie is one of the leaders of the NBA’s advanced analytic movement, and spearheaded that effort with Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. Morey founded the MIT Sloan Conference, the premier advanced statistics conference for professional sports.
“This is the most important hire we’ve made since buying the team,” Sixers owner Josh Harris said. “The NBA is a very competitive environment, an in order to achieve long term success there are no shortcuts. It’s clear to me that Sam’s vlaues are consistent with mine.
“The challenge in front of us is not for the faint of heart, it humbles me in fact,” Hinkie said. “I hope to be a steward of this franchise for a long time.”
“This is a hard league, and everyone is trying to do the same thing. There are no bullets.”
Harris promised a move toward analytics when he spoke to the media after the resignation of head coach Doug Collins. The Sixers hired Aaron Barzilai as their Director of Analytics prior to last season. Collins mentioned after the hiring that he’d “blow his brains out,” if he had to read advanced statistical analysis after games. So it’s fair to assume Barzalai hasn’t had much input prior to this.
One of the things that convinced Hinkie to leave Houston, and a job he said he couldn’t imagine leaving, was a belief in ownership. He said he found that in the Sixers. “I couldn’t imagine leaving Houston, a team that is on the cusp of doing something special without being sure of my new partners,” Hinkie said.
“I’m confident that Josh Harris, David Blitzer, will be key for building something special in Philadelphia, ” Hinkie said. “Tough, passionate, fair, incredibly bright, and long horizon type investors.”
One of the things that impressed Hinkie most about Josh Harris was his handling of the Andrew Bynum situation. Harris said after the season that he was disappointed in how the trade worked out, but he’d do it again if he had the chance. “That means a lot,” Hinkie said. “I like smart risks, I’m not afraid to be aggressive.”
Reaction to the hiring among basketball experts has been very positive. Grantland’s Zach Lowe called the hiring “fantastic,” and that Hinkie is as smart a basketball person as he’s come across in the NBA. Patrick Harrel of the Rockets blog The Dream Shake, said “the Rockets lose a tremendous asset in their front office. Hinkie was a pioneer of analytics in the statistically-minded Rockets front office and was a big reason why the Rockets were always on the cutting edge in analytics. He had a huge role in the Rockets’ use of SportVU technology to track the players at all times, and is extremely well-respected around the league for his skills in player evaluation.”
Though Hinkie is known as an analytics-expert, he’s also known as very into the scouting process. “What we try to do is draw a clearer picture,” Hinkie said in 2008. The data “trend will continue to be a part of our business, along with the judgment of experienced basketball evaluators and the unique chemistry building that coaches can create. This is yet another piece.”
“When we talk about analytics, we’re not talking about going into the back room with a bunch of computers,” Harris said. “Sam is an innovator. He maintains a strong commitment to traditional approaches.”
The Sixers are also one of fifteen NBA teams to have player tracking technology from a company called STATS, in the form of SportVU cameras. These are extra cameras installed at the Wells Fargo Center that help further analyze play the team’s play.
Hinkie replaces Tony DiLeo as general manager, and fills the role of team president Rod Thorn, who will remain with the team as a consultant. Collins was previously the final word on personnel issues for the team, and will also remain a consultant to owner Josh Harris.
One of the biggest jobs Hinkie will face right away is hiring a new coach to replace Collins. Hinkie says he has specific traits he’ll look for in that coach. “I like people who are hard working and diligent,” Hinkie said. “Player development is important, and a shared philosophy about X’s and O’s.”
“I think it’s all too often overstated about how analytically minded a head coach needs to be. They all want to win, and they all try to use the best information they can,” he said.
Hinkie said there is no timeline for hiring a coach, and that finding the “right” coach is more important than finding him quickly.
Hinkie, 35 years-old, was the youngest VP in NBA history in 2007, and was promoted to Executive VP of Basketball Operations in 2010 under current general manager Daryl Morey.
Hinkie graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a 4.0 GPA, and holds an MBA from Stanford University.
“We will relentlessly seek change,” Harris said. They found it in Hinkie. Now they’ll see if it was the right kind.