The Philadelphia 76ers have become the face of the analytic push that is pervading professional sports. They morphed from an anti-analytical franchise under Doug Collins and company to an organization that embraces analytics and all the extra information it affords to decision-making with Sam Hinkie at the helm.
Since taking control of the franchise in the summer of 2013, Hinkie has completely gutted the roster, cleared the cap, poised the team for financial flexibility and stockpiled picks, while trading away a (one-time) All-Star in Jrue Holiday, a reigning Rookie of the Year in Michael Carter-Williams, and numerous role players with clunky contracts like Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young.
"I'm trying to use information to make decisions, the same way you do," Hinkie explained shortly after his hire by the Sixers.
"You use analytics when you open your iPhone and try to figure out if it is going to rain today. All you're using is lots and lots of data and it's helping you to make an informed decision about whether you should bring an umbrella or not. That's the way I think about it."
Hinkie's explaniation makes it seem simple; why wouldn't you want as much information as possible before making a decision?
The approach still has its detractors however, and it, and Hinkie, likely will until the Sixers see some success.
Current outcomes aside, the Sixers are clearly in the front of the field when it comes to the application of analytics, and a recent study confirms such.
ESPN recently released 'The Great Analytics Rankings,' which attempts to assess how every team in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL utilizes advanced metrics. Their evaluation is explained as follows:
"The magazine unleashed [experts] on all 122 teams in a quest to rank each on the strength of its analytics staff, its buy-in from execs and coaches, its investment in biometric data, and how much its approach is predicated on analytics."
Not so surprisingly, the Sixers ranked as the top team in all of professional sports in terms of their investment in an analytical approach. From ESPN:
"When Philly hired Sam Hinkie in May 2013, the team became a test case for the GM's plan: dump overvalued mediocrity, lose (a lot) with cheap role players and load up on picks. With five staffers devoted to picking apart the CBA, mining player health and minting theories on roster construction, Hinkie has topped his former boss, Rockets GM Daryl Morey, as the NBA's most ardent analytic master. "He has a vision," says Sixers forward Robert Covington. 'We're going to turn this around.'"
Unlike his predecessors, Hinkie continues to make moves that will benefit the franchise's future, both in terms of asset acquisition and financial flexibility. However, until the Sixers see some success as a result of Hinkie's move-making, skepticism is expected.
Somewhat ironically, the Sixers' South Philadelphia neighbor, the Phillies, ranked dead last on ESPN's list.