Predictably, one of the main themes during Sam Hinkie's introductory press conference on Tuesday was his belief in advanced statistical analysis. It was mentioned during the introductory statement made by Joshua Harris as well as Hinkie's, and it was the first question asked by reporters.
Hinkie went to considerable effort to explain that the gap between how he values statistics and how more traditionally minded analysts value statistics isn't as wide as is popularly believed.
"I started my career out of college in the business world. Using data to help people make complicated decisions. It turns out it helps. It helps a lot," new 76ers president and general manager Sam Hinkie said about advanced statistics. "[But] It's not everything."
"I'm trying to use information to make decisions. The same way you do," Hinkie would go on to explain. "You use analytics when you open your iPhone and try to figure out if it's going to rain today. All you're using is lots and lots of data and it's helping you make an informed decision about whether you should bring an umbrella or not. That's the way I think about it."
As I argued the other day, the bridge really isn't all that wide, and the notion that he would be using statistics and only statistics to make a decision is one made up largely by those who have not made much of a sincere effort to understand the statistics they so readily deride.
Harris and Hinkie made similar statements that statistics are not the only piece of the puzzle.
"When we talk about analytics we're not talking about going into a back room with a bunch of computers," Harris explained. "We're talking about adding to a very strong player [personnel] department and a more traditional front office."
"In every industry you're still relying on the judgement and experience and wisdom of smart, committed, loyal employees who have been at this a long time," said Hinkie. "I want differential information. That might be from some snazzy, advanced something, and that might be from a conversation you had with that player's brother. "
Hinkie didn't believe that finding a coach who embraced such a philosophy would be all that difficult.
"I think they all want to win. I think they all want to use the best information they can," Hinkie said. "I think more and more, as [teams] are really invested in this, [coaches] say 'This is helpful. This will help me.'"
Still, there is plenty of resistance among more traditionally minded people in the sport, both in front offices and in the media. It's curious, since the practice of using statistics to help make an informed decision isn't all that uncommon in every walk of life. Surely we would not argue that continuing to evolve the statistics we use to predict the weather and natural disasters would be a bad thing.
So why such resistance?
"I tell people that change is hard for all of us. Look at me 30 years from now and try to talk me out of my position and what's been successful for me for my whole career. I suspect I won't be nearly as pliable," Hinkie postulated.
"I think some people move along quickly [in adopting new techniques] and I think others don't," Hinkie said. "I think that's okay. If you've been doing something a very long time, you should guard it closely...I hope [a coach] doesn't change his mind every time somebody has a conversation with him and presents a case. There ought to be a very high threshold [to change]."
The other major reason Hinkie stated, besides a resistance to change, is how the practice of using advanced statistics is presented.
"I think part of it is the tone people deal with each other in, which I've tried really, really hard not to do," Hinkie said.
I spent some time speaking with Aaron Barzilai, the 76ers director of analytics, about that same problem after the press conference. He told me that he has found that you can be as sure as can be about something, but that it can be dismissed if you come off as dismissive of others opinions.
On a side note, Aaron Barzilai recognized my name as the one who broke the story of his hiring last fall. He had no idea why anybody would care. We care because it was a monumental step in a direction that we had been hoping the franchise would go in for years. It was the first step in the process that would lead the 76ers to this point, and it was very important.
Reaffirming the belief in process
Another thing that was nice to hear was Sam Hinkie reaffirming that he believes in process, not outcome.
"One of the things that made this even more attractive to me was Josh [Harris] standing up publicly and saying 'that is a decision I would do again'," Hinkie explained when referring to the Bynum trade last year.
"That is very, very, very important to me. We talked a lot about process, not outcome. About trying to consistently take all the best information you can get and make consistently good decisions."
"Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. You should re-evaluate them all, but the fact that [Harris] can stand up after what was considered, and is fair to say, was such a failure, and say that's a decision he would do again, that means a lot to someone like me."
Team building and the draft
Besides discussing analytics, Andrew Bynum, and the coaching search, Sam Hinkie also spent some time on Tuesday talking about the team building process.
"I want to build a leading basketball operations that consistently makes high quality decisions," Hinkie said. "Just beating the average by a bit, in a pool of 30 competitors, will serve only to disappoint us in the long run."
Hinkie was asked specifically about taking a step backward in order to get the assets he needed to build a contender.
"I start with an end in mind. In everything. And I'll encourage our staff to do the same," Hinkie explained. "The mantra here has been very clear, which is to compete for championships. History, for the most part, especially recently, especially in the current environment, with the current rules and the current collective bargaining agreement, history has been reasonably clear that superstar players matter."
The focus on the draft wasn't just to draft a superstar, though, but also to accumulate assets which can be used in a trade to acquire a superstar.
"We talk about trading for some superstar, often that's a function of drafting well in the past and being able to use those pieces to trade for a superstar," Hinkie said.
The philosophy would be very similar to one Houston just went through, which culminated in landing James Harden.
"We all [in Houston] felt quite fortunate about [getting Harden], but it was a very long process. Literally over a dozen moves all summed up to [the Harden trade]," Hinkie said.
With all that said, should we expect for the 76ers to sit on their hands, save up their cap space for next offseason, get the best draft pick possible and try to pounce in free agency with their cap space?
"If you were to go down that path [of saving cap space for next year] you'd have to believe you could put yourself in a position to be competitive [in convincng players to come to Philly]," Hinkie said. "And if you could, I wouldn't disagree with it that it is a reasonable set of choices [to go that route], but that is by no means the favorite coming out of the barn, at all."
Regret over not doing this last year?
What was interesting was Joshua Harris admitting that, for some of the moves last offseason, they did not have a good process behind it.
"In some ways, in terms of some of the moves that had been made the prior season not working out exactly as we had planned, were not being made in hindsight with good process," Harris stated. "They weren't good decisions."
Harris has publicly stated that there were some moves made last offseason that he wouldn't do again - he reaffirmed Tuesday that Bynum was not one of them - but this was the hardest he had come down on the previous decision makers.
It also sounded like he viewed not hiring Hinkie last offseason as a mistake.
"We were very, very impressed [with Sam last year]. But, for a lot of those reasons, the success of they team and otherwise, we decided to hold off making the decision [to bring Sam in]," Harris said. "When everything's going well, my general view is not to make a bunch of changes, particularly when I'm new to a league."
Hinkie's opinion on what to do with Bynum
Initially, Hinkie seemed like he didn't have much interest in Bynum, likely due to the risks Bynum's injured past presents.
"I think of Andrew [Bynum] like the thousands of other young men walking around the world that are unrestricted free agents that have potential to play NBA basketball," Hinkie explained. "I am duty bound to consider them, and to look at them. All of them."
However, as the press conference went on, Hinkie kept mentioning that he did not have enough data to make a judgement one way or the other about Bynum.
"I think the Sixers should have an enormous information advantage [about Bynum], based on all the information that exists in house. My first duty is to get up to speed on that information," Hinkie said.
Later, when asked whether re-signing Bynum this offseason would be an intelligent risk, Hinkie flat out said that he didn't know enough at this time.