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The Sixers and Big Data: Run With Us

We take a look inside the NBA statistical database to explore why an old Sixers' slogan is more appropriate now than it was when it first debuted six years ago.

Brett Brown's emphasis on physical fitness is already paying dividends.
Brett Brown's emphasis on physical fitness is already paying dividends.
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the start of last season, Philadelphia 76ers' head coach Brett Brown and his staff created customized fitness programs for each player on the 76ers' roster.

Much like the personalized smoothies and other innovations Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles have embraced a few blocks away at the NovaCare Complex, there was - and is - a method to Brown's madness. But while Brown was hired in large part due to his player development skills, we learned last season (and as Rich Hofmann wrote last summer) that the former San Antonio Spurs' assistant is much more than "Tim Grover with a clipboard."

The Sixers' offense is largely predicated on "pace and space", and the first of those two tenets requires players to be in peak physical condition. That's not to say that Brown subjects his roster to a steady diet of Taebo and T25 workouts, but 76ers' guard Tony Wroten knew early on that his new coach was all business when it came to the topic of fitness:

"When I first got here, not only did the coach e-mail me about it but also the strength and conditioning coaches, what summer was going to be like and this is what we are going to do."

"I knew they were serious. At the time, I was like what is this? This is like college, but Coach always says it is going to pay off in the long run and it has. We can run at the end of games. We are still pacing, so working on it in the summer helped a lot."

The early returns are positive: According to SportVU data, the Sixers covered 1438.8 miles on the court last season, second only to the world champion San Antonio Spurs. Three current or former Sixers - Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner - finished among the top 25 players in terms of miles traveled per game, and Carter-Williams's average speed (4.6 MPH) was the highest mark of any regular starter in the entire league.

No player on the Sixers recorded an average speed of less than four miles per hour in 2013-14. To put that in perspective, Washington Wizards' point guard John Wall's average speed last season was also 4.0 MPH.

Simply put, you have to be willing and able to run if you want playing time in Brett Brown's offense. No excuses.

"Being in shape is very cut-and-dry," said Brown in an interview with last September. "Either you weigh a certain amount of you don't. It's part of being a professional and collecting a professional pay check."

The Sixers' coaching staff realizes that while they don't have the talent to match up with most teams, there's nothing stopping them from ensuring that each player on the roster reaches "career-best fitness levels." There's a reason why Brown publicly called out Henry Sims last February for not being in shape, despite the fact that Sims was one of the more active frontcourt players the team has seen in years. And when Arnett Moultrie didn't meet Brown's standards for conditioning last season, he was sent down to the Delaware 87ers on two separate occasions.

The short-term dividends are clear: It would stand to reason that the teams who run the most are in pretty good shape, and - in theory - those teams should also have an edge over their opponents late in games.

By and large, the numbers seem to bear this point out: The Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers all finished in the top five in the NBA in terms of 4th quarter scoring, and all four franchises were among the top 20 percent of teams when it came to miles traveled per game.

But as we saw last year, the Sixers are a bit of a statistical anomaly in this area: No Eastern Conference team covered more ground, yet the 76ers averaged a paltry 24.3 points in the fourth quarters of games last season (20th in the NBA).

Of course, the team's inefficiency during the final 12 minutes of games can be partially attributed to the fact that most of their contests were blowouts. The Sixers' average margin through three quarters of -9.8 points was the lowest mark in the league.

Part (probably most) of the Sixers' scoring struggles were due to a lack of talent, but upgrades on that front will come in time. Laying the foundation for an aggressive fitness ideology was a "Day 1" objective for Brown, whose "Run With Us" style is the perfect complement to the current "Together We Build" mantra.

"Running, hustling and defense never go away," said Brown back in September. Here's to hoping that his approach to diet, exercise and nutrition is here to stay as well.

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