Sam Hinkie and the Importance of Information

Sam Hinkie has been a controversial figure since the moment he took over as general manager for the Philadelphia 76ers. His unabashed disregard for current wins and losses in favor of future outlook is highly radical within the sports world, already setting Hinkie up as an outsider. He has compounded that effect by refusing to speak on the record to the media on most occasions, only rarely allowing for interviews or press conferences.

In part because of his eschewal of current win totals, and in part because of his tight-lipped comport, Hinkie has been a divisive figure. To his detractors, he is a deluded, self-proclaimed savior, spurning traditional values and ideas for his treasured analytics. Every move he makes seems to be a slap in the face to the "morals" of the game.

His supporters, meanwhile, view him as a trailblazing, genius maverick, ahead of the curve in everything he does. Dialogue among this faction can make it seem as though simple steps that any management would take are strokes of brilliance from the punctilious genius.

Both camps talk about The Plan. Capital "T." Capital "P." The Plan. For his supporters, The Plan is proof of Hinkie’s genius, a tangible, quantifiable medium through which the 76ers will eventually attain superiority. For his detractors, it’s a risible ploy, a false messianic device that boosts his esteem even while the results on the court slog on in mediocrity ad infinitum.

The reality is that there is no "Plan" in which Hinkie carefully plots the future of the franchise as he sees best. He said as much himself in his deadline day presser with the local media, commenting on the virtue of embracing uncertainty, while admitting that player evaluation is an inexact science, and that the team will not "bat 1.000" on its draft picks and trades. He doesn’t know exactly how the Sixers’ future will unfold, and that is okay.

What remains instead is a decision-making process steeped in fastidiousness. Hinkie operates based on a specific plan of action, not an obscure, arcane "Plan" percolating in his head and his alone. In that way, he is no different from the vast majority of general managers in the league. All GM’s must have principles in which they believe and are confident endorsing. For Hinkie, those principles are imbued with three main things—attaining star-level players, maximizing value from his players and assets, and, especially, making decisions based on the maximum amount of information possible

All three of these are principles are logical, and are likely shared, to some degree, by managers around the league. Hinkie seems to differ from many GM’s only in his commitment to these particular principles. To him, nothing matters without stars on his team. Moving beyond the star acquisition phase without having actually acquired multiple stars runs counter to Hinkie’s core belief. In this regard, having a player of Michael Carter-Williams’ ability is less beneficial to Hinkie’s ultimate goal than having an asset he could potentially turn into one of those stars. He will continue to move on from above average players who lack star potential if it means increasing his chances of finding a true star. He has demonstrated this with his trade last Thursday, as well as the Jrue Holiday that started his tenure in the most conspicuous of manners.

Similarly, he is extreme in his commitment to each of the second two principles. Because he values having the flexibility to improve the team in as many ways as he can, maximizing the value of his own assets is paramount. Paying above market value is bad practice, and he is ardent in his consistency on that front.

The final tine of Hinkie’s approach is the one that he embraces most staunchly, and the one for which the media has been most willing to criticize him. Hinkie has said about his decision-making process, "I believe a lot in making a decision as late as you possibly can to gain as much information as you can…That is really important, in part because you know so much more. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you know exactly what you knew before. Sometimes the world changes and you know a lot more than you did."

It is this approach, this resolve to know as much as possible, that has led Hinkie to invest so much time, energy, and resources into analytics. And this is the key point—analytics is merely an additional method of gaining information, not a completely different way of assessing the game for nerds. For Hinkie, information is king. Every decision he makes needs to be as informed as possible, and by allotting more resources, whether that is scouts at games, analysts working on new metrics, analysts working with advanced stats, or cap mavens specializing in the collective bargaining agreement, it all contributes to the wealth of information that Hinkie is trying to attain.

In essence, Hinkie’s entire job can be summed up in two words: decision-making. The more information you have, the more informed your decisions can be. Hinkie has demonstrated this commitment time and time again. He’s in the information business. He isn’t going to give any away, but he’s going to take every little bit that is being given away.

When any 76ers-centered reporting takes place, the first question we should ask ourselves, as fans, is, "What information did Hinkie have access to, and how did he use it to make his decision?" The reality is that each and every one of the moves he has made has been logical and thought-out. It’s just a matter of understanding how fully dedicated he is to his own principles and of how much information he has about the players involved.

In that regard, he is really no different from any other GM. He makes decisions based on a set of criteria that may differ slightly from the rest, but he’s playing the same game as everyone else. As Hinkie said himself, "We don’t have any hubris that we will get them all right. We’re not certain that we have an enormous edge over anybody else, and in some places we may not have an edge at all. And that’s okay. It’s a hard league with 30 sets of competitive teams that are trying to clamber to the top of the same mountain." The only way Hinkie is going to be able to get there first is by amassing more information and by sticking to his principles.

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