Sam Hinkie Hire Suggests Philadelphia 76ers Are Finally Thinking Big Picture

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2013

The Philadelphia 76ers' search for a new general manager is reportedly over.

Based on who they've chosen, the team finally appears ready to enter basketball's 21st century.  

The Sixers will tab Sam Hinkie, the Houston Rockets' vice president of basketball operations, as their replacement for current GM Tony DiLeo, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. The official announcement could come as soon as next week, Tom Moore of phillyburbs.com reports.

It's fair to say that Hinkie represents a complete 180 for the franchise, as noted by SB Nation's Paul Flannery on Twitter.

Paul Flannery @Pflanns

Good hire by the Sixers. That's a total change in direction.

For one, it's a move that's generating praise among intelligent basketball minds. That's been a rarity for the 76ers in recent years.

Zach Lowe @ZachLowe_NBA

Sam Hinkie is a fantastic hire by the Sixers. As smart a guy as I've encountered in the NBA.

Chillin in my Bacta @DarthAmin

Yes. Sam did a lot of great work in Houston RT @NBA_Spen: @me Do you like the Sixers hiring of Sam Hinkie?

More importantly, it suggests a continued whittling away of the Sixers' long-standing aversion to analytics.

At the start of the 2012-13 season, then-Sixers head coach Doug Collins said "he'd blow his brains out" in response to being asked about whether he was "an analytics guy," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Less than a week later, the franchise hired Aaron Barzilai, a former analytics consultant to the Memphis Grizzlies, as their new Director of Basketball Analytics.

Barzilai's impact wasn't readily apparent in Year 1 of his tenure with the 76ers, unfortunately.

During the 2012-13 season, Philadelphia led the league in field-goal attempts from the 15-19 foot range, also known as the least-efficient shot in basketball. The steady barrage of long 2s was enough to depress even the most ardent of Sixers fans.

With Hinkie at the helm and Barzilai by his side, Philadelphia should be spared from another year of drowning in mid-range jumpers.

Hinkie "had a major influence in reshaping the Rockets franchise," according to Wojnarowski, "bringing an analytics background to the organization's strong run of draft picks, trades and free-agent signings."

In other words, it's the exact opposite of the previous 76ers regime.

Just like baseball experienced the "Moneyball" revolution in the early 2000s, analytics are playing a transformative role in basketball, too. The days of low-percentage shooters reigning supreme in the NBA will soon come to an end (if they haven't already).

In some ways, the Sixers have already begun embracing the new age of analytics. According to Grantland's Zach Lowe, they're one of the 15 franchises that have purchased the SportVU camera system that tracks every movement players make on the court.

Now, it's just a matter of putting those mountains of data to good use. That's where Hinkie comes in.

His hire could very well usher in a new era for the Sixers, one focused on the long haul instead of short-term gains. As much fun as it's been to be stuck in the perpetual blender of mediocrity since Allen Iverson hit his prime a decade ago, the team could finally, finally be on its way to bottoming out for the sake of building a long-term winner.

The road to rebuilding shouldn't be nearly as painful with Hinkie leading the way.

Despite being the NBA's youngest team in 2012-13, the Rockets were also one of the most entertaining squads to watch. They ranked third in the league in shot attempts less than five feet away from the basket (34.4 per game) and were tied for first in three-point field-goal attempts (28.9 per game), enthusiastically placing a premium on high-percentage shots.

Houston also ranked dead last in shot attempts from 15-19 feet (6.0 per game) during the 2012-13 season, something that should be music to the ears of all Sixers fans.

One can only assume that Houston's style of "Mathketball" (to steal a term from ESPN.com's Amin Elhassan) will make its way to Philadelphia with Hinkie leading the show. Seeing the Sixers start valuing efficiency may take some getting used to, but it unquestionably represents a positive step forward for the franchise.

Hinkie's hire only bodes well for the Sixers' youth development, too.

According to his bio from the 2013 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, he and the rest of the Rockets' front office also "turned their lens toward minor league basketball with the first relationship of its kind where an NBA front office managed the basketball operations of a minor league team."

As it so happens, the Sixers announced the purchase of the operating rights of an NBA D-League team (the "Delaware 87ers") in late April. They're now one of only six NBA teams with 100 percent, direct ownership of a D-League affiliate.

After slogging through years of mediocrity, it's difficult to fathom the Sixers striking gold on such a major hire.

With Hinkie, it appears that the franchise is finally ready to take a step toward eventually joining the NBA elite.  

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all advanced statistics come from NBA.com/stats


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