During Wednesday’s remote Sports Business Forum, guest speaker Sam Hinkie, General Manager (GM) of the Philadelphia 76ers from 2013-2016, spoke about the intricacies of sports analytics and the role of statistics in basketball games.
As an American sports executive, Hinkie was a pioneer in the analytics movement in the NBA and was responsible for building the current roster of the title contending 76ers, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in an email. During his career, Hinkie attracted a devoted following among fans who adopted the mantra “trust the process,” which conveyed faith in the 76ers’ long-term hopes to compete for a championship. “You’re trying to make better predictions than other people, which is obviously quite challenging in a competitive environment.”
He developed “the process” to bring the 76ers back into contention. “There’s 30 teams in the league. If everything is really fair, then on average, you should expect to win a title about every 30 years,” he said. “The truth is that it is not fair.”
The draft lottery gives incentive to the worst teams, granting them with the top choices of college players. This means that the team
has to choose between vying for the championship or the number one pick, Coach Ron Beller said. Despite feeling skeptical while the process was being carried out in 2015 and 2016, Beller was surprised to realize how brave Hinkie actually was with owning his “process” and following through with his plan.
Having known about “trust the process” beforehand, Jack Chasen (9) said he was interested in meeting the man behind the slogan. “[Hinkie] has a certain type of patience that a lot of general managers don’t have because he is able to wait it out,” he said.
Hinkie also spoke about his unorthodox path from Stanford Business School and Bain Capital to the NBA. “A lot of it was hard work, trying to put yourself in the right position, and then a whole bunch of luck,” Hinkie said. “I thought it would be worthy work, and I famously told my parents, ‘there are 300 million Americans, 30 GM jobs, and I’m going to get one.’”
In response to the attendees’s questions, Hinkie gave his insight on topics ranging from strategies when drafting and tanking to recent evolutions in the game itself. “The game is different and somehow worse, and I find that breaks down a little bit generationally: my uncles are quite frustrated with how the NBA game is played, and my nephews are delighted,” Hinkie said. “I’m sort of on the side of the youth in that if Steph Curry
making 14 threes in the game is super duper exciting, I don’t think anyone will really miss Patrick Ewing and a bunch of people sort of banging down low.”
Beller respects how, for Hinkie, draft picks are a premium. “When building a team, he doesn’t have the next three months in mind, he has the next 5, 6, 7 years in mind,” he said.
Hinkie also talked about how he looked for asymmetric bets in prospective players. “In everything I do, I look for capped investments with uncapped upside,” he said. “With Joel Embiid, the likelihood of him failing was massive, but the likelihood of him succeeding beyond was huge and relative to other players was ginormous.”
Hinke became a general manager in part because he believes that sports, as a whole, are a meaningful experience, he said.
“The beauty of sports is that it creates moments people remember on their deathbeds,” Hinkie said. “Memories with their families or memories with their friends at that game you went to that was so big, or that moment when you saw that amazing thing happen in the chases to the title, and that way you felt and who felt that with — that, to me, is like the greatest amount of fun.”