Amazon will have its drones. The Sixers have Sam Hinkie, the improbable yet very real analytics guru who has completely changed the way the organization goes about its business.
Just a tremendous article today by Tom Sunnergren, writing for ESPN.com, about all the changes Hinkie and Brett Brown have implemented. The Sixers are embracing analytics and, like Chip Kelly and the Eagles, sports science and nutrition– all of which are a far cry from Doug Collins, who was so old school that he used to have players gather ye’selves around and then regale them with tales of old Chuck Taylors.*
Though Hinkie has denied the trade was a function of the dim view advanced metrics take of Holiday (“A, I wouldn’t disparage [Holiday] and B, I think he’s good and he’ll do a good job in New Orleans this year,” he told me before the season) it strains credulity, given Hinkie’s background and values, to think that it’s merely a coincidence that the point guard he traded is a poor player by measure of these stats while the one he drafted (Michael Carter-Williams) was comparatively an analytic darling. The trade drew a bright red line in the sand: It was the beginning of a new era of player evaluation in Philadelphia.
The stark changes have extended to in-game strategy as well. The 76ers’ shot charts between this season and last don’t look anything alike. A Philadelphia team that, under Collins, led the NBA in 16- to 23-foot shots in 2012-13 with 24 a game (deepening the self-inflicted wound, the team was only 28th in field goal percentage from this range), now leads the league in attempts from within 5 feet of the basket and places 12th in 3-pointers attempted.
When asked how conscious the decision to move away from the midrange game was, Hinkie was blunt. “Conscious,” he said with a smirk. “I don’t have a good scale for degrees of consciousness, but it’s something our coaches have focused on.”
Basically, modern thinking goes that layups or dunks and three-pointers are the way to go, and that the lower probability mid-range shots are useless.
One of these “new ones” is centered in the growing discipline of sports science. The team is a client of Catapult Technology, a company started by a pair of scientists from the Australian Institute of Sport that uses GPS sensors to track and record player movement during practice. Catapult purports to help teams individualize exercise schedules and reduce injury rates. “Every player has worn it every day I’ve been here,” Hinkie said. “It can allow you to dial up or down practice intensity or dial up or down conditioning for each player.” Phillip Skiba, a sports scientist who studies the benefits of highly individualized training, maintains that endurance athletes can get as much as a 25 percent performance boost from programs like Catapult.
The team’s methodical approach to training is complemented by a new and unique emphasis on nutrition. While the players don’t have strictly individualized diets prescribed to them by the team, they are grouped into several nutritional tiers based on their body-mass index and body fat percentage.
Lavoy Allen, who admitted that he’s on the lowest tier, joked after a recent game he’s just allowed to have “water and leaves off trees” at this point. “It’s pretty specific,” the third-year forward added. “Even when we travel, we get a paper in our room on what we can eat and what we have to stay away from.” The veteran said that, in seasons past, it was relative culinary free-for-all. “[I was] ordering burgers at 2 o’clock on the morning. Thank God for 24-hour room service.”
Lavoy Allen was a fatty.
Go read the full thing.
*He didn’t really do that.