They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan
February 16, 2015 10:08 AM   Subscribe

The Philadelphia 76ers are currently the worst team in basketball, but in terms of expected value, they are crushing. posted by Potomac Avenue (108 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Okay, that's actually interesting. It's not even really a Moneyball approach, it seems to be at least as much about building a future roster as it is about getting bargains.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2015


I read the article a while back and still don't understand how they're allowed to be under the cap floor, which is the instrument to prevent this sort of thing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2015


THIRD worst team in basketball, thank you very much.

(Which means the Knicks and Timberwolves don't need some fancy strategy to suck, and they're still better at it!)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:22 AM on February 16, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I love that there's a team that's intentionally blowing themselves up, and the Knicks are still worse.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:35 AM on February 16, 2015 [16 favorites]


Okay, that's actually interesting. It's not even really a Moneyball approach, it seems to be at least as much about building a future roster as it is about getting bargains.

Erm, isn't that the Moneyball approach? Remember, a good chunk of that book was devoted to the As draft. The philosophy behind both systems are essentially the same: build a team using an analytic approach to find under-appreciated talent. ("Appreciation," of course, referring to cost.)
posted by touchstone033 at 10:35 AM on February 16, 2015


I read the article a while back and still don't understand how they're allowed to be under the cap floor, which is the instrument to prevent this sort of thing.

Not exactly. The punishment for being under the cap floor is that the team gets charged the difference, which is split among the players on the team. It's more of an instrument to guarantee that players as a whole receive a certain amount of salary. If there was no punishment and it was instead a hard rule, they would just sign vets to hugely overpriced one-year deals to make up the difference.

The philosophy behind both systems are essentially the same: build a team using an analytic approach to find under-appreciated talent.

...no. Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, etc. were in no way "under-appreciated talent." The Sixers are doing everything they can to accumulate high draft picks-- they're not hunting for second-round diamonds in the rough, which is more analogous to the Moneyball approach.
posted by acidic at 10:41 AM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Which means the Knicks and Timberwolves don't need some fancy strategy to suck, and they're still better at it!

As a passive Wolves fan who hasn't lived in Minneapolis since 2002, I think the Wolves near future looks a lot better than the sixers. Wiggins might be a star, and that's where any NBA success has to start. No exceptions.
posted by MillMan at 10:46 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wiggins Shmiggins. Zach LaVine is probably y'alls great shining hope imo.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:49 AM on February 16, 2015


It seems like the successful teams in the NBA have a minimum of two things: a star or stars to carry the load, and a "winning culture" -- ie, a top to bottom commitment to winning. The 76ers are trying to get the former on the cheap (through the draft vs. through free agency) and completely foregoing the latter. I don't think it will work. I think you can tank for a year by holding out your best players with an "injury" and hoping for a solid draft pick, but when you make it an annual strategy, you poison the culture.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:56 AM on February 16, 2015


I'm not sure what you mean by culture though. The article talks about how they're trying to build, coach extensively, spend money on high tech tools to help players evaluate their game, create competitions around effort metrics to help encourage players to keep working hard.

How would you define creating a winning culture? Having marginally better results?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:08 AM on February 16, 2015


Do you guys realize if this works he might be able to move the team to Miami?!
posted by Navelgazer at 11:16 AM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean a culture in which you win, you are rewarded. Players who perform above expectations in Philadelphia are traded away for large expiring contracts. Also, instead of finding the line-up that is most successful, the coach (and GM) are more interested in "developing" younger players. Contrast this with the Bucks -- they are not going to win any conference titles this year, but they are promoting a culture of winning. Fielding the best team on the daily and, well, trying to win. My team, the Pacers, are almost comical in the way they promote themselves as a culture of "winning" -- while they should be trading assets and writing this year off while waiting for PG to return next year, they are frustratingly trying to win anyway.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:21 AM on February 16, 2015


"Culture of winning" is admittedly a very imprecise, fuzzy term. It can mean lots of things, or nothing. My point I guess is that this experiment in sustained tanking, while intellectually logical, will have I think unintended negative manifestations.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:32 AM on February 16, 2015


The Sixers tried to win for a long time after the finals against the Lakers in the Iverson glory days. They pretty much just ended up in purgatory. The winning culture doesn't have much value without the talent, but once you get the talent the culture can come quickly and become self sustaining for a long time.

I'm totally okay with this strategy, I just don't see any other realistic chance to get this to be a top contending team again any time soon and it was really fun when they were.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:33 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


(I don't think they want to sustain it for too much longer, but they haven't quite been able to get the absolute top ready to go right now talent because of how the lottery has played out.)
posted by Drinky Die at 11:35 AM on February 16, 2015


This is a classic private equity operation. The fans and the next owner being the dupes who are paying and are going to pay for a gutted shell while the PE guys walk away with pockets full of money.
posted by srboisvert at 11:36 AM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just don't see any other realistic chance to get this to be a top contending team again any time soon

Free agency signings and smart trades, same as it's always been.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:44 AM on February 16, 2015


Yeah, that's what they had been trying. It just wasn't working. And by not working I mean Bynum levels of not working.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:57 AM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


The other thing is that the Sixers are not playing Jon Bois levels of terrible basketball. Their defense is significantly improved, they're taking shots from the right places, they're getting the fundamentals across to their players.

It's just that they're intentionally signing D-list players to go out there alongside the guys they actually care about.
posted by delfin at 12:04 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am a Knicks fan. Or was growing up. I have a hard time watching pro basketball.

Having said that I read all the articles and I am now a closet fan of the Sixers organization. I think their approach to building the team is the best long term strategy. They could strive to be a .500 team and I think they could do it, but their prospects of going from there to a championship caliber team is less than it is to build a foundation for a successful team and then add pieces when and where appropriate.

I think part of this is that we need to understand a defined goal. The assumption for all fans has been that the team is trying to win every game so they can compete for a championship this year. While I do think they are trying as a team to win every game, I think the management has devised a plan and roster that is more forward looking than tomorrow's game or this year's record. Well maybe a team is better off saying, "We know we have no hope of winning it all this year, so we are going to build for a winner 3 or 4 years down the road." THey are drafting young future stars.

Time will tell obviously, but as a fan, I would much rather my team have a proactive plan, even an unconventional one, than have my team be like the knicks and have a reactionary plan. As for the culture of winning, that comes from both winning and from building a culture of accountability and teamwork. THe 76ers seem to be doing that.

My brother lives in Philadelphia and my 14 year old nephew shall never hear me say this, but I hope the 76ers do well next year.
posted by 724A at 12:06 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


The 2015 draft is absolutely loaded again too, Oakafor, Mudiay, Karl Towns and Deangelo Russell are 4 can't miss future All-Stars, and there's probably 10-15 more quality starters in the first round.

It'll be interesting to see if the Sixer's blatant tank-a-palooza strategy actually pays off with a roster of exclusively high round draft picks, but it also strikes me as a cyclical strategy as well as a cynical one, if their best picks pan out into All-star players, the Sixers won't be able to pay to keep them all after their rookie deals are up. They may become a kid of graduate finishing school stop from the college ranks before players sign a big money second deal with the Lakers.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:18 PM on February 16, 2015


One problem with the Sixers' strategy is that it can usher in a tragedy of the commons scenario. If every team that believes it can't compete for the top-tier free-agents (basically every team not LAL, MIA, NY, CHI, DAL or HOU), adopts the Sixer's plan the league would be ruined.

You'd have (at most) eight-ten teams out of 32 trying to win games (not just win a championship, but actually making an effort to have a winning record). That would suck.

Also, it's not like the Sixers' have the only blueprint. The Hawks have had one good draft pick (Horford) and signed some reasonably good talent (Millsap) and are doing great. You can indeed be pretty good for a while and then kick it into high gear. It's not exclusively boom or bust.
posted by oddman at 12:31 PM on February 16, 2015


Not exactly. The punishment for being under the cap floor is that the team gets charged the difference, which is split among the players on the team. It's more of an instrument to guarantee that players as a whole receive a certain amount of salary. If there was no punishment and it was instead a hard rule, they would just sign vets to hugely overpriced one-year deals to make up the difference.

I guess I still don't understand, because being under the floor and paying the charge for the difference means you're spending money for literally zero return. I understand tanking, but I don't understand setting cash on fire.

The floor is also there to ensure you field a competitive team, so other teams can get ticket revenue. No one will buy tickets to see the Bulls play me and my four friends. You'd think Adam Silver would be blowing his stack.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:39 PM on February 16, 2015


"You'd think Adam Silver would be blowing his stack."

He's been trying to reform the draft system the past year. Last fall the league fell a handful of votes shy of the 2/3rds majority needed to change the system. Too many teams had near-term interests in the lottery-system status quo (too many teams either have very good picks coming up from the own lack of competitiveness or are owed picks by bad teams).
posted by oddman at 12:43 PM on February 16, 2015


I guess I still don't understand, because being under the floor and paying the charge for the difference means you're spending money for literally zero return. I understand tanking, but I don't understand setting cash on fire.

The difference between the number of people who will buy tickets to see an 18-win Sixers team and the number who will buy tickets to see a 25-win team is likely marginal, and the 18-win team has a better chance of being competitive in future years. So you're getting a better return on your money if you field the less competitive team.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:46 PM on February 16, 2015


You can indeed be pretty good for a while and then kick it into high gear. It's not exclusively boom or bust.

The Hawks
are a good example though because they were awful for 8 years after being mediocre for a few more. Then they slowly but surely put pieces together and have gone one round further every year to get to this stage, where they are great but one or two injuries and they're done for a long time. How do you accelerate a rebuild? How do you build what San Antonio has? That's the question every smaller market team is asking themselves. This is an attempt to do that. "Shut up and do what has always kindof worked" isn't an answer. Neither is "Throw money at it" which is LA, Boston, and NY's strategy.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:09 PM on February 16, 2015


It'll be interesting to see if the Sixer's blatant tank-a-palooza strategy actually pays off with a roster of exclusively high round draft picks, but it also strikes me as a cyclical strategy as well as a cynical one, if their best picks pan out into All-star players, the Sixers won't be able to pay to keep them all after their rookie deals are up. They may become a kid of graduate finishing school stop from the college ranks before players sign a big money second deal with the Lakers.

They don't need an entire roster of stars though, just one or maybe two. Then you can put the right pieces around them to be a top competitor. Having too many stars to sign is one of those "good problems."
posted by Drinky Die at 1:15 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


One problem with the Sixers' strategy is that it can usher in a tragedy of the commons scenario. If every team that believes it can't compete for the top-tier free-agents (basically every team not LAL, MIA, NY, CHI, DAL or HOU), adopts the Sixer's plan the league would be ruined.

The Sixers' strategy is, in and of itself, still extremely risky.

Even a winless team only has a 1-in-4 chance of landing the #1 overall pick under the lottery system; they actually have better odds of landing the #4 slot instead of #1, though of course their chances at #1 are better than any other team's. Still, that's a hefty gamble to back if you're not convinced that anyone in the top four picks can be a franchise guy for you.

Secondly, the draft itself is a crapshoot. Googling "NBA Draft Busts" will provide more enlightenment than my rattling off a bunch of names, but there are lots of top four draft picks that haven't panned out. Maybe their college style didn't adjust well to the pros, maybe they got hurt, maybe clashes with the coaching staff, lots of potential pitfalls. Or maybe your pick was a reasonably good player, but the guy some other team took one, five or ten picks later ended up being a Hall of Famer and you go down in history as the "How did they not take HIM?" bum GM.

Thirdly, even if you get the #1 and you get the player everyone KNOWS will be the Next Big Thing... well, ask Cleveland how that can end up.

So there's all that standing in the way of tank-for-future-stars. It's hard enough to succeed that way when you're among a handful of awful teams, and you get a lot of backlash at home and lose ticket revenue, reputation and drawing power when you're tanking. GMs can see that and tend to write it off as too risky unless their team truly is terrible -- which is why Hinkie's adoption of this strategy is unusual enough to make it to the Blue.
posted by delfin at 1:19 PM on February 16, 2015


They have definitely lost drawing power for now, but interestingly I don't think they have lost any reputation in Philadelphia, where their reputation matters most. Philly fans can definitely be idiots in a lot of ways but there are two things to keep in mind about their psychology:

1. Effort matters a lot, in the day to day. The organization may not be trying to win just now, but it's clear the players are putting in the effort and the organization is being pro-active in asking that of them. They just don't have the talent, but the effort is very important in Philly. It's the Rocky factor.

2. Besides day to day effort, only championships really matter. The fans here know the team was not on a championship path before this, they were at absolute best making it to the second round year after year. Nobody here gives a shit about a first round win. You might as well lose every game. (As long as you make an effort.)

So, we will see how this strategy works out, but the Sixers are pretty much the perfect place to give it a shot right now.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:29 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Shut up and do what has always kindof worked" isn't an answer.

That's a weird framing of what's going on. I think "emulate that which has worked for others" is how I'd look at it. The comparison to Houston's GM is interesting -- there is a guy who worked his assets beautifully, and built a fantastic team out of duct tape and rubber bands when the CW was that a bad team can only improve by getting a blue chipper in the draft. (Of course, they're not going to make the Finals, because Dwight Howard and Josh Smith on the same team is a GM move that is too clever by half.)

The big problem I have with the 6ers is that they aren't surrounding their young talent with any remotely decent vet talent. The NBA is a developmental league, and I feel like they are stunting their future stars' growth by shuttling off all of their quality vets. I guess we'll see what happens. It's an interesting experiment, but I'm glad I'm not a 6ers fan.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:32 PM on February 16, 2015


Normally I would not say that a city that has a jail cell put into their football stadium is a sophisticated fan base, but Drinky Die has a good point. The Sixers have been as clear as they can be with the fans of their long term plan and their desire to win a championship. For now, they have established some good will with the city and are being given the latitude to execute on the plan.

As for the salary cap floor, a good part of the reasoning for that is the CBA. It guarantees the players a certain percentage of league revenues. If they don't spend it, at the end of the season, the team will need to divide the difference up among its players (pro rata?) and pay it. The current players have not spoken about it as far as I know, but it seems like a pretty nice end of season bonus for working hard and putting up with the short term aspects of the plan.
posted by 724A at 1:39 PM on February 16, 2015


2. Besides day to day effort, only championships really matter.

That's an odd mentality to have in a city whose football team is the Eagles.

The Phillies (around since the 1880s) have won exactly 2 World Series, in 1980 and 2008. They also have lost more games than any team in the history of American sports. (2 in 135 years)
The Flyers (founded in 1967) have won exactly 2 Stanley Cups in the mid-70's, but have been on a drought since '75. (2 in 48 years)
The 76ers (founded in 1946) have been NBA champions 3 times: '55, '67, and '83. (3 in 69 years)
And the Eagles? Never won a Super Bowl despite playing since the first Super Bowl in 1966. (0 in 49 years)

That's 7 championships in approximately 300 combined seasons of professional sports, or less than 1 championship every 40 seasons. The Philly area has seen only 1 championship in the last 32 years across 4 sports.

If only championships matter in Philly, their sport fans must be bitter.
posted by dios at 2:10 PM on February 16, 2015 [4 favorites]


Other than taking the necessary shot at Philly sports, I will say I find this article really interesting. I watch a good bit of that 53 point blowout that the Mavericks put on Philly, and I kind of wondered how the hell that team was so bad.
posted by dios at 2:12 PM on February 16, 2015


Normally I would not say that a city that has a jail cell put into their football stadium is a sophisticated fan base

They built it into the Linc, but it has been closed since the first season. The fanbase there is much better behaved than the Vet crowd.

2. Besides day to day effort, only championships really matter.

That's an odd mentality to have in a city whose football team is the Eagles.


Yeah, the lack of championships is exactly why the obsession with championships and general bitterness. It does lead to some ridiculous fun like Wing Bowl though, founded to distract Eagles fans from the Super Bowl.

I will point out the Eagles history should not ignore the 3 championships, '48, '49, and in 1960 giving Vince Lombardi his only playoff loss. It's a long drought, but the Super Bowl/NFL Championship distinction is somewhat silly. Beating the guy the trophy is named after should count for something, heh.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:17 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


If only championships matter in Philly, their sport fans must be bitter.

Well, one, duh, and two, that's exactly why there's an "only championships matter" mentality - in a city like Boston or Chicago a team can come close and there'll be an "oh well, we'll get 'em next year" reaction, but when you've never gotten 'em in living memory it's much tougher to take that view.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:19 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm pro Tank-a-delphia. The tragedy of the commons argument is valid, but that speaks to the need for the league to set the rules up such that tanking isn't a positive expected value strategy. If it is, basement-dwelling teams that don't avail themselves of it are chumps.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:26 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


That interesting: I read the exact opposite. When you are used to winning Championships, you quit judging a successful season by anything less. If you are like the Cowboys who won the Super Bowl in '92, '93 and '95, no one was pleased with the '94 season even though the Cowboys won the NFC East Division and played a close NFC Championship game that they lost. Going to the NFC Championship is something to take pride in, unless you expect winning it all and "only championships matter." Same thing with the Patriots who have now won 4 Super Bowls in the last 14 years. The Patriots went undefeated in the 2007 regular season for only the 2nd time in NFL history but lost in the Super Bowl to the Giants. To any other team, hell of a season. But to the winning Patriots, "only championships matter." Same thing with the Yankees and their 27 world titles.

I would think fans of a team that never wins it all would learn to take pride in doing things like "making the playoffs" so that there are realistic goals to celebrate. It seems completely incomprehensible to me that an Eagles fan could still be a fan if "only championships matter" which means your team has never had a season to celebrate And no, sorry Philly fans, winning championships back before the Super Bowl era do no count. The Super Bowl era is the modern era, an actual playoff system, more than just handful of teams, etc. Eagles don't get credit for winning in the old days ;)
posted by dios at 2:41 PM on February 16, 2015


dios: And no, sorry Philly fans, winning championships back before the Super Bowl era do no count. The Super Bowl era is the modern era, an actual playoff system, more than just handful of teams, etc. Eagles don't get credit for winning in the old days ;)

There were 13 teams in the NFL when the Eagles won the 1960 NFL Championship. If you want to, even in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, try to argue that this is somehow less of a victory, then I don't see how you can justify counting all 27 of the Yankees World Series titles, at least half of which were won when there were only 16 MLB teams. If the NFL had 14 teams, would that count? 15 teams? Or is 16 some magic number?

Eras change. Rules change. Players' bodies change. Making arbitrary distinctions between which championships count and which ones don't is ridiculous. If you have a sports league where that sport is not being played at any higher a level, then being the best team in that league counts as a championship.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:51 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well I'm mainly an Eagles fan so my frustration is that they have very often been elite teams capable of winning championships that have fallen just short so often and that has a particular sting when you are desperate for a win. It's not quite the same if you are a hapless team going 1-15, 3-12, 2-14 year after year and then suddenly had lightning strike one year. For most of my lifetime, the Eagles have been extremely competitive. The Flyers have also been competitive most of the time, the Sixers for a couple years, and the Phillies have often been hapless but 2008 forgives all.

And no, sorry Philly fans, winning championships back before the Super Bowl era do no count. The Super Bowl era is the modern era, an actual playoff system, more than just handful of teams, etc. Eagles don't get credit for winning in the old days ;)

That's just nonsense, go to a team that has won before and after the merger and the championship banners will hang side by side. The NFL was still the NFL before the merger just like the NHL was still the NHL when it was only six teams.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:52 PM on February 16, 2015


Hey remember when Stern fined San Antonio $250,000 for resting their veterans against Miami in a regular season game? Because that kind of feels like a joke compared to this.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Also, the 2009 Phillies WS loss hurt a lot less than the 1993 WS loss because 2008 took off a lot of the sting off it. I can't imagine Patriots fans being nearly as pissed as Eagles fans will be next year if their respective teams get close but don't quite make it.)
posted by Drinky Die at 2:58 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, look at Grady Little's exit from Boston in the fall of 2003 to see how expectations play out with fandoms.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2015


How soon before the NBA draft becomes more Randian, with the best team given the #1 pick, and the worst team getting the last pick? I'm sure it will come up, since the policy of awarding the best pick to the weakest team seems to be converting those teams into welfare cases.
posted by RalphSlate at 3:14 PM on February 16, 2015


Making arbitrary distinctions between which championships count and which ones don't is ridiculous.

Not that it really matters--the argument only exists to make Bears, Lions and Eagles fan miserable--but it was the NFL that made a conscious decision to make that change when they switched to the Super Bowl format? They basically decided to not count old championships the same when they started with Super Bowl 1. You can see it how they record things now. Thus, it's not an arbitrary distinction for me to make; it's the NFL's own distinction. And I suppose a plausible case could be made that the league decided to effectively discredit these earlier championships to save itself from recognizing the Eagles or Lions as champions ;)
posted by dios at 3:15 PM on February 16, 2015


How soon before the NBA draft becomes more Randian, with the best team given the #1 pick, and the worst team getting the last pick? I'm sure it will come up, since the policy of awarding the best pick to the weakest team seems to be converting those teams into welfare cases.

The real problem is in the NFL where the best college QBs go to the worst teams. This can destroy them in a way a star basketball player on a bad team won't be destroyed, but there isn't really any way around it. I guess maybe you could have a separate QB draft that ordered the teams based on some objective QB stats but none of those objective stats are really all that great. Football is too much a team sport.


And no, changing the name of the championship game does not invalidate previous champions. Hell, there are a lot of non-champions in college football if the name of the most crucial bowl game matters so much.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:25 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


Look, if you wanted to put it out there that Ohio State University is the first NCAA D1 football champion in recorded history, I'm not saying I'd agree, I'm just saying I wouldn't take the time to argue against it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 3:28 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't think bringing an amateur league with >100 teams and a far-from-objective means of seeding the 4 teams that get into the so-called playoff into this discussion is going to do anything but muddy the waters.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:33 PM on February 16, 2015


The private-equity model of management is blindingly apparent with what the Sixers are doing: thinking in terms of distressed assets and the none-too-subtle dismantling thereafter. In the universe of finance, corporations, etc my opinions with this sort of maneuvering are fairly well negative, but this being sports (which is plenty corporate, yes, but as entertainment ostensibly falls into a different sphere than Romney-style rebuilds) I've been very carefully following the NBA and the tanking discussion to inform my thinking.

At current: I'm still negative on it. I don't like this Sixers-style tank job. Not that I'm a fan of the "we're deciding to sit our best player for the final 40 games of the season for a vague, non-falsifiable injury" types of tank jobs that have come in the past. For me, it's less about the losing (although I'm not a Sixers fan) than using that losing to leverage a complete culture change.

I appreciate the notions that Hinkie is trying to instill a culture of "development", but when that becomes so front-and-center that you completely lack any veteran presence on your team (egregious oversight, imo), when you exclusively focus on long wing-spanned, non-shooting players based on their potential (banana republic thinking, here), when you are hyper-analytic to the point of tracking sleep habits and free throws in practice... I'm going to say the pendulum has swung too far towards the side of the bean-counters.

And I understand that minding these details can help these players, now, at the current stages in their careers. But for all the energy you put into making sure Nerlens Noel is tracking his free throw percentage, or that Michael Carter-Williams is pushing the pace every game to earn extra possessions, do you invest energy into making sure these players hone the (non-quantifiable!) leadership skills, the emotional ballasts needed over a long, exhausting 82-game season, the killer instincts needed to close out a last-season playoff push?

Hinkie and his team are not dumb, I'm sure this stuff is part of their conversation. Maybe it's the breathless "ooh analytics!" reporting, maybe Hinkie's playing his cards close... but it hardly seems like the intangibles are part of whatever culture's being built. I can't imagine an NBA superstar (ie, the true seed for a championship squad) content with of a culture where it's all development.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 3:44 PM on February 16, 2015


How soon before the NBA draft becomes more Randian, with the best team given the #1 pick, and the worst team getting the last pick? I'm sure it will come up, since the policy of awarding the best pick to the weakest team seems to be converting those teams into welfare cases.


It's more likely that they would go toward a cyclical system for determining draft order.
posted by dudemanlives at 3:54 PM on February 16, 2015


Just curious Theophrastus Johnson, do you have any opinions on Chip Kelly? He is doing a lot of similar stuff in regards to sports science, intense analytics, and sometimes rigid preferences for certain body types.

Right now it seems like a lot of Philly sports teams look more like Ivan Drago's training scheme than Rocky's. (With less performance enhancing drugs, hopefully.)
posted by Drinky Die at 4:01 PM on February 16, 2015


Is the problem larger than this though? If winning the title can be described through mathematical formula, then is the system now broken? If you do need a team comprised of one of the top 4th percentile, one of the top 10th percentile, and one of the top 21st percentile in "plus-minus" players - if it is that simple, then why do the other teams even bother to play? If you don't have such a trio, you do not have a chance.

That is why I really do hate "analytics" in sports - it takes the fun out of the game and virtually turns it into a computer program - a simulation.
posted by RalphSlate at 4:07 PM on February 16, 2015


They have the best name in basketball, to be sure. 'Sixers' is so much better than something like 'Pelicans' or 'Nuggets'.
posted by four panels at 4:10 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]


You can increase your odds, but you can't guarantee anything. That's part of the fun. As mentioned in the article, the Sixers most recent playoff win was over the Bulls when they had two major injuries occur during the series. It's not impossible that could have happened over and over and the Sixers won the championship that year. Highly unlikely, but lots of weird stuff happens in sports when you watch over the long term. The entire enterprise is a way to create real human drama within a strange artificial framework.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:12 PM on February 16, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you do need a team comprised of one of the top 4th percentile, one of the top 10th percentile, and one of the top 21st percentile in "plus-minus" players - if it is that simple, then why do the other teams even bother to play?

Teams like Memphis, Atlanta, and Golden State are winning without a top-5 player (though you could argue Curry is top-5, I guess). Instead, they are very deep teams, they have good coaching, and all of them are really clicking this year due to team cohesion that is a result of stability and players that know how to complement each other. As for why do the other teams try? Because if you can provide stability and opportunity, then your 47th percentile player may develop into a 10th percentile player. The Greek Freak is an awesome example.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:26 PM on February 16, 2015


four panels: 'Sixers' is so much better than something like 'Pelicans' or 'Nuggets'.

1... 2... 3-4-5... Sixers...
posted by tonycpsu at 5:57 PM on February 16, 2015


There are many copies. And they have a plan

too soon
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:29 PM on February 16, 2015


The high draft pick/horrible bust is real. Take the Bulls for example: Eddy Curry, taken with the fourth pick. Tyson Chandler, taken with the second pick. Given that Chandler became a force in the league, obviously there was something lacking in Chicago to help him develop, but lord, for the four (?) years they played together, the Baby Bulls were a nightmare. Then you have Tyrus Thomas, who is still trying to get back into the NBA by way of the D League, traded on draft night for Lamarcus Aldridge (sob). Or Marcus Fizer, drafted at #4, even though Elton Brand was there. For all the draft picks they've got, there's nothing to stop them from drafting the next Olowakandi. Or Darko. Or Tskitishvitli.

From a separate stream of thought, I wonder what effect this has on the labor market. Up until this sort of blatant lose at all costs, you didn't usually have rosters this blatantly constructed to lose. There really are very few veterans on the squad, and in a league of only thirty teams, fifteen positions on each team, purposefully stocking your team like the Sixers have eliminates, let's say, four or five positions that otherwise would be filled by veteran players, commanding between 2 and 5 million a year. Granted, those players are being absorbed by other teams, but for every Jakarr Sampson (sp?) employed by the Sixers, there's someone getting squeezed out of the league. If this ends up becoming more of a trend, I can see the players union starting to have a (legitimate) problem with the practice if it ends up where high level, or even mid level players are being discarded in favor of Major League level talent.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:57 PM on February 16, 2015


This is a classic private equity operation. The fans and the next owner being the dupes who are paying and are going to pay for a gutted shell while the PE guys walk away with pockets full of money.

This doesn't make any sense. First of all, NBA teams don't have assets that can be stripped, the value of an NBA team is the right to play in the NBA.

Second, the approach that they're taking is precisely the opposite of a short term asset-stripping operation. Planning to win in 3-4 years, building up process rather than focusing on short term results, investing in a new training facility. Does any of that sound like they plan to leave behind 'a gutted shell'?

I think people must have a brainstem-level trigger that gets hit when they see 'private equity' because that is the only possible explanation for looking at something like this and thinking that they're asset stripping.
posted by atrazine at 7:05 AM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Deadspin, with the very Deadspin-ish counterpoint: The 76ers Are Run By A Ridiculous TED-Humping Moron
Under Hinkie, the 76ers have invested deeply in presenting themselves as an operation at the cutting edge of technological, analytical, and econometric innovation in sports. Their staff looks like what would happen if FiveThirtyEight and Palantir Technologies fucked and gave birth to an org chart—all MIT and Stanford wonks, a former Navy SEAL who "teaches team-building part-time," some dude with a Ph.D. in cognitive and neural systems—and their commitment to internal data gathering is downright fetishistic. They make their players wear motion-tracking GPS devices! They record their free-throw percentages ... during practices! They track and analyze their hydration and sleep patterns! The idea here being, Here is the serious-minded, sophisticated, techno-messianic NBA front office of the future, unlocking and deploying never-before-seen subtleties and optimizations in its flawlessly rational success-maximization process.

This is hilarious! At every turn, the gap between Hinkie and the Sixers' self-presentation, over here, and observable reality, over there, yawns like the goddamn Grand Canyon.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:46 PM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it's a worry of mine how much is real science and how much is BS. Same thing with Kelly. (who also has a former SEAL on staff.) Msalt's book talks about stuff like taking lessons from motivational speakers and though the advice cited isn't necessarily bad or off base my initial reaction was, "Isn't motivational speaking all buzzwords and hooey?" Does he REALLY have a better understanding of what it takes to build a quantitatively better program?
posted by Drinky Die at 2:56 PM on February 18, 2015


I am kind of concerned that all my goodwill towards Hinkie actually comes from that first game of his tenure where they beat Miami rather than any objective assessment of his strategy.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:57 PM on February 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think msalt's a good writer, but I can't shake the feeling when he writes about the Eagles that he's too far up Chip's ass to be objective about them. I'm getting some of the same vibes from all the writing about the Sixers. They certainly needed to focus more on analytics (lest they end up a laughing stock like their neighbors across the street) but nobody knows if Hinkie's approach is effective, so talking up his mojo to this extent seems more like an effort to make a strong prediction now with very low stakes if it turns out not to be correct, but the possibility of saying "I knew this would work!" if they make a championship run in a few years.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:14 PM on February 18, 2015


Heh, I would phrase it more tactfully than that like..."MSalt is very admiring of Kelly, it could make him less objective." But even so, he clearly knows about a thousand times more about the details of football and the biography of Kelly than I do so I still rate his opinions on all this particularly highly compared to other sources. Kelly also has two years of pretty good NFL success to back up the argument.

The Sixers...they still have a lot more to prove regarding their course.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:31 PM on February 18, 2015


The Sixers just traded MCW for...

...wait for it...

...you ready brah...

MORE DRAFT PICKS!!

*confetti*
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:04 PM on February 19, 2015


What if the Sixers had -- hear me out -- what if they had ALL of the picks? Surely then they would never lose again!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:05 PM on February 19, 2015


A brief thought: it's good to be a Bucks fan. Any Bucks fans here? Y'all have a fun team. Next year, look out.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:08 PM on February 19, 2015


I do not like this move very much.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:21 PM on February 19, 2015






Joel-Hans EmbiidVerified account
‏@JoelEmbiid
Someone tell me what's going on please help

posted by Drinky Die at 12:35 PM on February 19, 2015




JINX
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:35 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Embiid is the best. And he's a baller. Maybe if he plays well enough and hard enough, they'll trade him, too? Now that's a 21st century incentivization strategy!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:41 PM on February 19, 2015


If he plays well enough and hard enough, he'll re-injure his back that much quicker.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:43 PM on February 19, 2015


I see that confident Sixers swagger is now seeping down to the fan base.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:58 PM on February 19, 2015


Oh, I've been saying that Embiid is doomed since the week before the draft, there just hasn't been a MeFi topic for it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:00 PM on February 19, 2015


Huh, no trades for the hawks or warriors. Wonder why.

Also, seriously? All that "developing" crap goes out the window when you give MCW to the bucks. Dude was in spitting distance of a quadruple-double in his first rookie game against Lebron.
You won't know when you've got the next Tim Duncan if you keep throwing them out the damn window every 6 months.
Analytics be damned.

Also, I feel bad for Denver. Upside is Affalo on the Blazers!
posted by lkc at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2015




As a Knicks fan I have no right to say anything, but I certainly am enjoying following the Sixers and this thread. And, I am not sure why, but I actually believe in their strategy. Not sure any one move is correct, but as a whole, I think there will be a parade in Philadelphia in 2019.
posted by 724A at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]




I'm pretty sure the Phillies management approach can only be described via a detailed critical film analysis of the high and low points of cinematic masterpiece "The Deer Hunter."
posted by Drinky Die at 7:53 PM on February 20, 2015


(I'm gonna miss you Cole, but I don't blame ya.)
posted by Drinky Die at 7:53 PM on February 20, 2015


Hinkieology.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:53 AM on February 26, 2015


Trade all the stars!
posted by Drinky Die at 5:38 PM on March 3, 2015


So, hey, can anyone who's still following this thread tell me what the hell Chip Kelly is doing with the football team formerly known as the Philadelphia Eagles? I think McCoy had a at least one good year left, but I can understand why people disagree, and the decision to let him go for Alonso is at least defensible even if McCoy has a good 2015 in Buffalo. But Nick Foles for Sam fucking Bradford? And St. Louis gets better picks out of the deal to boot?

The Sixers have good reasons to tank, but the Eagles went 10-6 last year. Am I missing something, or is Mr. Genius Coach also World's Worst General Manager?
posted by tonycpsu at 7:37 PM on March 10, 2015


He believes Bradford is a legit franchise QB and Foles is not. That is basically all it comes down to. I think he may be right. Why getting him required dumping both McCoy and Maclin I can't yet explain.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:21 AM on March 11, 2015


Or he really is going after Mariota, meaning all he needs is Generic Store-Brand QB to bridge the gap between now and when the kid is ready to start.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:02 AM on March 11, 2015


Although in that case he'd better have a damn good strategy for filling the void at WR. I'm still fine with the McCoy trade provided Alonso isn't a time bomb, though. LB was a huge need for the Eagles and it's much easier to find a productive running back than a starting-quality defender at any position.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:03 AM on March 11, 2015


I think he may be right.

I'll gladly eat my words if I'm wrong, but I just don't see it. Stats aren't everything, but even if you set aside the fact that he's been hurt so much, Bradford has a lower completion percentage, worse TD:INT ratio, fewer yards per game... Granted that wasn't with the greatest offensive weapons at times, but the same could be said of the Eagles right now. He's also more expensive, taking away resources that could be spent to upgrade his WRs.

His only plus over Foles is that he's got a better arm -- not necessarily a more accurate one, just more zip on the ball. That's worth spending 10 times as much on the position? I mean, if you just want a "generic store-brand" guy who can run the offense until Mariota or whoever gets up to speed, you just signed him in Mark Sanchez, and not on the cheap, either.

I dunno, this has all the hallmarks of Andy Reid disease where Kelly has just gotten it in his head that his system is good enough to change the fortunes of a guy who had several years to prove himself. Even if Bradford stays healthy, I feel like this is a huge mistake.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:32 AM on March 11, 2015


Sam Bradford is absolutely not a long-term solution at quarterback, but it's much easier to move up to QB-drafting range from the 10th pick than the 20th. I really hope that's where Kelly is going with this because otherwise it's a terrible move.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:52 AM on March 11, 2015


A lot of people have made that argument, but I think Bradford fails to be a valuable trade chip for moving up for the exact same reasons he's not a long-term solution at QB. If someone wants a capable starting QB for one year, they're going to have much safer options than Bradford. If they want a franchise QB, Bradford hasn't shown he's that guy. And if the Eagles really wanted to trade up, they had a much more valuable piece in LeSean McCoy that they could have used to do so.

I just feel like people are so enamored with Kelly based on the fawning coverage of his coaching success and unconventional leadership style that they're trying to rationalize a move that just doesn't make sense under any circumstances.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:10 AM on March 11, 2015


I was under the impression that the trade also involved Philly and St. Louis swapping 2015 first-round draft picks, which would put the Eagles in a much better position to jump up a few more spots into QB-drafting territory, but the most recent ESPN story says nothing about such a move. If that story is accurate, I'm back to hating the trade.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:46 AM on March 11, 2015


They did swap picks, but the Rams got the much better picks. The Eagles gave up their 2015 4th round pick and 2016 2nd round pick, while the Rams gave up their 2015 5th round pick and either their 3rd or 4th round pick in 2016 (or possibly no 2016 pick at all) depending on how much Bradford plays. In other words, the Eagles, for whatever reason, had to give up Foles *and* better picks to get Sam. Freaking. Bradford.

Baffling.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:53 AM on March 11, 2015


That makes no goddamned sense at all without a first-round swap. WTF, Chip?

At least there's baseba....dammit, Reuben.

Basket....wait, nope.

Hock...screw it, what's in the XBox?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:55 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Kelly's taking questions from the media right now and he sure sounds like Bradford's his guy.

Interestingly, he did say a team offered him a first round pick for him today, which isn't surprising, since Nick Foles, a 2015 4th, and a 2016 2nd probably adds up to at least a first round pick outside the top 10-15 or so. I'd love to know more about where that pick was.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:35 AM on March 11, 2015


Probably the Browns at 19.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:34 AM on March 11, 2015


The bottom line is Kelly never had any intention of doing a mortgage the future deal and lost faith in Foles. Bradford was the best available alternative option that has a chance to be a legit starter.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:36 AM on March 11, 2015


Which is terrible decision-making, in the same way that if you decide you don't want the salad you brought for lunch anymore, you don't eat day-old Taco Bell instead because it's the best available alternative option (compared to starving yourself or eating a pile of carpentry nails). You suck it up and choke down your lettuce until an option presents itself that won't destroy your insides.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:50 AM on March 11, 2015


It's more like going to a restaurant you've never been to before because you really like the menu even though there are some bad reviews on Yelp.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:02 PM on March 11, 2015


Yeah, I mean, look at it in terms of resource utilization. This wasn't a trade of Foles and some picks for Bradford and some picks, it was a trade of Foles, some picks, and $11+ million in 2015 salary cap space for Bradford and some picks. That's money that could go to plugging a lot of other holes on the offense. Instead, Kelly's forced to shop in the bargain bin for Ryan Mathews. Maybe he just didn't want to overpay for Maclin, and maybe there's a chance they still get DeMarco Murray, but with all the money they just spent on the defense, I don't see that happening.

And at the end of all of that, assuming Bradford's healthy (big assumption)... how much better is he than Sanchez or someone they could easily have traded for on draft day if they really didn't like the idea of letting Foles or Sanchez run the offense next year? Pulling the trigger early and making a commitment to Bradford means you miss out on the players that suddenly become expendable when teams are making draft-day deals.

If Bradford had an incentive-laden contract that maxed out at about half of what he's guaranteed right now I can maybe see doing this deal, but without the picks. As-is? It just plain stinks.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:07 PM on March 11, 2015


It's not an ideal deal by a mile, but the alternative (assuming a loss of faith in Foles) was going to require even more resources in the form of multiple high draft picks to make the Mariota deal. You can't start Sanchez. Now they can fill holes in the draft and I believe they still have plenty of cap room, plus the possibility of a restructure and extension with Bradford.

I would have stuck with Foles, and I would have preferred to give up less for Bradford...but this is a risk that could pay off with landing a franchise QB. That is worth some gambling.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:15 PM on March 11, 2015


What's with all this talk of Bradford as a franchise QB as if there's any reason other than his college pedigree to believe he belongs in that conversation? If he'd shown something special in his three years of NFL play before getting hurt I could understand, but he really didn't. The upside of the gamble is pretty limited -- you're asking for Bradford to perform significantly better than he ever has, not to show flashes of brilliance that he used to show before he got hurt.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:30 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry to frame my comments in a different sport but if we can talk football in this thread, certainly we can talk hockey.

The NHL has had much the same conversation this year--only without all of the emphasis on advanced analytics (topic for a different thread). But the Sabres have been obviously tanking this season and last. Compare and contrast with the Oilers who have tanked for, basically, a generation now and have decided to yet again blow up the roster and start over after the first half of this season was so dismally below expectations. The incoming draft class is front-loaded with some talent that is as close to a guarantee as anything sports-related gets. There are teams that are willing to bottom feed for the chance at landing a franchise player and it hurts the overall product a league is putting out there.

Remember last spring when the Marlins front office lambasted the Red Sox for not bringing their A-list players to a spring training game because it hurt ticket sales? I hate the Sox but their response was great. [Paraphrased] They'd consider bringing a real team if Miami would consider fielding a real team. The Marlins sandbag for different reasons, but the end product is still the same.

Personally, I blame salary caps and the byzantine CBAs that birth them. All they've managed to do is change how the game is managed--valuing finance backgrounds at or above athletic ability. And I say that as a huge moneyball fan and stats geek. Stats and analytics are important and interesting and can lead to optimization. But a polished turd is still a turd and what teams like the Sixers, Sabres, and Marlins are doing is unpardonable.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:26 PM on March 11, 2015


Yeah, I'm not crazy about caps right now after losing Maclin and McCoy. And IIRC baseball somehow still has more parity by some measures even without one.

tony, here are some links giving the more optimistic case. For Kelly I think it's that he can make all the throws, protects the ball, and is a smart guy whose former coaches all admire. He thinks he can coach away any flaws and make it work. And yeah, he does value college pedigree I think even after years in the league for Bradford.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Sam Bradford

Why Sam Bradford Can Excel in Chip Kelly's Offense
posted by Drinky Die at 2:38 PM on March 11, 2015


There are teams that are willing to bottom feed for the chance at landing a franchise player and it hurts the overall product a league is putting out there.

I was with you until this part. Is it really hurting the "product"? I used to think it was, but the Pittsburgh Penguins wouldn't be where they are today without the years where they absolutely stunk up the joint, and sure, perhaps their reasons were more financial than tanking on purpose, but the net effect was the same -- they put a bad product on the ice, and it gave them a chance to get better, which they did.

As far as we can tell, the players on the ice/court/whatever are all trying hard, they're just not that good, because the team doesn't want to waste resources on good players when the most they'll get out of it s a couple extra wins and a couple fewer ping pong balls in the lottery. There are always going to be some good teams and some bad teams -- why not let the really bad teams try to maximize their chances of becoming good later instead of pretending they can make chicken salad out of chicken poop?
posted by tonycpsu at 2:46 PM on March 11, 2015


Good links, DD. I do think both of them are overstating how much of a difference there is between the talent on the Rams when Bradford was playing and the talent he'll have available to him in 2015, and I would like to see Bradford's career charts rather than just the 2013 chart where he only played 7 games, a really small sample size for this kind of comparison. But I acknowledge Bradford's ceiling (if healthy) is probably higher than Foles' -- I just don't think it's $11 million higher, and the "if healthy" is a very big gamble for that much cap space that could go to making sure the starting QB -- whoever he is -- has someone to hand/throw the ball to.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:02 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


It most definitely hurts the product as far as other teams in the league are concerned. Would you pay full ticket price to watch the Penguins host the Habs? Definitely. Would you to watch the Penguins host the Sabres? Unless I'm a season ticket holder, I'm skipping that game. If I am a season ticket holder I'm probably skipping the game anyway.

And Hixie isn't wasting resources right now if I understand the NBA's CBA (no sure thing, not my favorite sport). He has to spend the money this year. He's still fielding a sub-floor roster. Instead of showering that wealth at the end of the season on whatever also-rans who gave it their all but had no chance, why not keep a semi-productive veteran or maybe some decent role guys on the roster? No one thinks the team will win a title, but at least there is some semblance of the game being competitive. And chances are the team will still get a significant pick out of the lottery. Like the article states--best case scenario is still only a 25% chance at the first pick.

Besides, he just dumped half the core that the team was supposedly building around.

And while there are always going to be good and bad teams, notice how some teams are consistently good regardless while others are just as consistently horrible? God bless the Browns fans. I don't know how they do that. Tank and then spank is one viable strategy introduced by the cap era, but other teams seem to figure winning out without purposely starting a semi-pro roster night in and night out.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:10 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree that a team going out and not doing what they can to win is a sign of dysfunction, but I see the dysfunction as being in the league, not in the teams that see an opportunity to increase their draft position. Even if you don't make the 1/4 shot to get the first pick, your chances are higher of getting the 2nd, 3rd, and so on. There's definitely a relationship, though not a linear one, between sucking this year and getting a better chance at a better player next year, and in leagues where just one player can turn around a franchise, the teams that tank are doing the right thing game theory-wise.

You seem to be arguing that it's hurting (or could hurt) attendance in some way, and I can tell you that the effect on competitive teams is marginal at best. My parents-in-law have Penguins season tickets, and yeah, there are fewer people there for the basement-dwelling teams, but not drastically fewer. Maybe in smaller markets or other cities where the teams aren't as good as the Penguins the effect is larger, but I'd want to see some data before I accept your contention that this is a significant factor on attendance.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:28 PM on March 11, 2015


« Older Serves you right for charging £4.30 for a...   |   Found Star Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments