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Thursday, December 28, 2017

The "Process" is Overhyped

The Philadelphia 76ers have received a lot of publicity/hype so far this season and there has been much talk that Sam Hinkie's infamous "Process"--which involved many seasons of intentionally losing, with the hope of building a contender by obtaining high draft picks--has paid off. The reality is that the 76ers are currently 15-18, ranking 10th out of 15 Eastern Conference teams. If still being a sub-.500 team after years of losing on purpose is classified as a success then I would hate to see what failure looks like.

It is true that the 76ers have improved. Hinkie took over a 34-48 team that subsequently went 9-63, 18-64 and 1-21 under his command. Since Hinkie's departure, the team has gone 52-123. That .297 winning percentage is nothing to write home about but it is a vast improvement over the .159 winning percentage that the 76ers posted during his reign of error. Now that Bryan Colangelo has been in charge for two and a half seasons, the 76ers have gone from being historically awful to close to mediocre.

However, Hinkie's "Process" had very little to do with the 76ers' improvement. Hinkie "accomplished" two things: (1) he institutionalized a losing culture (which Colangelo is in the process--to borrow a word--of changing) and (2) he built a roster that contained few legitimate NBA players (because Hinkie's goal was to lose). On the final day of the 2015-16 season, the 76ers' active roster consisted of Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Ish Smith, Kendall Marshall, Nerlens Noel, Hollis Thompson, T.J. McConnell, Richaun Holmes, Isaiah Cannon, Elton Brand, Christian Wood and Carl Landry. The 76ers' current roster--the one that is not awful and has posted a close to mediocre record--consists of Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, Justin Anderson, Richaun Holmes, Ben Simmons, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Trevor Booker, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell, Furkan Korkmaz, Amir Johnson, J.J. Redick and Markelle Fultz (plus two-way players Jacob Pullen and James Michael McAdoo). So, only three players remain from Hinkie's last season; of those three players, Covington is a starter, McConnell is the seventh player in the rotation and Holmes ranks 11th in minutes played per game. Of course, Embiid--who has been an injury-plagued player during his brief career--was selected by Hinkie in the 2014 NBA Draft but he has only played in 56 games in three and a half seasons; he currently leads the team in scoring (23.8 ppg) and rebounding (11.1 rpg) but he operates under a minutes restriction and it is not clear if he will ever be a full-time, healthy player.

So, the sum product of Hinkie's "Process" is the injury-prone Embiid, one other starter, a rotation player and a guy who rarely sees action. If Hinkie had not been relieved of his duties, the 76ers would have an almost completely different looking roster, they still would have a losing attitude and they would not have even ascended to mediocre status.

What about Ben Simmons? Indeed, what about him? He was the consensus best player in the draft, Colangelo took him and it looks like he will be the Rookie of the Year. Intentionally losing games for years at a time--with no relief in sight until Hinkie was fired--just to obtain a 25% chance of getting the number one draft pick with the hope that Simmons or a player of his caliber would be available is not a sound franchise-building strategy. If Simmons becomes a great player, then Colangelo deserves credit for drafting him and--most importantly--for placing him in a culture that breeds success instead of failure. It is far from certain that, even if Hinkie had drafted Simmons, the 76ers under Hinkie would have placed Simmons in the best possible environment to succeed.

Well-run franchises are not built by tanking and they are able to stay at or near the top of the standings year after year without having top picks in the Draft. Look at the San Antonio Spurs or, broadening our view to other sports, look at the New England Patriots. It is not necessary to tear down a roster and/or lose intentionally in order to build a winner.

The 76ers are not even a playoff team as of today, so they are not worthy of much discussion--but if they are going to be discussed and if any credit is going to be given for the team's improvement, then the discussion should focus on the fine job that Colangelo has done of fixing the mess that Hinkie created.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:41 AM

6 comments

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6 Comments:

At Friday, December 29, 2017 3:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Jordan refused to tank after his second-season foot injury despite pressure from the Bulls brass (see GM Jerry Krause) to do so. Krause and Reinsdorf thought that with a lottery pick, the Bulls might be able to draft Brad Daugherty or Len Bias. Alas, the Bulls ended up with Scottie Pippin and Horace Grant, the nucleus of their first three-peat.

I'm reminded of Bob Costas' description of Jordan, after the Bulls won their sixth championship, as "that rarest of athletes: the supremely talented overachiever." Jordan's integrity and sense of honor, to use terms of the old school, were part and parcel of his six-championship "overachievement". People often speak of his will-to-win, monomaniacal no doubt, but there was something deeper at work. Again, integrity, a sense of shame. By the way, Jordan returned to the Bulls that season just in time to lead them to the playoffs and to a first-round defeat to eventual champion Boston Celtics. The Celtics swept them, yet Jordan's 63-point performance (and no doubt his earlier 49-point performance during the same series) famously inspired Larry Legend to declare "He's god disguised as Michael Jordan."

 
At Saturday, December 30, 2017 8:38:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

I think that the Bulls may also have had a legitimate concern that bringing Jordan back too soon might have created a risk of Jordan suffering a long-term injury but I agree with your larger point that Jordan had a lot of "integrity and sense of honor" in terms of wanting to come back as soon as possible to try to win as many games as possible.

You are also correct that if Jordan had not pushed to come back so soon then we would have all been denied the opportunity to see one of the iconic single game performances in playoff history, his record-setting 63 point game versus a great Boston team (and, as you mentioned in passing, Jordan's 49 point game in that same series was not too shabby, either).

 
At Thursday, January 04, 2018 1:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I doubt any players are looking to tank, especially younger guys. Jordan isn't some special case. If anyone's tanking, it's the front office, which I think is quite rare, too. Sure, some teams might not be put out their best lineups possible late in seasons when they have no chance of making the playoffs, but that's different, and they're usually trying to give their young guys more of a chance to see if they want to keep them around for the future, which is the same in most sports including college.

I don't see where this hype or overhype is coming from though. The Sixers tried a scenario which has been a disaster, but they do have at least 2 AS-caliber players now. In the nba, you need an elite player to have a chance of winning a title or have a ridiculously stacked team likely in a down year. The ways to get that elite is through the draft, trade, or free agency. The Sixers chose the draft. It hasn't worked, but they're trying, though tanking seems pretty silly especially years of it.

 
At Saturday, January 06, 2018 2:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hinkie's strategy netted the 76ers Embiid (first-team All-NBA talent), Simmons (ditto), Covington, and Saric, plus some nice rotation players. It's splitting hairs, to put it generously, not to credit Simmons to "The Process." And the bounties from that process aren't finished: the 76ers still have a bunch of extra draft picks coming

We'll have to see how "The Process" turns out. And I hated it--I'm happy to see the changes to the draft that have been made that attenuate (somewhat) the incentive to tank.

But it's not at all clear that "The Process" failed, or needed rescuing by Colangelo. Sixers look absolutely stacked to me, and Hinkie is the reason. It's tendentious to claim otherwise.

 
At Saturday, January 06, 2018 3:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The Sixers intentionally lost for several years, which devalues the NBA product as a whole and rips off their fan base in particular. There is no reason to believe that Hinkie knew what to do with the draft picks, nor is it even clear whether Embiid will be an All-Star or an injury-riddled 21st century Sam Bowie. Meanwhile, franchises with real GMs manage to maintain competitive rosters without tanking.

 
At Sunday, January 14, 2018 4:04:00 PM, Blogger beep said...

... the process also:
- made the team destination no one competitive wants to play for
- promoted losing culture
- alienated fanbase
- was based on luck which is questionable business strategy to put it mildly

 

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