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Ball Don't Lie

The Philadelphia 76ers are finally embracing statistical analysis, to the chagrin of a local writer

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Julius Erving takes an inefficient, low-percentage two-pointer (Getty Images)

On Monday, Philadelphia Inquirer scribe Marcus Hayes lent his byline to a column. He talked about Twinkies and Comic-Con, and new Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie. Hinkie, who was hired to replace a very expensive personnel team featuring Rod Thorn, Ed Stefanski, Tony DiLeo, and Doug Collins (a group that could not top 41 wins in six seasons’ worth of trying), has a background that includes time spent working under Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who is fond of actually looking at the box scores that they hand you following the game you just watched. And looking at things on his computer, weirdly.

This allowed for the Inquirer to dig in. Here are some selected passages:

Hinkie will be given a sledgehammer and a smartphone by [76ers owner Josh] Harris, a fellow geek. This Old Team could be deconstructed beyond recognition by summertime.

Pretty sure he already has a smartphone.

Fortysomethings and their elders likely will roll their eyes and regard Hinkie as part of an overvalued wave of fantasy nerds who use probabilities as sacred texts and who forsake what their eyes and their hearts (and their scouts) tell them.

Advanced NBA analysis has absolutely nothing to do with fantasy sports, as the “fantasy nerds” in question will never agree on how many fantasy points usage rate should result in. I myself haven’t played fantasy basketball since the 2004-05 season, which co-incidentally is the first year I began to include my nascent knowledge of advanced statistics in my basketball columns.

Also, those “fantasy nerds” watch just as many games and game tape as the fake scout Hayes trumped up here. And most NBA scouts are so far ahead of the game when it comes to advanced stats that by this point they make John freaking Hollinger look like the composite characters acting as scouts in the movie ‘Moneyball.’

The thirtysomethings and their Freakonomics legions likely will rejoice that the Sixers have moved past sexagenarian Doug Collins, the crusty coach who just quit.

If Doug Collins’ aversion to advanced stats and obsession with watching game tape allowed him to recognize what has become obvious to the rest of the NBA in 2013 – emphasis on the three-pointer from the corner on both ends of the ball, repudiation on decades-old NBA commandments that were well out of the way even during Collins’ last turn as a TNT analyst – we would not care one bit.

The Chicago Bulls don’t even utilize the Sports VU technology that places a camera in every nook of the arena for analysis. Gregg Popovich possibly regards the Sloan Conference as a wasted weekend that could be spent at the winery. They’re probably the game’s two-best coaches, and us Comic-Con dorks (I did buy a few Mad Magazines, a few decades ago) have no idea if they’re up on this stuff.

The whole point is to get it right. Or to get it close to “right,” and figure out how to inch closer without letting the game get away from us.

I understand that I’m falling right into the troll’s trap, talking up a writer I don’t know who was given an easy black and white issue (as he saw it, because stat geeks never watch the games) to bash out a quick and ill-considered Sunday column. As the NBA evolves and gets smarter (and, along the way, becomes more intriguing), it’s important to remember a few pertinent things.

We’re not stat geeks. We’re people that obsess over the NBA, and want to learn more about the game we love – this means reading, and watching, everything. Some of us are charged with entertaining other fans while analyzing the game we love, luckily for us, in a gig not unlike that of a NBA GM -- charged with entertaining fans (in developing a winning basketball team) while working around a game they love. If that obsession lends itself to learning more and more about a game and league that hasn’t stood still in over six decades, then it is all the better for everyone involved.

Save for Marcus Hayes. Who apparently has become bored by the NBA, and doesn’t really want to learn more about this league.

That’s an opinion he’s allowed to own, by the way. But if he is bored with a league he’s charged with writing about, perhaps he should be writing about leagues he’s actually, genuinely, interested in. Give us another Eagles column, Marcus. I hear some advanced statistics have led them toward becoming anti-Taco Tuesday, which is a stance this stat geek will never support.

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