Sam Hinkie 76ers May 2013News broke on Friday that Houston Rockets assistant general manager Sam Hinkie had been hired by the Philadelphia 76ers. Thus, arguments resurfaced concerning the validity of advanced statistics in sports as well as the validity of pro-analytical consultants/executives in NBA front offices.

Hinkie, who will assume the position of general manager as well as the position of president of basketball operations in Philadelphia, is said to be a firm supporter of basketball analytics and will use them heavily while evaluating players.

The revolutionary concept of advanced statistics, originally discovered by Bill James through his annual Baseball Abstract books, has made waves throughout the world of sports and has even begun to make its way into the front offices of NFL franchises.

Many spectators make the argument that analytics don't belong in basketball specifically, especially in front offices, because team chemistry plays a larger role in success than number-crunching, and baseball requires less team chemistry. That argument does have validity to an extent, but analytics can actually be trusted more in basketball than in baseball.

In baseball, most advanced statistics convey an idea of how much a player contributes in important offensive situations and fielding situations through in-depth statistics. These in-depth statistics garner information from basic data: like at-bats (AB), hits (H) and walks (BB). Some of these stats are RC (runs created), SecA (secondary batting average) and FPct (fielding percentage).

These baseball statistics deliver an idea of the result of what is happening, but further developed basketball statistics portray a deeper sense of what is physically happening, according to Spike Eskin of CBS Philly.

A pioneer of NBA analytics, John Hollinger, coined multiple new statistics in his time as a sabermetrician/writer at ESPN.com. He created numerous statistical categories compiling information from what physically occurs on the court. His compilation of data has shined the light on some of the NBA's most inefficient players (see: Rudy Gay and Monta Ellis).

John Hollinger Grizzlies May 2013

It even landed him a job as the vice president of basketball operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, where he ironically played a role in trading Gay within just over a month of being hired.

A few of his statistical categories further display not only a player's efficiency, but tell deeper stories of the load certain players carry on their shoulders. Some of his notable telling statistics are VA (value added), EWA (estimated wins added), PER (player efficiency rating) and, lastly, USG (usage rate). VA and PER are especially straight forward.

VA exhibits "the estimated number of points a player adds to a team’s season total above what a 'replacement player' would produce", Hollinger says. As opposed to a stat that focuses on a specific strength, it simply gives you one number, delivering a strong implication of whether a given player will bring wins to your team or not.

Meanwhile, PER "is the overall rating of a player's per-minute statistical production". The league-average is set at 15.00, and therefore it can be easily measured whether a player plays at an above-average efficiency level or a below-average level.

The validity of Hollinger's statistical pigeonholes is verified by the players who find themselves at the top of the list of certain categories. During every season from 2007-2008 and on, LeBron James has held the highest PER and VA in the NBA, which would confirm that he does in fact deserve to balance four MVP trophies on his mantle. Kevin Durant, the runner-up MVP to James the last two years, was second in both categories both of those seasons.

The statistics available in basketball allow scouts and front-office executives to make a much more educated evaluation of a prospect or a player than those available in baseball. This is because baseball analytics seem to be more of a crapshoot, while basketball's analytics, although still somewhat of a toss-up, are more substantive and reliable.

There is also a false assumption amongst spectators and fans (of baseball and/or basketball) that all that these pro-analytic executives just sit and crunch numbers and build a team based on that. Perhaps that's because in the film Moneyball, Billy Beane was portrayed as a character who literally based all aspects of his roster on numbers; otherwise, I'm not sure. These executives would not have jobs if all they did was crunch numbers.

Daryl Morey, the now former boss of Sam Hinkie who is one of the first front office executives in the NBA to heavily use analytics, did not build his team on a computer. He used these stats as a reference and as a way to evaluate aspects of players, but he also scouted and observed actual basketball, which is, believe it or not, required among professional basketball talent evaluators in a major sports league.

The analytics movement is spreading throughout the NBA, and those opposed to it won't be able to hide from it much longer. Young, logical executives will continue to implant the concept of advanced statistics into front offices and the trend will continue, just as it did in baseball following the media frenzy based around Billy Beane.

The only difference is, this trend will prove to be more reliable in basketball.


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