Friday, June 27, 2014


Column: Sixers had guts to draft Embiid third


In my book, Sam Hinkie, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, came to the plate for Thursday’s NBA draft with an 0-2 count.

Strike 1: He’s one of those stat freaks, known by fellow stat freaks as an “analytics expert.” Some basketball statistics, such as field-goal efficiency (which years ago was called adjusted field-goal percentage) are long overdue and quite useful. Others don’t reveal much, can be misleading and sap the fun right out of discussions about the relative merits of basketball players.

Basketball never has been a sport that can accurately be captured by statistics, in large part because numbers don’t reveal how a player makes teammates either better (Magic Johnson) or worse (Stephon Marbury) based on the timing and wisdom of decisions.

I’ve always suspected the zealous devotion to numbers exercised by some modern sports fans smack of a revenge of the nerds. Picked last on the playground, they’ll show they’re smarter than the kids chosen first, just as their report card shows they’re smarter. Owners fall for it and give “analytics experts” jobs that used to go to jocks.

Strike 2: Hinkie doesn’t seem to believe it’s part of his job to keep Sixers fans informed on much of anything and guards his tongue as if national security depended on it. Again, in so doing, he takes the fun out of it, a bizarre approach for an executive in the entertainment industry.

But man, what a two-strike hitter this Hinkie guy is. He showed that underneath his mound of statistical printouts and inside the cone of silence lies a man with a burglar’s guts.

The easy, safe decision for Hinkie would have been to bypass Kansas University center Joel Embiid and use the precious third pick on a healthy basketball player. Instead, Hinkie showed he’s not interested in building a good team. He wants a great one, even if that means taking risks so many others consider unwise.

Embiid’s foot stress fracture is a legitimate concern, considering the injury greatly diminished the careers of centers Bill Walton and Yao Ming.

If Embiid’s foot injury, or his back troubles, prevent him from becoming the perennial All-Star that his natural feel, clever feet, soft touch and fertile brain suggest he will become if healthy, Hinkie could pay with his job in a couple of years. Give the guy credit for not thinking defensively and for not seeking a quick fix.

Hinkie traded the Sixers’ second pick (No. 10 overall) for the 12th to take Dario Saric, who will play at least two more seasons in Europe. Embiid is expected to miss much of this coming season. Even if he remains healthy once he returns to the court, it could take him a couple of years to develop into a winning center. By then, the Sixers will have stockpiled more lottery picks or packaged a couple of them for a veteran at a position of need.

Embiid’s ceiling is so much higher than that of Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker that if he stays healthy — granted, a pretty big if — the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks will kick themselves for years. If Embiid’s career is cheated by injuries, Hinkie can sleep soundly knowing that his was an error of aggression, always an easier defeat to wear than one driven by fear.


Rodney Crain 4 years, 11 months ago

I am with you TK the Sixers made some strange decisions this draft. Joel should feel no pressure to rush back to playing, he should get healthy and see what he can do when he is 100%. I like what the Bucks and Jazz did, and a few other teams made great value picks. But if I was a Sixer fan I would be scratching my head trying to understand when their team will be getting better.

Jonathan Allison 4 years, 11 months ago

They're definitely not making the "instant gratification" picks, and I like that. I'm a delayed gratification person myself. I prefer to set things up so that I can enjoy it all later.

They picked an injured Noel last year at #7, who was long projected as the #1 pick of an admittedly weak draft class, knowing that he wouldn't play much if at all as a rookie. So I would assume that they are counting on him for a boost this season, much like they will be counting on Embiid for a boost next season, and Saric for a boost maybe the season after that!

Other than MCW, I don't know who else is on that roster, but it seems to me that they will also need some wing players who can really shoot it, if they want to be a playoff team. Maybe they're waiting for the 2015 draft? Or maybe free agency or a mid-season trade...

Rodney Crain 4 years, 11 months ago

Jonathan the Sixer GM is certainly rolling the dice with his roster. The sports radio stations here talk about how difficult it is to get a championship roster in the NBA. You get better, start making the playoffs but your team is missing 2 or 3 players and you slowly fall back into the lottery. He is basically looking at 2016 or 2017 to get all his draft choices and players in place. The talk here is if it works and he gets them to the finals with a solid core, under contract other teams might follow his unique approach. Kind of like money ball in baseball, he is trying something no else is really trying or gets the chance to try. It will change how teams get back to championship caliber teams. If it doesn't work, they might have nothing for the next 5-7 years to show for it. Gratification may never come. At least it's different, but they are setup for next years lottery now. Hard sell to the fans to show up next year, their team will be full of 2nd tier talent, except for one or two guys.

Reggie Flenory 4 years, 11 months ago

Jojo is gonna make so many people eat crow and i cant wait to see it

Jonathan Allison 4 years, 11 months ago

I like this video on Embiid. He shows a lot of his personality in it.

rick cowley 4 years, 11 months ago

Philly did pretty well with another KU center, Wilt! Good luck Joel.

Rodney Crain 4 years, 11 months ago

Wilts NBA career stats - 30 PPG, 23 RPG, 4.4 APG, 45.6 MPG. Hope Joel approaches those numbers after 14 seasons. Wilt had Only 1 championship with Philly, he had very little help, 2 total.

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