As with most things in sports, I like to use the analogy of a Swan. What we see on TV when a team win is representative of a Swan gliding effortlessly down a river. What we don’t see, is the tireless leg motion to keep that Swan afloat or the work that goes on behind the scenes.
The same can also be said for the Sixers rebuild. It’s easy to view the picks, the process, the pieces and assume that development happens naturally and the team naturally harvest the fruits of their suffering labour. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In April of 2016, the Sixers made the decision to hire Bryan Colangelo as President of Basketball Operations. Left with one of the most interesting rebuild scenarios in the history of the NBA, Colangelo did far more than draft Ben Simmons and every consequent player move since.
“As an organization, we really had to establishing a restructuring if you will.” The 2007 executive of the year explained during a Sixers practice in London. “We had to go in and develop an entire analytics department. We have nine guys now who are dedicated to helping us make the right decisions. From the standpoint of player selection to how to best utilize players in games, the strategy of preparing for opponents. It’s been one of the biggest developments in the game in the last decade or so. It’s something I felt needed to be addressed.”
Analytics are driving the future of every sport. While some refuse to adapt to the changing landscape, others are a little too quick to jump on the trend and misuse the data available. It’s a fine line, but as time goes on more and more teams are using analytics to aid their decision making in a variety of different ways.
“It’s a balance.” Colangelo said after Ben Simmons lobbed a ball against the wall, sailing over our heads but drawing the attention of the Phoenix native. “Nothing is driven solely by analytics and nothing is driven solely by gut. But the bottom line is we put a lot of time, money and investment into it. We have of a staff of about nine, both domestic and international individuals who are carrying forth the obligations that we have. We’ve established a really diverse group that we started from scratch.”
Colangelo then mentioned the advances in medical performance. Of course, he was referring to the hire of Dr Daniel Medina Lial, formerly of F.C. Barcelona. Given the Sixers struggles with their stars and injury setbacks, the hire of Lial, who during 2008-2015 oversaw 2,000 athletes and more than 125 staff members, was one that again has been overlooked. Just like building a team of stars on the court, the Sixers have worked tirelessly to create a winning culture away from it.
“We’ve really tried to establish the best in-class, professional organization that we could.” Colangelo said. “We went out and hired a few people on personnel and operations standpoint, one from the league office, one from another NBA team, bringing the best in class together. I feel like we’ve got a great professional team and that’s something that I felt needed to be addressed more than anything.”
The results can be seen on any given night. Maybe it’s the rate that the Sixers are shooting the three-ball, or potentially even some of the rotations that have elevated the likes of T.J McConnell into a key role. Just like that elegant Swan, we’ll never see exactly what goes on behind the scenes…but it’s just as important.
“We’ve taken some strides.” Colangelo nodded with a slight smile on his face. “We’re not there yet, we have a long way to go but we feel like we’re trending in the right direction.”
Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports