Are The Sixers Doing Moneyball Or Counting House?


Feb 24, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers fans hold up a sign reading “MCW = rookie of the year” during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Wells Fargo Center. The Bucks defeated the Sixers 130-110. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Are The Sixers Doing Moneyball Or Counting House?

The Philadelphia 76ers have embraced “moneyball”, or more appropriately, basketball analytics. The team is even hiring a specialist in basketball analyst, very likely the first position of it’s kind in the NBA. But even as amateur scientists, there is a consensus of knowledge that you should not change an experiment while it is running. Let’s discuss this further.

The factors of assembling this team are based upon statistical analytics – a close examination of minor favorable trends from a large population – also known as the data universe. But oftentimes overlooked in packaging this data into trends, inclinations, and probability scenarios is the fact that by modifying the population, the data is now skewing from that found in the universe. Simply stated, if a player remains with the same team, on average, for 3.4 years, but the Philadelphia 76ers have been swapping players at a much more rapid pace, reducing their average time on the team roster to 1.5 years, will that change the outcomes? It could. That’s where the sophistication of the new mathematical models evolve into such intricacy that they require large computers, the most brilliant minds, and a series of sanity checks built into the process.

The Philadelphia 76ers are pioneering this technology.  But are they pioneering it for the right reasons?

There is another math heavy profession.   Accounting.   It has roots that deeply embed in any business venture, and originated in the city of Milan by Luca Pacioli, in 1494.  In this version of math, credits must equal debits.

So in the new analytics, the basketball team is looking to succeed by analysing which shots off which foot by which hand have the most impact on the final score of a basketball game.  In the old  accounting, the team is looking to turn a profit.  Revenue is down, so they cut expenses. In fact, the team turned a small profit of $24 Million (per Forbes) despite attendance dropping 17%.

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This is in the face of the team ranking highest in an ESPN survey of professional teams using data and analytics.   You see, the team is fighting against normal logic and adhering to a rebuilding plan that takes today’s challenges head-on, in order to more quickly arrive at tomorrow’s rewards.

But what if the team was simply “budgeting”?  Are the Sixers doing moneyball or counting house?  What if the plan of the Sixers is simply nothing any more sophisticated than a simple layoff… a business strategy commonly employed when the cash receipts are not keeping pace with expenses?  Could it be simply that the 76ers are in the counting house, counting up their money?  I don’t think that is the case.  If it were, Brett Brown would have walked already.   Sam Hinkie may be credited with “The Process”, but if he was labeled simply as a general manager to restore positive cash, his career would be all but over in the NBA.  Players would refuse to report en masse.

But there could be elements of both.  It could be part of the compromise to getting a full fledged process past ownership was the commitment to maintain integrity of the bottom line.  In any case, perhaps while the fan attendance falls, and the team losses accumulate, it may not be such a bad idea to lose a little money in the process.  After all, misery loves company.  Since the team is the source of consternation for fans, media, players and coaches, why should ownership be allowed to miss all the fun?

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