Sixers Pearson Is The Shot Doctor


Sixers Pearson Is The Shot Doctor

Running a temperature? See your family physician. Dog injured? See your veterinarian. But if you are a Philadelphia 76er and you’ve lost your three point shot? Who you gonna call? Not a Ghostbuster. You look up Doctor Lance Pearson. Pearson is an interesting employee all on his own, as he as a Ph.D. in cognitive and neural systems from Boston University and degrees in mathematics, computer science and philosophy from the University of Kentucky. Nicknamed “Doc”, he’s the guy who turns trends into math models into reports into better trends.

Two years into Brown’s four-year contract, Hinkie has handed his coach a staff of more than a dozen, with individuals responsible for everything from offense and defense, to analytics, to sports science, to video, to strength and conditioning.  Each staff member has a role to fill, a service to deliver to the new players.   That role becomes part of a Sixer culture that compliments the task of the head coach to deliver a cast of individuals into a team.

At the beginning of each season, players are educated by a wide range of experts, and coach Brett Brown uses the time to incorporate a rainbow of player support functions.  The Sixers continue to be a rather young team, so coach Brown has taken a longer range look at player training, incorporating the whole month of October leading up to opening night.   He developed 2014 into one long session each day instead of “doubles”, exchanging the evening session into a period education and recuperation. One night, the players heard from a nutritionist, another night it was a sleep expert. Brown says the information strikes a chord with the players for a simple reason: this new knowledge may help them play longer and make more money.  Another event was a seminar about focus and commitment by former Navy Seal Mark McGinnis.  Each message gives the player a kernal, a seed, to grow as they compete for a roster spot on the team.  What the player does with the information is up to them.  But they all get the same starter kit.

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Its difficult to place the context of what the month of October is to the team. It’s orientation, boot camp, and on-boarding to a new profession all rolled up into one package. But the one part of the team that is relatively unique to the Philadelphia 76ers organization is the feedback process for the team to the players.

In the mind of general manager Sam Hinkie, one step backwards is just fine if you are moving two steps ahead.  But losing is like submerging.  You may be rising to the surface, but losing places everything under tremendous pressure.  How do you “follow the bubbles” to the surface?  How do you define improvement on a team where wins happen as frequently as a lunar eclipse?  You measure improvements in definable chunks.

How do you do that?  You need… well let me place this in his own words from his twitter account

"Special Video Projects, Advanced Analytics, College Scouting, Psychology, Skill Development, Game Planning, you name it…"

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Head coach Brett Brown describes “Doc” this way:

"“I have a guy in my meetings who I’ve just fallen in love with. I’ve got a lot of assistants, and I’ve got a gentleman with about four degrees that is incredibly impressive when you say, ‘What is your background?’ and he rolls up all of this about a doctorate. And all’s he does in my meetings is (respond) when I say, ‘Is that true? Who’s the best in the league at this? What does this mean? We’re No. 1 in the league in pace. Is that (because of) a kick-ahead 3-ball? I don’t think so. You’ve got the wrong guy shooting.’ And (he’s got) this efficient shot chart. ‘Why is that so good? Why? Because you shoot 3s with guys who can’t. I don’t see that.’ So I’m always inquisitive and challenging and always taking everything that you think and know and digested and beat it up, so we can get more polished and I can get better. And the analytics side of it has really captured my imagination, and will factor into a lot with this upcoming draft. I’m going to see a different side than I probably even know when we start assessing and how we start assessing people.”"

But Doc doesn’t just scout the Sixers. He stats up the other team too.

"“I could do a complete scouting report by watching video, and (Pearson) would input the other team’s stats into his program and come up with an as-detailed scouting report as me. He’s one of the smartest individuals I’ve ever been around.” – Chris Starks, NAIA colleague"

Is this the end all? Of course not. Statistics rely upon history, trending, and assumptions. But it’s a tool, one move lever to pull to facilitate a team that has submerged to nearly the bottom of the NBA ocean in order to surface as a champion.

Analytics is not the journey, but it can be one heck of a map.

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