76ers: Paralysis By Analysis

We're still a month and a half out from the end of the NBA's regular season. But, despite all the minutes left to tick off of scoreboard clocks, there's one thing I'm sure I'll know by the beginning of the playoffs. When I step back and look over the landscape of the Association, I can't help but have a feeling of "flabbergast" for the franchise known as the Philadelphia 76ers.

The historic organization appears to want to become the new poster boy for success using advanced analytics. In the meantime, they have no issue playing poorly enough to lose 78% of their games. It's not just that they're bad (the Knicks and Lakers are really bad teams). It's not just that they're young (the Timberwolves have had an extremely young core through most of the season). It's that their the basic brand of bad that seems to want to get historically worse.

This is nothing new for the organization which started out as the Syracuse Nationals. Even with an honor role that includes Dolph Schayes, Earl Lloyd (RIP, sir), Hal Greer, Wilt Chamberlain, Billy Cunningham, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, and Allen Iverson, this athletic venture has seen its share of valleys. After making every postseason from 1950 to 1971, the franchise missed the Playoffs four straight campaigns. That stretch included the worst team in league history (the infamous '72-'73 edition). In the 1990s, Philly wouldn't find the postseason for seven consecutive years (1992 to 1998). However, I couldn't tell you if during those particular stints, the front office tried to re-establish a winning atmosphere quite the same way Sam Hinkie is trying to do it today.

Since the Sixers' current GM took over in May of 2013, there have been four big acquisition "action" dates (in my opinion, that means either the trade deadline or the Draft). During the 2013 draft, Hinkie used his three available picks to take Michael Carter-Williams, Glen Rice (traded on draft night), and Pierre Jackson. Jackson didn't have a chance to make the squad out of Training Camp due to the fact that he was the other piece in the Jrue Holiday (going)/Nerlens Noel (incoming) trade just two weeks later.

At last season's trade deadline, the organization shed more youth from the previous regime. They shipped off Spencer Hawes for a package including Earl Clark (waived the next day). In a separate deal, the team lost Lavoy Allen and Evan Turner for a future pick and Danny Granger (waived less than a week later). And this only helped to set the stage for quite the future haul…potentially.

This past June, the Sixers used their full allotment of seven selections during the sixty-slot Draft (yep, they held about 12% of the event in their hands). Two of the choices (Elfrid Payton and Nemanja Dangubic) were traded on Draft night. One (Vasilije Micic) is a European project playing on the other side of the Atlantic. Another (Russ Smith) signed with New Orleans just a couple of weeks after getting drafted. And the prized pick (No. 3 overall Joel Embiid) is basically taking a redshirt this season.

As the offseason continued, Hinkie stayed busy. He offered Thaddeus Young to Minnesota, receiving a 2015 1st-round pick, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Alexey Shved (traded just before Christmas) in return. Then, things got real interesting.

It has been a couple of weeks since this season's trade deadline, a day which the Sixers were, once again, very active. After the latest round of analytical numbers were crunched, the results that were regurgitated meant the end of some young eras in the team's rebuilding process. Carter-Williams made enough progress during his first pro season to be named Rookie of the Year. But it wasn't enough to justify a full second stanza. He was sent to Milwaukee as part of a three-team deal that brought a protected 1st-round pick back to the Sixers. But Philly wasn't done. K.J. McDaniels, a 2nd-round pick from this past Draft, was ushered off to Houston for Isaiah Canaan and (you know it) an upcoming 2nd-round pick in June.

After all of that rigmarole, the organization's only healthy, game-playing body from the ten picks over the last two drafts is Jerami Grant. Yes, the team has Nerlens Noel. Yes, the franchise could have two picks in the lottery positions of the next "potential party." And they could have as many as eight (yes, eight) picks overall. But I don't know what that means.

With a top-five slot fairly certain, there's the likelihood that talent will surely fall to them, whether it's Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, D'Angelo Russell, Emmanuel Mudiay, or someone else. But will one of those anticipatory stars be the piece that turns the fortunes of this franchise? Will they have the rest of the young core around to grow together? Will they stay long enough to grow with the young core?

These are the questions the fans of advanced analytics hope get resolved with a positive outcome. The approach has worked for teams like the San Antonio Spurs, NHL's Chicago Blackhawks, and MLB's Boston Red Sox. But when you have veteran leadership (from players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and David Ortiz) in the mix, the pure numbers game can be rolled in much easier. Whomever the Sixers bring in, they'll be very, very young and, in some cases, very, very raw.

Who knows? I could be sitting here in three years' time, finishing my plate of crow as Philadelphia advances in the Playoffs. But until then, I'll keep wondering when this franchise will turn the flurry of statistics into numbers that will put some actual brotherly love back into the Wells Fargo Center.

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