How an Econ Teacher Inspired a Front-Runner to Shake it Up, and Trust The Process

Jonathan Wren

As a fan of individual NBA players growing up, I had not built up a passion for any one team. That is, until my Senior year of college in 2015, when an Econ professor with a peculiar-personality (is there any other kind?) put me on to another peculiar-personality's investment-centric, all-encompassing strategy for long term success predicated on short term failures.

I'm not here to describe Sam Hinkie the Philadelphia 76ers' process to you. Pablo Torre did in 2015, as have dozens of journalists since then. What I wish to convey is why and how a Kobe fan from the suburbs outside Washington, D.C., and thousands of sports fans from both in and outside of Southeast PA, came to root -- loudly -- for a bunch of "losers."

Communication with my college roommate at the time, a Philly sports guy through and through, was essentially a series of verbal jousts, with particularly hot takes being our weapon of choice. And when it came to his favorite team starting 0 and 17, Tim was bought in. And almost immediately upon introduction, so was I.

Why? Because it made sense. Tanking spat in the face of modern sports' expectation to win now at all costs. The Process refuses to give in to the pressures teams face from the media, the paying customers, and the front office to be as competitive as possible each and every day. It challenged fans to think with the longest view in the room, when that room has historically been full of people who have thrown snowballs at Santa Claus without a care in the world for what that may bring come December 25th.

Losing was then. Years later, after injuries of Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz, and the payout is now. To extend Hinkie's farming metaphor (used extensively throughout his resignation letter) further than it's already Go-Go Gadget Extendo arm can go, The Process has planted a beautiful -- (rethinks use of word "beautiful" here, googles "weird fruit-bearing tree," spends 5 minutes learning about unusual fruits) -- has planted a…. unique Jackfruit Tree. We have allowed that extra-large fruit time to ripen, and now we get to see how it tastes (nailed that metaphor).

There are a lot of haters and doubters out there who will cite the importance of old-school team building terms such as "chemistry" and "fit." 

"It is overly simplistic to claim that an approach relying on math, while throwing positional needs out the window, could have possibly resulted in a talented squad with no chemistry or fit," said a Sixers homer with his outside-voice.

Sixers homers' faith in Hinkie harkens back to the simple truth in a sport fielding five men on the court who play both offense and defense -- talent wins. Hinkie's accumulation of assets will fill in the rest.

From Delaware Blue Coat to Championship Puzzle Piece

You don't need advanced analytics to see that the Sixers have struggled to find the right way to utilize Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Their body-language has been frustrating at times. Their verbal language has been, as well. Embiid is a career 32.2-percent 3-point shooter. Ben Simmons can't shoot a fish into the water.

The problem for this Sixers rotation has always been floor spacing. Ben Simmons, in the short corner "dunker's spot," clogs the lane for the beast whom Brett Brown has referred to as "Shaq with soccer feet." Shaq, with soccer feet, clogs the lane for Simmo the Savage's rim-rocking slams. The question has always been: Can the Sixers surround their two superstars with enough outside shooting to win a title?

Enter Malik Benjamin "Shake" Milton. On February 22nd in a game against the Eastern Conference favorites Milwaukee Bucks, Ben Simmons aggravated a lower-back injury, and Sixers fans held their collective breath. They were left with some solace, however, when the backup's backup, Shake Milton, who last year was playing on a two-way contract with the Sixers D-League affiliate in Delaware, went 5 for 7 from downtown.

As a rookie during the 2018–19 season, Shake appeared in only 20 games for the Sixers, averaging 13.4 minutes and 2.2 3-point attempts-per-game, with a 31.8 3-point percentage. However, a glance at his college stats showed that there might be plenty of room for growth. From 2015–2018 at Southern Methodist University, Shake averaged 42.7-percent from 3-land (and 43.4-percent his final year).

This year, with more minutes and more attempts, Shake has found his bake, shooting a Summertime-No-Shade, Direct-Sunlight-Asphalt-Hot 46.7-percent from behind the arc. The former high school Gatorade Player of the Year from the state of Oklahoma is also not afraid to let the wind come sweepin' down the paint.

The 54th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft came to Philly from Dallas for two late second-round draft picks. At the Time, Sixers head coach Brett Brown was quoted saying that years of making "trades that we made to acquire future picks" built the capital to acquire "somebody that we really like" in Shake Milton.

To sum up five years of fandom and too many words:

Math + Passion + Vision = Process.

Process + Time? Spectators of the Process -- pundits, fans, students, hell even the haters -- will have their eyes glued to a bubble with a variety of expectations to that hypothetical math problem. I have my guess -- let's watch this team show their work.

This article was submitted to SI's All76ers.com by Jonathan Wren. You can follow him on Twitter: @JonathanWren

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