Sam Hinkie Understood Joel Embiid Held Team Future

Selecting injured Joel Embiid required conviction and confidence, but Sam Hinkie understood that Joel Embiid’s fractured foot, and the Philadelphia 76ers future, could be changed for the better.

From the moment the Philadelphia 76ers president Sam Hinkie drafted injured, but potential franchise player Joel Embiid, at the third pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, the court of public opinion had been quite harsh in judging the move as fool’s gold.

In fact, it may have cost former president Sam Hinkie his job.

Now that Joel Embiid has begun to excite the NBA, I have begun to see evidence of inputs marginalizing the risk assumed by Sam Hinkie in drafting Joel Embiid. For those who do not recall, Joel Embiid was a big prospect with little basketball experience with a partial year playing for the University of Kansas.

Mike Gibson crafted an over-dramatized narrative on the topic, but hit the essential risks in his article entitled “Philadelphia 76ers Have To Accept The Reality That Joel Embiid Might Never Play Again“.

For a time, it appeared as though Joel Embiid might not play again.  After all, he had stress fractures in his back, a high risk Naviscular bone fracture in his foot (which required two surgeries and two years rehab to repair), and was a young man who was very far from home and who suffered the tragic loss of his brother.

He might have turned away from a game that offered much but demanded much. But Sam Hinkie understood the psyche of the young Cameroon.  That young man simply need the opportunity, and Hinkie made sure he got it.

Oct 8, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie (R) talks with chief executive officer Scott O

Not Odd For An Odds-Maker

Ergo, the drafting of Jahlil Okafor to “hedge” the delay of Embiid’s arrival, and to fill the vacuum if he did not rehab enough to play again.

What many fail to understand is the logic behind Sam Hinkie’s transactions. He respected odds, random forces of the NBA, and so he “stacked” the deck time and again to thwart those odds. He did so in each NBA draft in which he participated.  He used his selection in the draft to deal with latter selecting teams, in the process getting the player he coveted as well as additional draft picks.

But it was not a random selection.  He was focused to the future moreso than any other general manager.  And so, he had the distinct advantage of blazing the trail.  But to where?

The destination is an NBA championship. In drafting Embiid, Hinkie believed he had discovered one of the three stars needed to deliver an NBA championship.  That belief that would be tested over two years.

Hinkie believed in basketball analytics, much like a road map to new and unfamiliar territory serves to help find your way.  So he embraced the analytics theory in three star players needed to generate a championship team.  But NBA stars are both rare and elusive.  When Sam Hinkie found Joel Embiid at three in the 2014 NBA Draft, he pounced.

Hinkie believed Joel Embiid was one of the three, perhaps the pinnacle of an NBA franchise.  But Embiid needed help, lots of help, to realize his potential.

Nov 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid warms up before action against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Sports Science

From the moment he drafted Joel Embiid, Hinkie began a crusade to recruit the premier expert in the field of sports science and medicine, Dr. David T. Martin.   That wooing lasted a year, but finally the team announced Dr. Martin’s new role with the team.

Fortunately, the team had engaged Martin in overseeing Embiid’s progress long before formally hiring him.  The struggle was investing so much time, money, and effort to ensure two grueling years of surgery and international rehabilitation could deliver all of Joel Embiid’s potential.

But so much focus on just one player?  Despite the social media acceptance today, it was ridiculed on a daily basis throughout the ordeal.  It came down to Hinkie’s belief in the potential of Embiid, as well as the significance to any NBA franchise to find that one special player. To Hinkie, Embiid was that one special player. The challenge? He only had workout tapes and analytics charts to confirm his belief.

Nov 21, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) reacts as time winds down on a victory against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 101-94. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Doubting Thomas No More

Joel Embiid said he was ready for the NBA, and in just his first ten NBA games of his lifetime, has convinced even his biggest doubters that he is. In fact, despite the high expectations from the fans who salivated at the stream of workout videos, he may be better than advertised.

In fact, in just ten NBA games, he is delivering far better than expected. At 18.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.1 assists and 0.5 steals per game, he is leading the team in a number of categories.  Only his 3.9 turnovers stand out negatively, but he has been improving in that area, running just 2.0 turnovers in his last three games.  So far, he is doing all of this on just 22.2 minutes per game.

But while the team is turning the corner now, it is a slow climb out of the valley.  Joel Embiid is just ten games into his NBA career. His teammate, Dario Saric, has 14 games under his belt.  2016 NBA Draft top selection Ben Simmons has yet to play his first NBA game.

And so, the fans must be patient when all instincts urge impatience.  But Hinkie was not done with this team, as he did not trust the odds of finding two other great players while the team developed Embiid.

Jul 12, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons (25) dribbles the ball during an NBA Summer League game against the Golden State Warriors at Thomas & Mack Center. Golden State won the game 85-77. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Rest Of The Story

A typical NBA team earns one first round and one second round draft pick each year.  That trickle of talent is designed to help NBA teams churn through retiring or disappointing veterans, and add new prospects.   The better the team, the less promising slot in the draft.  The odds for landing a top pick is not good even for the worst team in the NBA (just 25%), and finding a franchise player is even less likely.

So Sam Hinkie upped the odds.  Not by “tanking” as so many believe, but by delaying immediate rewards to earn bigger rewards in the future.  For the foreseeable NBA drafts, the Philadelphia 76ers will be selecting an average of four picks per season.  In 2017, the team added two second round picks to join two first round picks by trading Kendall Marshall.   On top of this, the team even added a 2020 first round pick (top 20 protected) of the Oklahoma City Thunder by trading Jerami Grant for Ersan Ilyasova.

Picks do not add to the team, but add to the probability of the team.  But picks become prospects, and prospects become NBA players.  Right now, the Philadelphia 76ers are building a team from youth and potential.  To do so, the team built a state of the art training center in Camden New Jersey.  But to tie the young team into the community, the Philadelphia 76ers co-located innovation labs in the center as well.

Now, as the team grows, so will the community.

It all started when an risk-taker found the long-shot sure thing.  Hinkie knew Joel Embiid would deliver. Thankfully, Hinkie was always keeping an eye on the future.

This article originally appeared on