CHICAGO - New 76ers president of basketball operations and general manager Sam Hinkie might not look the part, with his small, unathletic frame covered in tan pants, a button-down dress shirt and a blue sport jacket.
Most of the general managers at the NBA rookie draft combine have the same style - dress pants and a golf shirt. And most have a long history in the NBA, such as Boston's Danny Ainge, the Lakers' Mitch Kupchak and Brooklyn's Billy King, all of whom were present at the Attack Athletics gym to set eyes on players available for June's draft.
Though he might seem out of place, and his tenure as head of the Sixers is less than a week old, Hinkie can talk the game. As he eyes the players on the court, he comments on shooting strokes, release points, footwork. He has been coming to these workouts since he was hired by the Houston Rockets 8 years ago, and he is confident about what he is looking at and for.
Considered an analytics genius and probably viewed by many Sixers fans as a sort of computer geek, Hinkie said he has been obsessed with basketball since he was a youngster growing up in Oklahoma. He didn't play college basketball, as he was better at something else - academics. He graduated from Oklahoma with a 4.0 GPA and earned his MBA from Stanford. Still, he never lost his passions for hoops.
"I went to graduate school at Stanford, and they have a big admit weekend where they try to show you around the various clubs and professional associations and try to get your feel, and I skipped it all to go to the Arizona-Stanford game," he said. "My wife and I went to the game, because that was the most interesting way to spend my time at night. That was in 2003. It's not particularly new, my interest in the game.
"When I was growing up I played a lot. A lot. I was just smart enough to quit and not go play at a junior college or go walk on somewhere, but I was just dumb enough to spend all my teenage years playing a lot. If you would have asked any of my childhood friends to tell you about Sam, they would say, 'He's crazy about hoops and he's bright and he's really hard-working.' That's what my 8 year-old friends would have said, or my 6-year-old friends would have said."
While analytics plays a huge role in how he envisions the game and how he wants to improve a team, it is not the only asset he relies on. That is why he goes to the rookie workouts every year and why he is a regular at summer leagues, so he can witness the talent firsthand, not just through numbers and charting sheets. And just as he was enamored with playing the game, the 35-year-old still can't get enough.
"I think it's really important in how you see the world, through anywhere, that if you want to be really good at something, it's when can't you get enough," he said. "When you get to the end of the workday, do you say, 'I'd rather go do this' or when you get to Saturday morning, do you say, 'I'd rather do this'? Thinking, 'I have my job but there's other things that I like to do'? Or are you like me and you struggle to get enough? I think that adds up over time. If you're the kind of person that can't get enough because you're really passionate about something, I think that only helps. Some of us are just wired that way. But at least as far as being able to do things you're passionate about and care about a lot day to day, I think it's important."
While he talks, his eyes rarely leave the court and he remembers a drill from 3 years ago that left a lasting impression.
"You should have seen Paul George in this drill with the 'two' guards and locking people up," said Hinkie, of the now-Pacers star. "He was completely locking people up. That sort of thing stands out, and if you get to see them in an environment where he's around other players of a similar caliber and how they can do . . .
"These are the same type of drills players do in practice every day. It's the same kind of drills that coaches make their decision on as to who is going to play. And all the same factors that play into that - your body language and if your motor is consistently high and whether you can focus when you get tired and whether you run hard in what are seemingly meaningless sprints. That's what every coach is making his judgments on about who is going to play, too. That's what you're predicting, too."
After being in the gym for more than 5 hours, Hinkie interviewed many of the players he saw on the floor. When that ended about 9 p.m., he planned to talk to people in the league about who may be his next head coach. After a few hours of sleep, he'll start it all over again today.
"These are very long-term investments," said Hinkie, transforming into his business side. "You've got to try and figure out who the best players are and which players are likely to be the best. Not who the best players are this very moment, that's not even very important unfortunately, but what's important is who the best players are going to be in 2 years or 5 years or for the very best ones [in] 8 years. That's the most important thing.
"There's a lot [on his plate] but it's not unexpected, either. One of the things that you try to do is what would be expected of you in time and when the moment comes.
I've known for many years that if I was fortunate enough to get a chance to really lead in the way that I want, this kind of thing would have happened. What are you willing to do? What steps could I have taken 10 years ago and 5 years ago and 2 years ago to be ready when the flood comes, because you know when it comes, it will come in a hurry."
And it's sink-or-swim time for Hinkie.
Asked about a report that the Sixers had asked for permission to talk to Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson about their coaching vacancy, Hinkie said: "I'm not even there yet. I won't confirm or deny, but I will say I don't know where that came from."
Today on PhillyDailyNews.com: Rich Hofmann writes why there is no need to be afraid of smart people like Sam Hinkie and Chip Kelly.