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Sam Hinkie, Rob Hennigan and Next Generation of GM’s Show Off Zen Analytics

Sam Hinkie: Analytics revolutionary or next generation of zen lineage? (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

From the mouth of the late, great, 20th-century Japanese zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki:

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.

This line, which birthed the title of Suzuki’s most popular book, challenges our perhaps unchecked assumptions about the way the world works. Could expertise, could knowledge in fact blind its owner to exploring life’s most optimal solutions? Hmm.

Separate but related: The astoundingly valuable prospect video database DraftExpress was on hand for last month’s draft lottery, taping impromptu scrum interviews with available general managers.

The present generation of NBA GM’s is popularly known for their implementation of analytics on the most cutting edge. But to listen to them talk, it appears more than anything that these bright minds are in fact disciples of Suzuki. Here are the GM’s that DraftExpress managed to interview, along with individual “Grasshopper” ratings. GM’s receiving one Grasshopper are those most likely to walk out in the middle of a zen teaching given by Suzuki, and a ten Grasshopper rating is given to those most likely to receive Suzuki’s blessing to become a zen teacher themselves:

David Morway – Milwaukee Bucks Assistant GM

Grasshopper Rating: 6 Grasshoppers

Morway’s ability to keep his emotions in equilibrium is surely an inspiration for zen practitioners who aspire to never swing too high or dip too low. It is this internal balance that allows him to honestly say “It’s a great time to be in Milwaukee” without summoning any phony enthusiasm. From this I will extrapolate: perhaps Morway does not envision the most imaginative deals, but I’m guessing that neither does he advocate rolling the dice on potentially destructive, high-risk gambles. There is virtue in a steady hand, especially in an advisory role.

Milt Newton – Minnesota Timberwolves GM

Grasshopper Rating: 2 Grasshoppers

Newton’s simmering jealousy over the Cavaliers’ #1 selection indicates that he dwells on events that are categorically out of his control — a sure recipe for suffering. To deny that the Wolves’ #13 pick has no influence on a potential Kevin Love transaction is to deny the inherent interconnectedness of all trade assets.

David Griffin – Cleveland Cavaliers GM

Grasshopper Rating: 4 Grasshoppers

Griffin oscillates between statements indicative of a 10-Grasshopper GM and a 1-Grasshopper GM. His response to a potential trade of the #1 pick, “I don’t think we’ll ever rule anything out,” is a sage welcoming-in of all potential outcomes that the universe can and will present to Griffin. But then: “We really feel like there’s a sense of urgency about improving our team as a whole.” To put a time limit on self-improvement is to limit the extent of the improvement itself.

Rob Hennigan – Orlando Magic GM

Grasshopper Rating: 9 Grasshoppers

Were Shunryu Suzuki a basketball fan, it’s hard to envision him devising a line about the NBA Draft more wise than what Hennigan comes up with off the cuff: “You’re making a guess on a human being, so you never quite know how it’ll turn out.” Orlando fans should feel joy that their team is being constructed by a man who gives weight to the real emotional calculus that lurks, unquantifiable, behind every transaction.

Pete D’Alessandro, Sacramento Kings GM

Grasshopper Rating: 6 Grasshoppers

“You take it as it comes, you do the best with what you have.” The first reflex of our human nature, upon getting stonewalled by top prospects and their agents, would be to tighten into a ball of frustration, perhaps saying something in the throes of anger that one would later regret. D’Alessandro’s quote on the matter indicates that he has arrived at a sense of internal peace on the matter long before the moment of this taping, an attitude that gives him a clear head and expansive vision.

Sam Hinkie, Philadelphia 76ers GM

Grasshopper Rating: 10 Grasshoppers

Hinkie delivers a wealth of profound zen nuggets in this short interview:

-“I think everyone assumes that there’s a board right now that’s completely set, and then we just wait. There’s a lot of time and a lot of work to be done, and I’m a big believer [that] you might find better answers if you spend time at it.”

-On the Andrew Bynum trade: “It’s not about how it turns out. It’s not about how it turns out. It’s about what you knew at the time, and how that plays out for your particular team and their particular team. […] I think it’s a really tough way to live to sort of judge it as good or bad for you or others based upon how it turns out. Because sometimes lots of things happen that you couldn’t have known.”

-On ultimately receiving the #3 pick: “I think you sort of have to be open-minded to all the possibilities, from 1 to 5, and we were open-minded to all of those and what might happen.”

Behold the true zen master.

Miles Wray