Apply a dose of science and big data to a team sport such as basketball. The big gains will come in cooperation. Who should take the next shot?, when is a “corner three” worthwhile?, who should play with the second unit, how good is the pick and roll against this opponent?, and so on. Big data also will bring some gains at the individual level, such as from better training regimens, but those moves were easier to spot in the first place. The issues involving cooperation are those where simple intuitive observation, of the old school style, will miss a lot of potential improvements.
Cooperative gains are more fragile, however, because everyone has to get the strategy right to reap the benefits (think of Michael Kremer’s O-Ring model). So the previous champion, San Antonio, has fallen off dramatically because Leonard is injured and Tony Parker is playing like his age (32). Atlanta suddenly had all the pieces gel, and they now, to the surprise of almost everyone, have the best record in the East. (They have learned the ball movement and shooting style which San Antonio perfected last year during their championship run, but Atlanta has no big stars.) Golden State is a positive surprise too, with the best record in the league. Cleveland has attempted to do “cooperation” (ha) on the terms of its stars, not on the terms of the data, and that experiment has fallen flat.
In Panama I watched an old Lakers game from the 1980s (vs. Portland) and was struck by how tall everyone was, compared to today. There were fewer surprises that year, and I believe those facts are related. The three-point shot has made players shorter and more cooperative and arguably increased the value of the coach and his assistants.
Some of these arguments should apply to areas other than basketball, so perhaps a higher value for data-driven cooperation will mean more surprises in the world in general.