Perhaps you have noticed that the sixth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans swept the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in four games straight. A month or two ago, it was not entirely obvious that the Pelicans would make the playoffs at all. And all 22 ESPN analysts picked the Pelicans to lose the series.
The simplest theory about the Pelicans performance is that they have two superstars, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday. But while Portland was thought of as the superior team, they don’t have any player with the power and dynamism of Anthony Davis, whom I and many others consider to be a transcendent superstar.
One possible theory is this: an NBA series today is very well scouted and analyzed, and the players watch lots of tape. Adjustments are made each game or even each quarter, based on a quantitative analysis of what is working and what is not. This neutralizes many of the strategies of the lesser players, and furthermore having a good bench is worth less when it is easier to concentrate more of the minutes in the very best players. It is not however possible to neutralize the impact of a transcendental superstar, even with lots of advance planning. Those truly top players can improvise around any defenses thrown at them, or on the defensive end they can rapidly adjust to counter a new offensive attack.
Furthermore, in the playoffs effort is more or less equalized, as suddenly everyone is trying, even the bench players on the road. That too raises the relative return to top talent.
In the playoffs, it is thus plausible that the quality and value of the transcendent superstars goes up.
As more and more of contemporary business becomes regularized and measured and motivated and based on well-ordered cooperating teams, might the same be true for the transcendent superstars of that world as well? In essence, we’re always in the business “playoffs” these days, at least in Manhattan and Silicon Valley, and their transcendent superstars also become the difference-makers.
I do not seek to argue that is the main cause behind rising income inequaliity, but might it be one factor?
Of course my dream series for the finals is New Orleans vs. Philadelphia (Ben Simmons, Joel “built for…playoff basketball” Embiid. That is hardly the most likely outcome, but it is now looking a lot more possible than one might have thought. Philly, by the way, is the “all time hottest team entering the NBA playoffs,” at least by one measure.