Which NBA teams will gain in relative prospects from the shutdown?

The Los Angeles Lakers, far and away.

The most valuable stars, such as LBJ, have their own private gyms and work-out rooms, often in their homes.  They have stayed in the best shape, and of course LBJ has the discipline too.  Those star players also are the most used to unusual circumstances (All-star games, Olympics, etc.) and being accustomed to higher than average levels of pressure.  They rely less on crowd support than do the role players, noting it is the latter who benefit much more from home court advantage.  If the games are played in Las Vegas and Orlando, and without crowds, no one will have home court advantage (except the Orlando Magic, sort of).

So teams built around star veterans will have higher chances of doing better in the playoffs.

The interrupted and probably shortened season also will be easier on the older players, which again covers LeBron.  Anthony Davis is not so old but the Lakers would love to play him as many minutes as possible.

The teams with “many necessary complementary parts” will fare worst in relative terms.  With such a long break, surely at least 10-20% of those players have “gone off the reservation,” so to speak, and will not return to quality form for some time.  Those teams will not gel so easily and find their groove.

Who might that be?  I know the Clippers have two big stars, but they seem to rely a lot on the team as a whole.  Who else?  The Celtics maybe?  Indiana?

What are the implications of this analysis for management and business firms?  Will teams built around a superstar have an advantage there too?

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This is trifling not to mention unseemly, Tyler.

NBA inside game, 2002 XBOX

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Lakers are almost certainly helped. Lebron seems the type to keep in "off season" shape and make sure his teammates do as well.

There were a lot of injuries or guys just coming off injuries, however, when the season was stopped: Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, Giannis, half the Blazers, etc.

Certainly veterans with strong work ethics and leadership skills like Lebron and the Lakers are probably helped the most. He and Davis both had nagging injuries. And they were one of the teams most gelling.

But because everyone has had rest, it probably just favors talent generally. Clippers have had lots of nagging injuries, but they may be the most talented team overall. Yes, they weren't quite sure how to work together, but they have a round or two to work that out before getting to a team like the Lakers.

But I bet it just separates the best from the rest a bit more.

Team it hurts the most? Sixers. They never have really found out how to gel as a team and Embiid is lazy in the off season, so I would expect him to come back out of shape. And they're relatively immature.

I follow where you're going with the Sixers, but it may also be the case that they are undervalued if/when the season resumes. Embiid is lazy, generally, but he will be fresh. Simmons wasn't playing when the season was paused. If he's healthy, that's the single biggest gain any contender gets out of this turn of events.

Most importantly, if any team benefits from playing on neutral courts with no fans, it's probably the team with the most pronounced disparity in home (29-2)/road (10-24) record, and who was looking at being the #5 or #6 seed, and thus not having home court advantage in any playoff series.

I wouldn't pick them, but they could get long-shot odds while having the most talented starting 5 (at least in the East).

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Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team had two rookies who were sons of Hall of Famers, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. A big advantage sons of rich baseball players have is that veteran major league baseball players now typically have a batting shed in the backyard with a state of the art pitching machine. That's a nice advantage to have in learning to hit big time pitching.

What about Lamarckian evolution, Steve? I’d wager that the inherited reps are more effective.

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Due to whatever combination of nature and nurture, there have long been close relatives (brothers, fathers and sons) in MLB at a far higher rate than would be expected under a view that MLB talent is randomly distributed among the population.

Some prominent examples from many years ago:

The three DiMaggio brothers. Joe's brothers Dom and Vince also had successful major league careers in the 1930's and 1940's, though Joe was obviously the best as an innner-circle Hall of Famer.

Dizzy Dean's brother Paul ("Daffy") also had a successful MLB career.

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Teams built around players just starting their NBA careers in a new era will enjoy higher chances of doing better in the playoffs.

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Unfortunately, all the momentum the Lakers had is gone. I really think it's anyone's game now. Either way, these playoffs will always have an asterisk next to them.

An asterisk typically means a question mark must be placed next to the team or competitor who won, no? So I’m thinking Maria Sharapova or Alberto Contador.

Why should an asterisk be placed next to the Lakers if they win?

Well, I don't care one way or the other about asterisks, but at least with US sports there is generally some talk of whether a title comes with an asterisk for shortened seasons which in the past have been due to labor troubles (strikes or lockouts).

See for example the NBA in 98-99 and 11-12. Of course that nobody much cares or remembers today is evidence that whatever asterisk some might want to apply at the time, they don't seem to stick for very long.

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Interesting that for once it’s an easily testable prediction from TC. Let’s see how this blog post ages.

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"What are the implications of this analysis for management and business firms? Will teams built around a superstar have an advantage there too?" It won't come as a surprise that my view is that most superstar CEOs create the illusion of having a great game. But there are exceptions, Jeff Bezos being at the top of my list: it's true that Bezos created an illusion of a great game with rapid growth and a rising stock price while never turning a profit in Amazon's core business, he was able to do it long enough to find a business (the "cloud" no less, the metaphor of all metaphors) that quickly turned enormous profits with a relatively (relative to income) small capital investment. Today's superstar CEO is the appropriately named Elon Musk, whose company and product gyrate as Musk gyrates. Musk has created the Tesla Man and Tesla Woman, who exhibit their superiority by owning and driving the Musk (product). Is Musk a superstar CEO or just one more in the long line of huckster CEOs? Unlike a CEO, a basketball player cannot fool his teammates or the team's fans into believing he is a superstar: he must deliver more than an image.

Bezo and Musk are truly super stars. Musk is the only guy in the world that could build 2 entirely new businesses from scratch. Space X and an electric car company.

First there was Zip2 which was sold to Compaq for 300M. Then there was PayPal. Then Tesla and SpaceX. Plus the there are the minor ones. The Boring Company. OpenAI. Neuralink.

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This is intriguing, although I would ask a slightly different question. Another way to consider the problem is to ask which players suffer most from not having anyone to practice against. Does that help the older stars (because they already "know" -- it is in the muscle memory, so to speak) or are the older stars the ones who each year need help, so to speak, stretching their competitive muscles?

Tyler also asks about how other businesses will fair. I'm wondering about academic departments. Some are indeed built around a coterie of aging superstars; others are young and hungry. Which will turn out to be more productive (in scholarly terms) compared to productivity not in the midst of classes but in the midst of the campus whirl of faculty lunches, faculty seminars, and faculty committee work?

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Why should a post-Covid-19 playoff in the NBA or any other sport even be necessary? The biggest reason, of course, is for the principals of the leagues to salvage some income from this unusual situation. It's not enough to watch great athletes in competition, there must be a narrative, the story of a "season" that eventually comes to an end that results in one team being the champions, even if that result is determined by a single officials' call, a fluke play, or some other out of the ordinary, unpredictable event. The players themselves know that winning a championship involves a considerable amount of good fortune in addition to a high quality performance but it's important for the leagues themselves to wind through a regular season and an interminable playoff in order to give meaning to the game itself and maintain the interest of the fans, who want to see the representatives of a professional organization that happens to name itself after their particular community even though perhaps none of the players have ever lived there.

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TBH the four round best of seven in the NBA tends to tamp down on the fluke factor for determining champions.

It’s an incredible gauntlet that an NBA champion has to run through and unsurprisingly the league is dominated by temporary dynasties.

Golden State
Lebron Miami or Cleveland and possibly LA
San Antonio
Kobe Gasol Lakers
Shaq Kobe Lakers
Jordan Bulls
Bad Boy Pistons
Showtime Lakers
Bird Celtics

9 mini dynasties and some full fledged dynasties tell the story of 40 years worth of NBA champions....

If there is any league that crowns a legit champion-it’s the NBA....

+1. Of our 4 major sports, basketball is the one where the best team wins the championship more frequently than in any other due the regular scoring component of the game itself. Granted, one dominant player among the 5 on his side can have a outsized effect on outcomes, but basketball doesn’t rely on the hot goaltender, or a hot pitcher. Over playoff series these sometimes lead to the “best team” not winning even in repeated series. Of course football only plays one and done so anything can happen. But of course football playoffs are more similar to regular season as are baseball.

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I would put my money on the teams that were best when the season was interrupted. Trying to input any other information is probably pointless.

So, the Bucks and the Lakers.

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The Spurs were the last team to win after at least a shortened season in 1998-1999, due to them being a younger team (Russiillo, Simmons, and Lowe). Most of the NBA folks I enjoy listening to think that it could be a younger team that can handle the high load after a limited chance to ramp up into peak performance. Who this would benefit, I'm not quite sure. The Rockets have a better chance because Russ and James Harden can play high minutes, but they have proven they cannot live up to the big moment. However, that only takes one playoff series to change. I would still say the Clippers have the most significant opportunity to win a championship because of both Kawhi and George younger than Lebron James. And they can both take turns guarding him, and they both are good offensively. The Bucks are not as good as the Clippers. So even if they are younger and compete immediately with no practice, they do not have the same talent as the Clippers. Also, coaching should point to the Clippers. That being said, the Thunder will win because of bias.

"The Spurs were the last team to win after at least a shortened season"

Actually it was the LeBron James led Miami Heat after the 2011-2012 shortened NBA season.

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Surprised no one mentioned the Brooklyn Nets, presuming the delay allows KD to return.

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Plausible* speculation for basketball. But even if the season's outcome proves (supports) this thinking, the direct extension to management and business is mistaken--the contexts are not similar enough.

The context for business people differs in at least three important ways:
1 - Relevant time period: Most of the value of a typical business is dependent on things the company will be able to do in the future: There is some value creation directly from near term performance and there are some path dependencies between near term and future performance. But "winning" the next quarter does not correlate well with winning over the long term or therefore with value creation. In contrast, this post defines "gain" in terms of winning a given (shortened) season (i.e., the very short term).
2 - Basis for competition: Whereas a basketball season is a zero-sum game, business is frequently a positive-sum game. Playing these games most successfully often benefits from cooperation or coordination, which cannot be achieved by one party's actions alone.
3 - Tools and practices: While basketball players will have to adapt to some changes as identified, they will still be using the same regulation balls, playing on similar regulation courts and following the same rules. In contrast, most business people are having to make significant changes in tools and methods.

Excluding #3, the basketball analysis could potentially be a partial fit for certain areas of business, eg, perhaps the sales function. However, #3 greatly undermines even the wide applicability in such an area. A superstar salesperson who relied on walking the halls and in-person relationship building for their method of success pre-covid-19 may not be an individual superstar anymore when they need to substantially change that method.

Further thinking about these differences could lead to potential business implications. For instance, addressing the concern of #2 suggests that strong ("superstar") existing business networks, (eg, high trust teams or potentially strong customer and supplier networks) are likely to be advantaged in this time. But the different contexts mean the relevant implications for businesses will be mostly different than the ones for basketball teams.

*One potentially important missing piece from the basketball model is the role of team management and how team management is affected by the situation--or, equivalently, it assumes that team management doesn't matter, that team management isn't affected by the situation or that the effects of the situation on team management impacts all teams equally. It seems implausible that each of these is false. However I personally know almost nothing about what drives in-season basketball performance, so perhaps team management only matters in the longer term across seasons and therefore isn't missing from the model at all.

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Sports fans are like that broken-hearted buddy who needs to understand: she's gone and she's not coming back

Why do you think she's not coming back?

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The decline of Western Civilization, and of the United States of America in particular, perfectly matches the decline of baseball.

Tyler Cowen's post is, sadly, yet another small step towards a much worse world.

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This analysis of the NBA is plausible, but has the NBA announced a proposed schedule yet? A more compressed schedule with fewer days off could more than offset the discussed advantages. Generally speaking, more frequent games would favor depth and relative youth.

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It’s probably right to say that experience = less home-vs-away variance, but what about predicted losses of home-vs-away variances as it relates to officiating? See e.g., http://harvardsportsanalysis.org/2017/12/nba-referee-experience-and-home-bias/. In other words, if the refereeing advantage LeBron James receives as a superstar is mitigated by general home team bias when he is playing away, doesn’t his superstar bias advantage compound if all games are moved to neutral-site?

(I guess he does lose the double benefit of superstar refereeing bias + generalized home-team referee bias when he loses his home games to the neutral site ...)

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Tyler is drastically underestimating how hard it is to "keep in shape" for the NBA playoffs for older players. Yes, Lebron has the facilities to train hard, but there really is no substitute for preparing for the playoffs like the NBA season. If they pull this off and have playoffs, the older players like Lebron have a drastically increased risk of things like muscle pulls and tears. Especially if playoff games are only 48 hours apart. Older guys lose their peak condition much faster than young players, so someone like Giannis has deteriorated much less than someone like Lebron over the last 2 months. Even though Giannis has not been able to train much, and his skills will have dulled, he can get back to 95% of his physical peak much faster than older guys.

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