Industrial Organization and the NBA

Via Marginal Revolution, a reference to a study of 11 NBA seasons that indicates that teams with one highly paid star and many lesser paid players win more games. 11 seasons doesn't sound like a large enough data set, but it is intriguing to wonder how the Miami Heat do this season with two alpha dogs, whether they will how and when to defer and how and when to lead. The Bulls benefitted all those years from Pippen being willing to play lieutenant to Jordan's general, and in crunch time there was never any doubt whose hands the ball would end up in (regardless of whether he chose to take the last shot or pass it off, as he did to Air Canada in his comeback double nickel game against the Knicks).

I'm not sure if it's a salary or talent issue as much as it's a personality issue. Salary is a symptom. Will Lebron and DWade be happy not being the guy to take the last minute shot for the win? Are they wired that way?

A player's mindset on his place in the pecking order can evolve. The year Jordan left the NBA to play baseball, Pippen wanted to step up to be the Man. The result was that a player that been the consummate glue guy for years on the Bulls melted down in the playoffs when Phil Jackson diagrammed the last shot for Toni Kukoc instead of him.

It was a black mark on his reputation, but I'm sympathetic. Most competitive people aren't wired to defer again and again, and it takes a special personality to play second fiddle for life (it's especially useful if your point guard is wired that way).

As of today, the Heat are 8-6, so the early returns are mixed. The center of their defense is a gaping hole. Lebron still should have gone to Chicago, he would have had a star in Derrick Rose who'd be willing to play sidekick and two guys in Noah and Boozer who could provide interior defense and scoring.

Well, I hear the weather in South Beach is nice this time of year.