Playoffs a Reminder of the Best Player Theory

Basketball is one sport where having that one singular difference maker can matter most. With only 10 players on the floor at one time and each team’s 5 man unit responsible for offense and defense simultaneously, having the guy who is the best player matters a great deal. This is one reason why trades are often viewed through the prism of the team who won the trade is often the one who got the best player. The value of that guy is simply too high to be adequately replaced my multiple, lesser talents or a cadre of draft picks.

I have been thinking about the idea of the best player more and more in recent days after we got through our first weekend of playoff basketball (and, in some cases, into game 2’s). At the time I am writing this this is where each playoff series stands:

-Warriors 1, Blazers 0
-Spurs 2, Grizzlies 0
-Rockets 1, Thunder 0
-Clippers 1, Jazz 1
-Celtics 0, Bulls 2
-Cavs 2, Pacers 0
-Raptors 1, Bucks 1
-Wizards 1, Hawks 0

Looking at those results, I’d argue the best player theory is well on its way to holding true. Here’s who I’d label the best guy from each series (in some cases, I’ll name two guys if I think it’s close):

-Kevin Durant, Steph Curry (both Warriors)
-Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)
-James Harden (Rockets), Russell Westbrook (Thunder)
-Chris Paul (Clippers)
-Jimmy Butler (Bulls)
-LeBron James (Cavs)
-Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
-John Wall (Wizards)

Of course basketball remains a team sport and there will be cases where even if a team has the best player, an accumulation of really good (to legitimately great) players on the other team will make the difference in a playoff series. After all, playoff preparation, with its hyper-focused game-plans can mean that even the best player in a series can be neutralized or simply overcome by a more complete roster on the other side. We’ve seen this throughout history and this year will be no different.

That said, look at that Celtics/Bulls series or how the Bucks are playing the Raptors really tough. Some of those results might be part of the parity which exists in the East, but I’d also argue that Butler and Giannis are clearly the best guys and are making a huge difference for their teams (not to mention the Bulls just being a bad matchup for the C’s due to their offensive rebounding prowess and there being no one for Isaiah Thomas to guard).

What does this have to do with the Lakers? Well, I’m glad you asked. I don’t know what Magic Johnson or Rob Pelinka will value this summer. I don’t know if they’ll be patient with the young guys or not. We don’t even know if they’ll have their own draft pick — which, I’m guessing, will play a big role on what decisions they make in how to improve the team. What I do know, though, is that Magic was, for years, a guy in the discussion as the best player and that Rob Pelinka, for years, represented a guy in the discussion as the best player. In other words, I’m thinking they might place even more value in having one of those guys than others (who already value it a great deal).

This also leads to an interesting conversation about the Lakers’ young players and where they can be in 3-5 years and how that will impact team building. Can one of the young players end up being a best player? If not, can they, as a group, end up being the core of one of those teams who even without that singular talent have enough depth of excellence for it to not matter? These are questions worth pondering as the team heads into the off-season.