After the Carmelo Trade, is the NBA Turning into a League of a Few Teams with All the Stars? A Short Study in Cross Sport Parity.

Is This The Future Of The NBA?
There are many ways to measure parity in professional sports leagues, and I plan to explore them in the coming weeks.  However, in light of the apparent consolidation of NBA stars into fewer and fewer teams, (Highlighted by the recent Carmelo Anthony trade and the Miami Heat triumvirate.) one measure stands out.  For a lack of a better term I will call it upward mobility (UM).  While completing this short study I set out to learn which league most allows cellar-dwellers to eventually reach the top floor, or at least ground level.  The statistics were compiled from 2001-02 season in the NBA to 2009-10 season, and for the MLB and NFL the seasons from 2002-2010 were used. 

As the table below indicates, the NFL allows for the most UM; during the 9-year time period of the study 21 different teams have finished with one of the top 5 records in the league.  In addition, 23 different teams have finished with one of the bottom 5 records in the league.  Anyone who watches the NFL should not be surprised by this stat, as the NFL has: a hard salary cap, which almost totally eliminates the advantage larger market teams have over their smaller market brethren; a scheduling system that allows weaker teams to play easier schedules in their non-division games based on their previous season’s record; and the importance of its draft (due to frequent injuries and lack of an active trade market) compared to the NBA and MLB.
League
Top 5
Bottom 5
NBA
16
22
MLB
17
15
NFL
21
23
As expected, MLB had the least UM, as there is no salary cap and the bigger market teams can and usually do vastly outspend the other teams not only in salary, but in scouting and farm system development.  Only 17 different teams have finished with a top 5 record in the 9-year span, while even fewer, 15 different teams have finished in the bottom 5.
The NBA was the most interesting case to me; the league had only 16 different teams finish in the top 5 of the league while there were 22 different teams that finished in the bottom 5.  These findings suggest the draft has significant impact on the cellar-dwellers, allowing them to improve materially with one high draft pick, but conversely, the findings also suggest lack of UM for the mediocre teams in that the top 5 teams don’t change as often.  One reason for the lack of UM for mediocre teams is the soft salary cap in the NBA (the Larry Bird Rule), which allows teams to pay their own potential free agents more than any other team can; this rule allows great teams to be last longer than their NFL and MLB counterparts.  A stat that highlights the inability for non-elite NBA teams to break through to elite status is: only 7 different teams have the NBA title since 1984, compared with 18 in the MLB, and 14 and the NFL.
As stated earlier, parity can be measured in different ways, but when using the UM method (and probably almost any other method) the NFL has the most parity.  The NBA allows for the weaker teams to improve more quickly than their counterparts in MLB due to the importance of the draft and immediate impact draftees have on their respective teams and because the reason that MLB teams are cellar-dwellers is structural; i.e., smaller markets don’t have the money. 

Other Posts:

http://theresastatforthat.blogspot.com/2011/05/dirk-with-ring-better-than-ringless.html

http://theresastatforthat.blogspot.com/2011/02/after-carmelo-trade-is-nba-turning-into.html

http://theresastatforthat.blogspot.com/2011/03/wait-til-next-year-which-league-gives_09.html

http://theresastatforthat.blogspot.com/2011/03/blog-post_15.html

http://theresastatforthat.blogspot.com/2011/03/wait-til-next-year-which-league-gives_17.html

http://theresastatforthat.blogspot.com/2011/03/nfls-new-kickoff-rules-are-they.html

http://theresastatforthat.blogspot.com/2011/04/game-7-in-nba-playoffs-home-court_17.html

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