This is a VERY different question than asking who’s most valuable to a team, or the MVP of the league. In other words, what players bring the NBA the most value from a marketing and financial perspective?
The answer might
What players are most valuable to the league? It’s a fascinating question. To put it another way, who’s most valuable to the league from a marketing perspective??? According to an article by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, in the past 15 years, there have been only 3 superstars who, as individual brands, materially drive the engine of NBA commerce: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Steph Curry.
WOWWWW. No Kevin Durant. No Giannis. No Dame.
So what makes a true revenue maker for the league?
The argument is, when KD or Dame or before them KG and Tim Duncan and Dwayne Wade go on the road, the host team sells the game as part of a premium package. But only when Steph or Bron (and before them Kobe) come to town, Arnovitz writes that their impact is “everywhere from premium alcohol sales in the luxury clubs to receipts from the in-arena NBA store. A midseason Tuesday night game featuring James or Curry can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars above a game featuring a median NBA team.”
So it turns out, only a very select few of players reach that level of superstardom, and they are incredibly important to the league.
What does that mean? It means that even though Trae Young and Ja Morant and Spida are awesome to watch, they don’t move the needle like Bron or Steph. “A night with LeBron or Steph is an official state visit” -- which is interesting considering both those players are well into their 30s now.
So the question is, if Bron and Steph are the only real super-revenue generators in the NBA, who if anyone is going to replace them when they are gone? Who can move the needle like they can?
When you look at the league today, there are a ton of great young players. But identifying who can replace Bron and Steph in that upper pantheon-making bank for Adam Silver isn’t as easy as it sounds.
The list is pretty short in my opinion. Here are my choices:
LUKA DONCIC: I think this is the only can’t miss in the league right now. Dude is an electric factory every night, and people will come out to see him in droves. He’s one of those rare players you’re going to watch whenever he plays on League Pass on a Tuesday night. And he’s only 23 years old and already a first team All Pro.
ZION WILLIAMSON: Point Zion has already exceeded the incredible expectations he brought with him from college, when he literally jumping out of his shoes. The world LOVES Zion. If he didn’t play in New Orleans, he’d already be in that upper pantheon. If he was a Knick or a Laker? Holy shit. He would be even bigger. And that’s where he’ll eventually end up. No way he stays in New Orleans, and the league couldn’t be happier about that.
And that’s really about it. Trae Young has an outside chance, because he’s leaning into the villain role, but I’m not sure he’ll ever reach that level. If Dame Lillard hasn’t, I don’t think Trae will either. Giannis hasn’t reached that level, but he could if he changes markets. Embiid may become the best player in the league, but won’t ever reach that level. The same with Jokic. Donovan Mitchell? I don’t think so. Kyrie Irving is too political and disliked, Kawhi is too quiet, and Harden is Harden and if he hasn’t already ascended to that level he won’t on the backside of his career. Jayson Tatum may become the best scorer in the NBA but I don’t see him becoming THAT guy because his personality isn’t oversized enough.
Who am I missing?
We talked about this on Monday's episode but if you prefer to watch here's the link: