Handicapping NBA Totals With Advanced Stats

Luke Walton & D'Angelo Russell

Sunday, November 27, 2016 9:36 PM GMT

Totals are the softer NBA basketball lines when you compare them to spreads and sometimes you can find holes to exploit if you know what to look for. Knowing which advanced stats to use can help give you an edge. 

Our total betting has been up and down at times this season, but now that we are approaching a solid amount of games to analyze, you can start to establish some early-season trends worth exploiting.

 Early Season Over Trends

The Lakers, Raptors and Suns are a combined 34-13 cashing the over early in the season. That’s a cash rate of 72 percent. What do these three teams have in common?

For starters, they all three rank 20th or worse in defensive rating this season. Defensive Rating is the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions, therefore accounting for pace, which will get to in a second.

These three teams average allowing nearly 110 points per 100 possessions, but that’s not all. The Suns and Raptors both rank inside the top eight teams in offensive rating, scoring nearly 111 points per 100 possessions on average.

For pace, we leave out Toronto who ranks 20th, but the Suns and Lakers are two of the four fastest teams in the NBA, averaging over 100 possessions per game.

So, if we use these three advanced stats as a metric for teams that are in the top 10 in offensive rating and pace, while in the bottom 10 in defensive rating, there has been a ton of money made on betting the over.

The Blazers and Lakers meet all three criteria and they have cashed the over at 23-10 so far this season, while the Warriors, Raptors and Suns meet two of the three criteria rankings and they are 33-14 cashing the over so far this season.

Plus, in games they have played each other this year, the over is a nice 12-2. Don’t think the sportsbooks aren’t catching on to this though. The total for the Lakers and Warriors on Friday night is 233 points, because their last meeting Golden State scored 149 points by themselves.

 

Early Season Under Trends

We can use the same formula and system to potentially bet teams on the under. For instance, if you reverse the stipulations to the top ten teams in defensive rating, while combining the bottom 10 offensive rating and pace teams, we see similar trends.

The Grizzlies, Pistons, Heat and Magic all meet the conditions and they are combined 38-23-1 cashing the under so far this season. The Grizzlies are 7-7-1 though, so if you take them away the other three are cashing the under at a rate of 65.6 percent.

Three more teams, the Pelicans, Mavericks and Jazz qualify for two of the three qualifications and they have actually combined to cash the over at 24-22, so compared to the system used for betting the over, so far it hasn’t been as consistent.

The system has also not been as consistent on the under when the four core teams play against each other. The over is actually ahead at 4-2 when the Pistons, Magic, Grizzlies and Heat play against each other so far this season, but that doesn’t mean the sportsbooks haven’t taken notice. The Heat and Grizzlies play one another Friday and the overnight lines were at 189 ½ in the NBA Odds.

 

How To Move Forward And Calculate Good Bets

So, knowing this information should help you make some better bets on totals going forward. At the very least, you have the information you need to make you better at picking out what stats to look at when betting totals, because the sportsbooks are using this same information to set the lines.

However, sportsbooks know this information is out there and readily available at sites like www.basketballreference.com. So, using pace, offensive and defensive ratings can actually help you set your own baseline for what the stats ACTUALLY say the total will be, instead of relying on the sportsbooks’ line which is designed to induce betting. If your total is three or four points higher or lower than the actual number being offered by the sportsbooks, you should probably bet the respective side accordingly. It takes some division, but that’s what that calculator app on your computer is for.

Take for instance the opening NBA Odds for Miami and Memphis on Friday of 189 ½. Memphis plays at a pace of 92.8 possessions per game, one of the slowest in the league. They are averaging only 102.7 points per 100 possessions, while allowing only 101.4 points per 100 possessions. The Heat play at a pace of 94.2, while scoring 100.3 and allowing 102.9 points per 100 possessions.

If you simply divide these teams’ pace by their offensive and defensive rating, then averaging the two numbers together, you get a final score of roughly 93-91, or 184 points. That is more than five points less than the 189 ½ being offered by the sportsbooks, making it a strong under play on the opening odds.

 Better Than Using Points Scored And Allowed Per Game

Online Sportsbooks know that the average bettor trends towards the over but using the above method for any matchup can help give you a better baseline for what the final score could look like. It’s much better than using just the average points scored and points allowed, because that does not factor in pace.

For instance, adding Miami and Memphis’ average points scored and points allowed would end up with a score of roughly 97-96, but accounting for the fact that both of these teams like to slow down and play half court basketball, you can bet that their defense and struggles on offense will be magnified in a slower-paced game.

 

Four Factors

If you really want to dive down the rabbit hole of advanced stats for your NBA total betting, using the four factors can help you too. These can be used for offense or defense, but the ones that really matter are teams effective field goal percentages (eFG%) and allowed eFG%, on top of a team’s free throws per field goal ratio both scored and allowed.

The sportsbooks will start to correct for some of these things trends that have developed, but using pace and ratings will help you gain an edge over the average bettor and all it takes is some math.

Once again, check out Basketball Reference and just play around with their season summary. You can check out which teams are really the best on offense and defense by scrolling past the bland averages and using what the pros use to pick winners.

Remember to drop by SBR's list of the best-ranked bonuses, and find out which of the top rated sportsbooks is offering the best deals!