Scoring lots of points is nice, but that doesn't necessarily mean the OVER is a deadbolt lock when you're making your NBA picks. Just ask the Golden State Warriors.
Phil Jackson is not a happy man. Sure, he's got 13 NBA rings – 11 as a head coach, and two as a player with the New York Knicks, where he's now the team president. But Jackson isn't a big fan of the so-called “modern” game, with its emphasis on the pick-and-roll and the 3-point shot. It's definitely not the same as his preferred triangle offense, but that's not what's really bugging Jackson. He's more concerned about old-school ideas like teamwork and sacrifice and creativity.
Good luck with that. Basketball fans love scoring, and they love the 3-pointer. Every time someone tickles the twine from long distance, the crowd goes nuts. It's like Pavlov's dog, but instead of a bell, it's the sweet, sweet swish of leather meeting corn. Imagine what this must do to your typical “square” bettor. The more 3-pointers they see, the more they're going to open their saliva-covered wallets and bet the OVER when they make their NBA picks. Never mind what some cranky old man has to say about it.
I'm Sorry, Mr. Jackson
Ummm... yeah, about that. Last year, teams scored an average of 100.0 points per game. When Jackson was a player, it was more like 110 points. So maybe our idea of the new NBA as some kind of idyllic freewheeling offensive juggernaut needs to be adjusted. Maybe. Let's see if there's anything in the numbers that can help us make some smarter basketball picks next year. Here's how the Top 10 teams in scoring did against the total in 2014-15.
1. Golden State Warriors 110.0 points; UNDER 43-39
2. Los Angeles Clippers 106.7 points; UNDER 43-36-3
3. Dallas Mavericks 105.2 points; UNDER 43-28-1
4. Toronto Raptors 104.0 points; OVER 45-37
5. Oklahoma City Thunder 104.0 points; UNDER 42-39-1
6. Houston Rockets 103.9 points; UNDER 42-40
7. San Antonio Spurs 103.2 points; UNDER 43-39
8. Cleveland Cavaliers 103.1 points; UNDER 48-33-1
9. Portland Trail Blazers 102.8 points; UNDER 42-39-1
10. Atlanta Hawks 102.5 points; OVER 42-40
Well well. Looks like our high-scoring heroes are having some trouble reaching their posted totals. This is a league-wide issue for the most part; only eight of the 30 teams posted an OVER record last season. But notice how scoring more points per game didn't get these top teams over the hump. And by the way, nine of these 10 teams were in the Top 10 in 3-pointers attempted. The Spurs (No. 15), who happen to be one of Jackson's favorites, were the only outliers.
Life on the Margins
In theory, we can take this knowledge and just carpet-bomb the UNDER next year. But we probably need to do better than that. Across the league, the UNDER went 676-619 last year, or 52.20 percent. That's not quite enough to cover the standard –110 vigorish on single bets; we need a success rate of 52.38 percent to break even. And it just so happens that the 10 teams listed above combined for a 423-380-7 UNDER record, or 52.68 percent if I did the math right. Huzzah~!
We still wouldn't advise just pounding these teams blindly next year, but this exercise does lend credence to the idea that fading the public is the key to opening up those slim profit margins. The more bias you can find in the system, the more you can exploit it. Consider the value of defense, for example. Casual fans don't pay much attention to defense, but if they did, they'd know that the Warriors (98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) had last year's most efficient defense, while the Raptors (104.8) were No. 23. Shhhh, don't tell anyone. Let them keep salivating over those 3-pointers and laughing at Jackson.