When handicapping the NBA playoffs, should sports bettors back the over when two firing offenses (or bad defenses) collide? We walk you through a system that answers this question and share more information that can help you when making your next NBA picks.
Since 2002, back the over in the NBA Playoffs when the favorite is entering a contest after the team's leading scorer in their prior game scored 33 points or more, and today's opponent put up 100 points or greater in their last game. If neither team's previous game ventured into overtime, then the record is 47-25 (65%), and 61-32 (66%) if at least one team played in extra minutes. The idea here is to jump on two firing offenses (or bad defenses depending on your frame of reference) while placing your NBA picks, as signaled by the increasing rarity of a scorer more than doubling the average points-per-game (PPG) by a player, and the fact that the over hit in all but ten of the previous 93 games. We anticipate this momentum to carry over into our contest.
Although team PPG is slowly rising throughout the last decade, individual scoring per game is slowly decreasing. NBA odds makers have noticed that it's growing more uncommon for the league's scoring title leader to average more than 30 PPG, like Michael Jordan or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who often times eclipsed this mark in a season. In 1986-1987, for example, the 100 top scoring players in the NBA averaged nearly 17 PPG, as opposed to barely reaching 15 for this season. Ironically, a slew of defensive rule changes in the late 1990s and early 2000s intended to open up offensive play may be responsible. The league's crackdown on hand and forearm checking, prevention of defensive “re-routing” of players off the ball, and the defensive three-second rule, have freed more offensive players on the court to get open. As a result, teams share the ball more, move it better, and have greater points distribution throughout the lineup. Although I haven't looked at the numbers, my guess is that isolation type plays intended to position your best scoring player one-on-one with a defender are way down from twenty and thirty years ago—and points per isolation for that matter. That's not to say it still isn't effective. Since the mid-2000s, successful playoff teams like San Antonio, Miami, and Oklahoma City have ranked in the top ten in offensive efficiency while sitting near the bottom of the league in assists each season. Regardless, games where we see players scoring 33 points or more are plummeting from an average of 332 between 2001-2009 to 252 from 2010 to date (minus the strike shortened season of 2011).
It's difficult to rationalize why the over tends to hit at a statistically significant rate in this situation when considering the baseline leading scorer condition. Maybe defenses overcompensate in their effort to slow down the previous leading scorer, allowing the modern free-flowing NBA offense to operate at it's most effective. In fact, the leading scorer on the favorite side of our wagered contest fires for 33 or more points only 27% of the time. Perhaps with less and less isolation plays in the league, it's a sign of a good ball-movement offense firing on all cylinders. It's obviously an area that needs a little more research and proper brainstorming.
One angle we can play off this leading scorer situation to potentially boost our confidence and results is to consider three-point percentages. I can not stress enough how much the three-point shot is reshaping the league in terms of offense and points scored. Moreover, its importance in the playoffs is increasing. The top ten ranking teams in three-point percentages for the 2014-2015 season all made the playoffs, including the Golden State Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks. In addition, seven of the last eight Finals winners led the playoffs in three-pointers attempted and made. Taking this into account, if the favorite shot over 30% from behind the arc in their last game, than our record jumps to a 70% win rate with a record of 55-22, and an average over margin of 6.5 points. You can also lean on the favorite's three-point percentage in the playoffs as a whole. If they are shooting above the typical league average of 35% in their Finals run, then the angle hits at a 71% rate (41-17) versus 57% with a 20-15 record when below par from behind the arc.
As always, use this information to support your leans, and best of luck!