How sad is that doggie in the window? The one that used to perform so well against the NBA betting lines?
Giving preference to underdogs is one of the oldest rules of thumb in sports betting. The rule doesn’t apply quite as strongly to the NBA as it does to the NFL, but according to a 20-season sample compiled by the Wizard of Odds (1987-2006), underdogs cashed in 49.34 percent of the time, compared to 48.65 percent for the favorites. Even better, put those puppies on the road, and their success rate improved to 51.55 percent.
That Was Then but This Is Now
So much for pluck. In 2012-13, the favorites crashed the NBA betting party, finishing the year at 659-633-22 ATS, or 51.01 percent. And blindly picking road faves came very close to being a profitable play at 204-188-5 ATS, or 52.04 percent. Totals, by the way, were flat as usual, with the OVER finishing slightly ahead at 650-640 (50.39 percent).
If you had a chance to read my recent articles about the Eastern and Western Conferences, you’ll already know that last year, the league’s best teams were also immensely profitable. This is not normal. Or at least, it wasn’t. Is this the new normal? Have the league’s top contenders developed such an advantage on the court that they can overcome their natural disadvantage at the NBA betting window?
Good questions. We can only make educated guesses, of course, but that’s what betting on sports is all about. The NBA’s structure is more forgiving to dominant teams than the NFL’s; the soft salary cap allows teams to spend as much as they can afford on talent (see: Brooklyn Nets), even if it does cost them more than it would in an uncapped environment. This is why the NBA remains something of a basketball oligarchy, ruled by a small handful of highly successful franchises.
Polarity vs. Parity
If you don’t happen to be one of those elite bourgeois teams, it’s becoming quite fashionable for you to lose as hard as possible. Nobody wants to get stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario where all you do every year is lose in the first round of the playoffs. These teams are far less likely to attract quality free agents, or land a stud prospect in the NBA Draft.
The fans know this, too. Thanks to the Interwebs, the armchair GM in all of us has become more educated about what goes into that NBA sausage. More and more people would rather see their so-so clubs lose strategically for the future, rather than win relatively meaningless games in the present. That goes double when the following year’s draft is loaded with blue-chippers.
Oh, look at that: Everyone’s tanking. I’ll try not too harp on this too much, but you may have noticed how aggressively those mediocre teams have stripped down their 2013-14 NBA rosters, hoping to maximize the number of lottery balls they’ll get for a shot at uber-prospect Andrew Wiggins. Or Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, or any of the other “one-and-done” college hotshots who we’ll all get to know a little better as March Madness rolls around.
The Good, the Bad and the Trendy
Dealing with sports betting trends is always speculative – as they say for legal purposes, past performance does not guarantee future results. But handicapping is a game of small margins, and if you can find plausible reasons why the numbers are the way they are, you can better forecast whether or not these trends will hold up.
In this case, it’s fair to speculate that the favorites will continue to go against the grain and beat the NBA odds in 2013-14. The good teams have gotten very good, the bad teams have gotten very bad, and there are only a few teams in the middle (Detroit Pistons, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors et al.) who are taking advantage and going after a playoff spot. But that’s another story for another article.