Last week, I wrote about a handful of under-the-radar NBA teams that have been major profit centers for their backers in early season action. Today, I’m going to look at the teams at the other end of the equation – the money burners.
This group of six teams -- all below 40% against the spread this year -- might surprise some, because several of the supposedly elite title contenders are on this list. In fact, two of the top five teams from the West, and the prohibitive favorite to come out of the East all rank among the biggest losers against the spread through the first quarter of the campaign.
ATS Money Burners
There’s one commonality among every ATS bottom feeder this year – superstar talent. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant, the Pelicans have Anthony Davis, the Cavs have LeBron James and Kevin Love, the Bulls have Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol and the Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Clearly, a superstar (or two) doesn’t necessarily make for a positive return on investment.
I’ll start this list with the weakest of the weak, the Los Angeles Lakers. I’ve got LA ranked dead even with Philadelphia as the worst two teams from a power rating perspective. LA is bad. Everybody knows they’re bad. And pretty much everybody knew they were going to be bad heading into the campaign. Yet despite LA’s bottom feeder nature being common knowledge among both bettors and bookmakers, LA has still underachieved, most notably in defeat. Byron Scott’s squad has only covered the spread in five of their 19 losses, fairly unusual for a bottom feeder squad. But we’ve seen signs of change – four of those five ATS covers in defeat have come in the last two weeks. Perhaps the markets are finally catching up with how bad Byron Scott’s team really is for our NBA picks.
The Pelicans were expected to be good this year, lined in the 45 or 46 win range prior to the season in the loaded Western Conference. But the transition to Alvin Gentry’s tutelage has not been an easy one. The Pelicans defense has been truly awful, ranked dead last (behind the #29th ranked Lakers) in defensive efficiency. New Orleans has also struggled mightily with injuries, particularly with their backcourt as Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have both been very limited. And I’m not convinced in the slightest that the markets are pricing this team correctly even after their awful start – the Pelicans are just 1-5 SU and ATS in their last six, despite getting healthier.
I wrote about Chicago yesterday and their repeated ATS failures both at home and as chalk. But what about the other supposedly ‘elite’ contender in the East, the Cleveland Cavaliers? The Cavs might be 14-7 SU, the best record in the East, but they are 7-14 ATS, the worst spread record in the East. And from all indications, Cleveland is likely to continue on their downward ATS spiral, a team with absolutely nothing to prove before the All Star Break, just trying to get healthy. Head coach David Blatt is under no pressure to win now, or to win by margin. Frankly, right now the Cavs aren’t good enough to win many games by margin, bad news for a squad that has been favored by seven points or more on eleven different occasions already this season.
And then we have two more major money burners in the West, the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets have already gotten head coach Kevin McHale fired, but even the transition to JB Bickerstaff hasn’t been pretty, particularly on the defensive end of the court, where Houston ranks #27 in efficiency stats. This is an offense first team, but their offense hasn’t been very good. James Harden is shooting a career worst 40% from the floor and no one else on the team has been able to step up. But Houston’s defense has notably improved since Bickerstaff re-inserted Patrick Beverley as the starting point guard, and the markets have already crashed on this squad, at least part of the reason why the Rockets are riding a 4-1 ATS run in their last five ballgames.
OKC has suffered through a handful of injury issues, most notably when Kevin Durant missed time. OKC’s stats look fine, the second most efficient offense in the NBA behind Golden State, a Top 10 defensive squad as well, while ranking #1 in the league by a wide margin in rebounding margin. OKC has a turnover problem, even with Russell Westbrook running the point, their only clear statistical weakness. But the bigger issue for the Thunder is simply how high they’ve been priced – they’ve only been underdogs three times all year, never by more than 2.5 points on the NBA odds board. As long as the betting markets maintain that Billy Donovan’s squad is truly elite, there’s probably money to be made fading them…