We are nearing the end folks. For a vast majority of teams only 10 games remain on the regular season schedule, and the postseason begins in less than three weeks. The grind of an 82-game schedule has brought us to this point and there is still so much to be decided. These next couple of weeks are going to be tremendous.
This leads us to our observations this week. The Philadelphia 76ers have hit a rough patch and it is likely a sign of things to come in the postseason, the Hawks continue to fail bettors on a nightly basis and the race for Defensive Player of the Year should be front-and-center as the season ends. Let’s get to it.
Honeymoon Over In Philadelphia
The honeymoon phase is clearly over in the City of Brotherly Love. Tyrese Maxey led the 76ers to a win over the Heat on Monday, but the dynamic duo of Joel Embiid and James Harden have clearly hit a wall. Philadelphia is 8-3 SU/5-5-1 ATS in the 11 games in which both Embiid and Harden have played together, but since the 4-0 SU/3-1 ATS start with those two on the floor they are 4-3 SU/2-4-1 ATS in the last seven contests. When both stars share the floor the numbers are dynamic. The 76ers have a + 15.8 net rating when Harden and Embiid play with one another, and their offense puts up 122.9 points per 100 possessions. However, most of the success is tied to Embiid’s presence and when he leaves the floor chaos ensues.
First and foremost, the biggest problem for Philadelphia is the rotation at center behind Embiid. DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap are the primary options when Embiid hits the bench, and both men have been absolute nightmares. When Jordan is at center the 76ers have a -2.4 net rating, they allow 120.8 points per 100 possessions and opponents shoot 75.5% at the rim. Even worse have been the minutes with Millsap at the five, as Philadelphia has a -11.0 net rating and a 126.7 defensive rating in those possessions. There is a lot of noise in those numbers, but when it’s specified with Harden on the floor without Embiid the net rating is -6.9 and the defense is allowing 125.4 points per 100 possessions. It's clear that the backup center position is going to be a problem for this team when we enter the postseason and the bigger issue is that there is no solution coming this season.
There is also the issue of James Harden’s performance overall. On the surface, the numbers for Harden are fine. He’s averaging 22.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game, but much of that production came in the first three games. In his last seven starts he is averaging just 19.9 points on 35.0% shooting from the floor and 26.7% from deep. Harden also has extensive track record of average playoff performances. Many might believe that this version of Philadelphia is a title contender this season, but it is looking more and more like this a team with some clear flaws that might be a season away.
The Market’s Infatuation With Atlanta
There is not a single team more overrated in the NBA at this moment in time than the Atlanta Hawks. That term is usually thrown about too casually, but in this instance it is being aptly used. Atlanta entered their game with New York on a 1-8 ATS slide and in the month of March they had covered just two of their 11 games. The Hawks closed as the favorite in six of those games, laying an average of 8.5 points. They closed as no more than a 6.5 point underdog in any of the other five games, one of which Trae Young did not play in. Sure, closing as a favorite in a few games and not covering is not a sign of being overrated by the betting market, but the fact that every single one of those lines moved in the direction of Atlanta shows the betting market has a respect for the Hawks that has not been realized in the results.
This is just speculation, but it seems that bettors have been chasing the ghosts of a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. This is not that team, and even that team was somewhat fraudulent as a conference finalist. This season’s version of the Hawks is an atrocious defensive team, allowing 114.9 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time minutes which is the 26th-best defense by Cleaning The Glass’ numbers. Their transition defense is arguably the worst in the league, allowing opponents to add 3.7 points every 100 possessions through transition play and 1.333 points per play. In clutch situations they are 15-18 with a -12.5 net rating and the second-worst defensive rating (121.3). This is the team that the market has favored in 62.5% of its games to this point of the season?
Bettors like to use the term ‘fade’ to liberally when it comes to bad teams, but this version of Atlanta is the closest I will get to consistently betting against a team. Until the betting market understands that this team is not power rated as high as it believes then there will be value in playing against the Hawks regularly until the season ends.
The Defensive Player of the Year Race
Of the six award markets that are up at DraftKings there is just one that does not have an odds-on favorite: Defensive Player of the Year. Just two weeks ago bettors were laying 150 with Rudy Gobert, but Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo has since passed him and is the favorite as of Tuesday at + 115 odds. There are three players – Giannis Antetokounmpo being the third – with single-digit odds to win the award, and there are three others that have a case for winning the award.
Adebayo has the statistical resumé of the best defensive player in the league. When he is on the floor the Heat’s defensive rating improves 8.3 points every 100 possessions, and he is the best defensive player on the league’s fourth-best defensive team. However, he’s missed 25 games this season which is nearly a third of the regular season schedule. Can voters look past that glaring weakness in his resumé and give him this award? Kawhi Leonard won the award in the 2014-2015 season despite missing 18 games but missing 22% of your team’s games is significantly less than 30% which is the mark that Adebayo would be at should he play in the remainder of Miami’s contests.
Then there is issue of the other candidates. The Boston Celtics have been the best defensive team in the league but have two candidates in Marcus Smart and Robert Williams, so those two will surely cannibalize one another on the ballot. That leaves us with two other viable candidates on the ballot outside of Adebayo, Gobert and Antetokounmpo: Mikal Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. The luster has worn off Jackson, but its time to rekindle his status as a contender for this award. He leads the league in blocks by 30 over Williams, is the Grizzlies’ best defensive player and improves their defensive rating by 4.5 points every 100 possessions. For him, and for every one of these players, the next 10 games will be vital in deciding the winner of this award.