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NBA spreads, totals already bubbling up

June 30, 2020 10:32 PM
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Zion Williamson
© Imagn

The NBA took another step toward returning when it released the schedules for the 22 teams that will be in the Orlando bubble Friday. Once those schedules were out, oddsmakers wasted no time posting spreads and totals for the first three days.

So besides just diving in and firing away on any contests, let us take some time to find out what some of these numbers are telling the betting public. Not only do these spreads tell us how the market rates these teams, the totals also tell us what oddsmakers think the effect of playing on a neutral court in a bubble will have on the game itself.

Establishing the market

Market power ratings are extremely useful tools to use alongside your own power ratings. Calculating these gives us insight into how the betting market rates these teams. There is no opinion in these numbers. Bettors can use this with their personal power ratings to see where they differ with the market and which teams could offer potential betting value. This how the current market rates the 22 teams in Orlando:

87: Bucks, Lakers

86: Clippers

84: Raptors

83: Rockets

82: Celtics, 76ers, Mavericks, Nuggets 

81: Heat, Trail Blazers, Pelicans

80: Thunder, Grizzlies

79: Kings, Magic, Jazz

78: Nets, Pacers

77: Spurs, Suns

74: Wizards

It should come as no surprise that the Bucks and Lakers reside at the top of the power ratings given that the market has respected these teams all season. Not much separates the two at the Westgate futures market. Milwaukee is the 5-2 favorite to win the title, and Los Angeles was recently adjusted to 11-4 odds. The other Los Angeles team has always been third on the futures board at most operations and still is at 3-1 to win the title at the SuperBook.

Respected and disrespected teams

The favorites are properly placed by the market in the power ratings, but a few teams seem to be overvalued and undervalued by bettors.

Let’s start with the New Orleans Pelicans. 

New Orleans has been one of the most publicly backed teams in the league since Zion Williamson’s debut Jan. 22. Remember, the Pelicans closed as 1.5-point favorites over the Lakers on March 1 because Anthony Davis missed the game with a sore right knee. The amount of respect for this team is through the roof, but is it warranted? During the stretch after Williamson joined the Pelicans, they posted an 11-9 SU/10-9-1 ATS record with a + 4.0 net rating. While the net rating is respectable, the results show a team that has no value due to the overwhelming public support. New Orleans hosted Milwaukee on Feb. 4 and closed as a 6.5-point underdog. The Pelicans lost 120-108, and now these market ratings are telling us that the number, if they played today in New Orleans, would just be a three-point spread.

It is pretty clear that the Pelicans have become an overvalued team by the market, but what about a team that could have some value?

That would be the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that holds the same title odds (60-1) as the Pelicans even though Oklahoma City is firmly in the postseason as the No. 5 West seed and New Orleans must play its way in over the eight seeding games. By the way, not only does the market have more respect for New Orleans than Oklahoma City, it also has more respect for Portland! 

The lack of respect for the Thunder has been there all season, and a quick look at their ATS record tells bettors that. Oklahoma City finished the regular season 39-24-1 ATS, a 61.9% cover rate. The Thunder were 23-8 ATS (74.2%) on the road, 26-13-1 ATS (66.7%) against the Western Conference and 23-10 ATS (69.7%) as underdogs this season. That is a perfect example of a team undervalued by the market. Now, despite all those numbers, they sit on the same line as Memphis and just one point better than Sacramento, Utah and Orlando. If this holds, the Thunder will have some fantastic value once the bubble tips off at the end of the month.

The bubble effect

The general thought seems to be that scoring will initially suffer when play resumes in Orlando. 

Personally, I think playing in an empty gym benefits the defense in basketball because communication will be easier. Telling teammates a screen is coming or calling for a switch will not be lost to a raucous crowd. The long layoff, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst pointed out this week, will likely be a reason scoring drops as well.

Oddsmakers clearly feel this way, too, as the totals posted for these opening games have been dramatically lowered from what bettors saw in the regular season.

Take Milwaukee vs. Boston, for example. The Westgate SuperBook opened the total at 217.5 for that contest. However, a quick look at the two regular-season meetings between these teams shows the average closing total was 225.75, which is an 8.25-point difference. That is massive, and that isn’t the only game with a dramatic drop:

Total                      RS        Avg.      Diff.

Bucks/Celtics        217.5   225.75   -8.25

Rockets/Mavs       225.5   233.5     -8

Pelicans/Clippers  226.5   233.8     -7.3

Clippers/Lakers     218.5   224.6     -6.1

Bettors who wanted to go into the first round of seeding games firing away on Unders are really going to have to crunch the numbers to find value now. The adjustments made by oddsmakers actually place the value on playing some of these games Over the total instead.

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