Recapping the NBA's first half from a betting perspective

February 18, 2022 08:37 PM

Welcome to those of you who are just joining us! Super Bowl LVI is in the books, and most bettors will likely turn to the hardwood, both professional and collegiate, to scratch that betting itch. Instead of our usual weekly recap of the NBA, let’s look back at what has happened through the first 70% of the regular season.

Best ATS teams

— Memphis Grizzlies (38-19-1)

— Oklahoma City Thunder (36-19-1)

— Cleveland Cavaliers (33-21-3)

— Miami Heat (33-22-2)

— Phoenix Suns (32-32-1)

It might shock some of you to see Oklahoma City and Cleveland at the top of the list. Cleveland has arguably been the best story of the season. With one of the best defenses in the league, the Cavaliers are 35-22 SU and in contention for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs are currently fourth in non-garbage time defensive efficiency (106.3), and they have the league’s best defensive frontcourt duo in Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley. They also play at the sixth-slowest pace (97.0) and rank 20th in offensive efficiency (110.4), which has made them the best Under team in the league (63.6%). Oklahoma City is not as fun from a narrative standpoint, but the Thunder play a solid brand of defense that is 12th in efficiency (110.1).

The other three on the list are simply good teams. Memphis has been the best defensive team in the league since November. Phoenix has picked up right where it left off last season and is first in net rating (+ 9.3), second in offensive efficiency (115.6) and third in defensive efficiency (106.3). The Suns have the second shortest odds (+ 425) to win the title at DraftKings. Miami has consistently won games despite having the third-most games lost to injury. All three teams are contenders, and it should come as no surprise that they cover numbers at a high rate.

Worst ATS teams

— Brooklyn Nets (20-34-2)

— Washington Wizards (20-32-3)

— Houston Rockets (21-33-1)

— Atlanta Hawks (23-32-1)

— Portland Trail Blazers (24-33)

If you’re just checking in, it might come as a surprise to see Brooklyn as the worst cover team in the league, but it makes a lot of sense. The Nets came into the season as the NBA’s highest power-rated team, but Kyrie Irving has played only 14 games and is still limited to road contests, Kevin Durant has been out since Jan. 15 with a knee injury and James Harden is now a member of the 76ers. A high power rating paired with injury and a disappointing start will culminate in a poor ATS record.

Atlanta is currently on a 1-4 SU and ATS slide, but the team is 9-5 SU and 8-5-1 ATS in its last 14 games and 10th in net rating (+ 3.9) over that span. The Hawks are the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference, but they have one of the best offensive players in the league in Trae Young and should make a real push for the postseason.

The others on this list are just bad teams. Washington, Houston and Portland all rank 23rd or lower in non-garbage time net rating (every one of these five teams rank 21st or lower in defensive efficiency). It turns out that defense does matter in the NBA, and if you don’t play well on that end of the floor then you won’t succeed. 

Top Over teams

— Minnesota Timberwolves (35-22)

— Houston Rockets (33-21-2)

— Miami Heat (34-23)

— Los Angeles Lakers (32-23-2)

— Chicago Bulls (32-24-2)

The thread that links these teams is not as clear as the group that leads the Unders. Take Minnesota and Chicago, the No. 1 and No. 5 Over teams this season. Both rank inside the top 10 in non-garbage time offensive efficiency, and both are above average in pace. Minnesota plays at the third-fastest pace in the league, averaging 113.2 points per 100 possessions and allowing 110.7 on defense. Chicago plays somewhat slower, coming in at 13th in pace, but averages a blistering 114.4 points per 100 possessions on offense and 112.2 on defense. The Bulls’ poor defense has been a big factor in being one of the top Over teams, and the Timberwolves are following suit. Over the last 34 games, Minnesota is 26-8 to the Over and 20th in defensive efficiency.

The Lakers and Rockets share similarities as well. Both teams are poor on the offensive end of the floor — the Rockets more so than the Lakers — coming in at 22nd and 27th in points per 100 possessions. However, Los Angeles is 17th in defensive efficiency and Houston is 30th. Both teams play at breakneck speed, ranking inside the top five in pace. Those poor defenses getting torched in games with oodles of possessions has led to Overs cashing. 

Then there is Miami, which is in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency while playing at the fourth-slowest pace in the league. Their offense has been elite at times, and their reliance on 3-point shooting has led to the third-highest rate of Overs in the league.

Top Under teams

— Dallas Mavericks (20-35-2)

— Cleveland Cavaliers (20-35-2)

— Philadelphia 76ers (22-34)

— Boston Celtics (23-34-1)

— Oklahoma City Thunder (23-33-1)

— New Orleans Pelicans (23-33-1)

The common theme among most of these teams is elite defense and slow pace. Five of these six teams — Dallas, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, Oklahoma City — rank no lower than 12th in non-garbage time defensive efficiency. Five of these six teams — Dallas, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, New Orleans — also rank 22nd or lower in pace (Oklahoma City ranks 16th). It’s not breaking news to say that if a team plays at a slow pace with great defense the Unders will come in at a higher rate, but these teams also share some qualities on offense as well.

Of these six teams, only one, Philadelphia, ranks higher than 17th in offensive efficiency. The common theme? Inefficiencies from beyond the arc. Five of the teams listed — Dallas, Cleveland, Boston, Oklahoma City, New Orleans — rank 20th or lower in 3-point shooting percentage. Philadelphia ranks eighth (36.5%) but is 26th in frequency of shot attempts from beyond the arc. 

The 76ers are getting a massive addition in James Harden that should skew some numbers on both ends of the floor, likely making Philadelphia worse on defense and better on offense, but the pace will remain the same. Totals bettors should monitor that after the All-Star break. Having said that, the traits these teams share are clear and exactly what you should be looking for in betting Unders.

One futures bet to play

Just diving into the NBA season and want something to sweat down the stretch? Here’s a future that you should consider making: Boston Celtics To Win the Eastern Conference (+ 2000).

As stated in our Unders discussion, the Celtics are elite defensively. They allow just 105.9 points per 100 possessions in non-garbage time minutes, which is the best defensive rating in the league, according to Cleaning The Glass. They have two top-tier wing players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and their acquisition of Derrick White at the trade deadline addressed a major weakness. Boston has clawed its way out of the play-in. If it holds on to the sixth seed and gets a favorable first-round matchup against Chicago or Cleveland, that would give the Celtics some real upward mobility in the Eastern Conference. I bet them at 66-1 to win the NBA Finals last week, so we can sweat it out together.

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