My goal here is to explain how I approach early season NBA handicapping, with six pointers that should help bettors approach November and December basketball with positive expectations.
1. Identify Preseason Potential - My preseason preparation is relatively simple. I go through the offseason roster moves for every team in the league. I read everything I can from local sources in October, to get a sense of how a team is coming together in the preseason. And I identify a handful of teams that I’m looking to bet-on or to bet against, right from the get-go. It’s not a long list – my first few weeks of betting will involve a dozen teams at most.
Some of my ‘bet on’ or ‘bet against’ teams will be correctly identified. Others on the list will be dead wrong. What I’m looking to do initially – for the first few weeks of the season – is to hone in on the teams that I accurately assessed. I’ll ride those ‘bet on’ and fade those ‘bet against’ squads that are cashing tickets for me, until the market catches up. I’ll lose a bet or two with the teams I was wrong about, but I’ll win five or six bets on the teams that I was right about.
I’ll give two examples from last year. I identified the Philadelphia 76ers as a team I was looking to play against early in the season, and Philly did not disappoint, going 3-9 ATS in their first dozen games. After covering the spread in their first home game of the year on October 30th, Philly did not cover a single pointspread at home until December 14th, losing ten straight ATS at the Wachovia Center. My clients and I cashed repeatedly fading the Sixers right from the outset of the campaign.
The Atlanta Hawks were one team that I identified as a ‘bet on’ squad coming out of the gate, and they certainly did not disappoint: 11-1 ATS in their first dozen games; 19-6 ATS through their first 25. Atlanta was my favorite team to support last November, cashing tickets again and again, as the betting markets lagged behind.
Betting against Philly and on Atlanta for extended stretches more than made up for the single bets I lost supporting or fading teams that I got wrong in October.
2. Identify Team Personalities - Teams develop personalities rather quickly. Some squads play up or down to their level of competition – good underdogs, but poor chalk. Some teams go on the road and compete, others go on the road and quit when things go bad. Some teams bounce back strongly from a loss; other teams fall apart when facing adversity. Some teams go up-tempo against slowdown foes; others are unable to control the pace.
The key here is to identify as many ‘team personalities’ as you can early in the season. It will allow you to cash tickets in all kinds of ways, especially in the ‘derivatives’ market. Betting first quarters, or first halves or second halves or team totals are additional ways bettors can cash in by identifying team personalities before the market does.
The Boston Celtics are a perfect example from last year. After a 3-1 SU and ATS start as home favorites, Doc Rivers squad quickly grew disinterested in beating up on weaker foes. The Celtics proceeded to go 3-17-1 ATS in their next 21 home games; an easy fade in that particular role right through the All-Star break.
3. Identify Morphing Teams - NBA power ratings get cemented into position fairly early. The linesmakers and markets make some major adjustments right out of the gate, but after Thanksgiving the numbers tend to be on the stale side, reflecting early market opinions far too long. That’s why I’m always looking for ‘morphing’ teams – teams that dramatically change for the better or the worse – as soon as they start to morph.
The betting markets routinely sleep on these ‘morphers’, leaving bettors who pay attention with some rather remarkable streaks to ride. The Milwaukee Bucks went on a 31-8-1 ATS run over a more than three month span last year as they morphed from a bumbling bunch of losers in November into a playoff squad by April.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Boston Celtics started the season with a 23-5 SU mark in their first 28 games, then proceeded to go 27-27 the rest of the way, finishing the year tied with the Lakers and Nets as the worst pointspread teams in the NBA. Yes, that’s right – the Lakers and Celtics, who met in the NBA Finals, ranked as two of the very worst teams to support during the regular season.
4. Identify Key Injuries - The long NBA season is riddled with injuries. Savvy bettors will pay attention to the injuries that matter, while ignoring the injuries that are largely irrelevant. The betting markets have knee-jerk reactions to injuries – if a high profile starter goes down, the line will move, but the line doesn’t move when key role players get hurt.
Accurately assessing injury situations are paramount for any handicapper. It has nothing to do with how good a player actually is. It has everything to do with how replaceable that player is with the current roster on hand.
Last year, injuries to Rockets backup point guard Kyle Lowry and Grizzlies unheralded center Marc Gasol had enormous impacts, because neither team had a suitable replacement. Both squads were ATS failures without a key role player. Meanwhile, betting numbers were routinely adjusted for ‘replaceable’ players like Andrew Bynum, Michael Redd and Tracy McGrady, a trio that had no impact on their respective team’s pointspread fortunes.
Never forget that teams tend to step up in their very first game without a superstar teammate on the floor. Few of those teams can carry that momentum for extended stretches. The New Orleans Hornets went 8-5 ATS in their first 13 games following Chris Paul’s injury last year, but faded to a 2-9-1 ATS mark in the final dozen games prior to his return.
5. Identify Scheduling Quirks - Strength of schedule is extremely meaningful, but few seem to pay attention early in the season when there are significant imbalances. Look at these two examples:
In 2010, the Phoenix Suns will play Portland, Utah, the LA Lakers (twice), San Antonio, Memphis, Atlanta, Denver, Miami, Orlando, Charlotte, Houston and Chicago all in the first 15 games of the season. On the other end of the spectrum, the Cleveland Cavaliers face the Raptors, Kings, 76ers (twice), Wizards, Nets, Knicks (twice), Pacers and Hornets in their first dozen games.
The Cavs might have the better record by late November, but they probably won’t be the better team. Identifying squads whose hot or cold starts were largely schedule related gives bettors a chance to support undervalued teams and fade overvalued ones as the season progresses.
The Chicago Bulls are another team worth mentioning here. Every year, the Bulls are forced to vacate the United Center in November when the circus comes to down. Every year, they go on an extended road trip during this time frame; their longest trip of the year. This year, Chicago plays at home on November 13th, their last home game until December. As a result, the Bulls are routinely undervalued once the circus leaves town and their schedule softens.
6. Do Your Work - Last, but not least, beating the NBA is a labor intensive endeavor. Serious bettors know that their next respite from the NBA will come in February, at the All Star break. Until that break, this is a seven-days-a-week job. If you don’t take the time to go through box scores, game recaps and local information sources on a daily basis, you won’t reap the rewards that the NBA has to offer.