The NBA All Star Game is in the rear view mirror now, leaving bettors with a two month window between now and the beginning of the Playoffs. Just about every team has approximately thirty games remaining on their regular season schedule. The Warriors remain the favorite to win the title when June rolls around, with Cleveland and San Antonio also priced in a 3:1 or lower range to win the championship.
But if you’ve been reading my Wiseguy Report for the last decade, you know that I’m not a big fan of future book wagers. This week’s article isn’t going to recommend a change that long term betting philosophy. In my opinion, the real money to be made betting the NBA is to find the teams that are being priced incorrectly by the betting markets and bet on (or against) those teams repeatedly; in every reasonable situation, until the betting markets catch up.
I’m going to focus on the Western Conference this week; next week I’ll break down the East. As we come out of the break, I’ve identified my top ‘Bet-On’ team down the stretch for the West – the Denver Nuggets. This team has been extremely successful ATS already; ranked among the Top 5 ATS teams heading into the All Star Break. And yet the markets appear to be sleeping on the potential for this squad. That offers savvy bettors significant and continued value supporting this consistent moneywinner in the weeks and months to come.
Golden State and San Antonio have ranked #1 and #2 in terms of best SU and ATS records basically from Day 1 this year. One of those two teams is very likely to capture another NBA title in June – I’d personally bet the Spurs/Warriors combo against the field of the other 28 NBA teams at a pick ‘em price.
Oklahoma City draws betting attention and support, especially after another All Star Game MVP performance from superstar Russell Westbrook. And the LA Clippers also attract attention and support; a major market team with superstars who draw hype. When Blake Griffin returns from injury, LA is primed to be in the media spotlight on a daily basis once again.
That being said, the Spurs are 15 games over .500 ATS, but most of that came early. Since the calendar turned to 2016, the Spurs are 11-8 ATS in their 19 games. Start the count a week later, and we’re talking about a team that’s 8-8 ATS in their last 16 as they head into the teeth of their annual extended Rodeo Road Trip. The Warriors are 11-9 ATS since January 1st – marginally profitable, but not a team you’re going to get rick quick supporting.
OKC has been a moneyloser all year, sitting at ten games below .500 because they haven’t been winning games by big enough margins. The Thunder entered the break on a 9-16 ATS skid since Christmas, even after covering the spread in their final two games. And with the exception of one strong run right after Blake Griffin got hurt (leaving them undervalued for a few weeks), the Clippers longest ATS winning streak all year has been two games. These aren’t the type of teams -- very public, superstar laden championship contenders -- that it’s easy to make money supporting in late February, March and April.
Instead, my #1 bet on team in the West currently sits five games out of the final playoff spot, a surefire lottery team. Quick – name three Denver Nuggets. Name their coach. Even many serious NBA fans would fail that ‘name three Nuggets and their coach’ test.
And yet Denver has all the makings of the type of team worth betting on for months on end. Again, regular readers of this column will be familiar with the recipe—Smaller market squads. No superstars. Lower expectations. Limited -- often very limited -- TV time; with nary a sniff of attention from the major networks.
I did a quick google search for Nuggets' first half grades. Denver had nothing but B’s and C’s; a team that no one is particularly impressed with. From NBA.com’s ‘Midseason Report Card’, grading Denver with a C- first half: “Overall the Nuggets are quite bland and unspectacular; they’re not exactly the team you’re dying to see every night.” The Nuggets are below average in both offensive and defensive efficiency advanced metric numbers; numbers that enjoy a HUGE influence on the betting markets.
And yet all Denver is doing is winning games and covering pointspreads, a remarkable 16-5 ATS since New Year’s. They’ve won SU as an underdog against the Pistons, Knicks, Raptors, Wizards, Pacers, Warriors and T-wolves during that span. And nearly every loss has been competitive, covering spreads in defeat against OKC, Memphis, Boston, Indiana, Golden State and Utah.
When we’re talking about backing lottery bound teams down the stretch of the regular season, ‘competitive losses’ is a very key concept. Some teams get waxed on their poor shooting nights; quitting when the shots aren’t hitting. Other teams seem to gut through their weaker efforts, finding ways to hang tough into the fourth quarter. Denver most assuredly fits into the latter category.
Teams with rookie point guards who didn’t play college ball aren’t supposed to be very good. Emmanuel Mudaiy has some ugly numbers for a rookie playing 30+ minutes per game at the point. He turns the ball over too much, ranked in the Top 10 in the NBA in turnovers per game, while shooting at a 34% clip from the floor, 26% from three point range. Leading scorer Danilo Gallinari has shot below 41% from the floor this year; taking plenty of bad shots on a team that has struggled to create on offense at times.
But Will Barton has been an absolute difference maker for this team; instant offense and energy coming off the bench. I’d make him one of my favorites to win the ‘Sixth Man of the Year’ award for his excellence coming off the bench.
Then there’s the low post quartet of Kenneth Faried, Nikola Jokic, Joffery Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic. Faried made headlines in college as an elite rebounder, the other three guys didn’t play college ball in the US and remain relatively anonymous. But between the four of them, Denver has been winning the rebounding battle and contesting nearly every shot in the paint.
Shooting guard Gary Harris has made huge strides in his second year in the league; a capable creator and perimeter shooter. And while veteran backup point guard Jameer Nelson has been battling injuries in recent weeks, there’s a reason he’s a coveted backup; a steady if unspectacular presence on the floor for this very young squad.
Nuggets head coach Mike Malone made the hapless Kings competitive in his year and a half on the job in Sacramento before he got dumped by an impatient owner looking for a bigger name hire. Sacramento proceeded to get worse again under George Karl.
Management in Denver appears to be a little bit more patient than management in Sacramento, and there’s no question that the team has been buying whatever Malone has been selling. The under-the-radar Nuggets might be somewhat short on talent, but their energy and effort has been consistently good; exactly the type of team that offers continued value down the stretch. With all apologies to the Utah Jazz -- #2 on my list of Western Conference teams to be betting on down the stretch – Denver exits the All Star Break as the single most undervalued ATS commodity in the conference.
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