Power ratings not lone ‘capping tool

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I’ve long maintained that sports handicapping is both a science and an art. 

By that I mean that in order to be successful you must have a relatively structured method that enables you to form numerical measures to compare teams on an objective basis. The most common such measure would a set – or sets – of Power Ratings. 

The ‘art’ part of the process involves the interpretation of those measures and the tweaking of them to account for factors that are difficult, in not almost impossible, to measure objectively. Such factors would include the potential intangible factors of injuries, revenge, momentum, travel and other factors that are generally classified as ‘situational’ factors. 

Much of the analysis I present in my weekly selections is related more along the lines of situational handicapping (the ‘art’) for one very key reason. When we go to press on Tuesdays the lines for those weekend games are, obviously, not yet available. 

But I still run my numbers on a day-to-day basis. Years ago, before the widespread availability of information that has grown geometrically since the advent of the Internet, Power Ratings generally represented the finish line. 

Linesmaking was not nearly as sophisticated as it is today. The electronic calculator was the tool of the day that was used to simplify the process. Over the past 25 years the personal computer became the standard tool used by most handicappers, bettors and linesmakers. 

Nowadays, Power Ratings are the starting point as there are a huge number of sources of Power Ratings and the like and the vast majority of them are very similar. 

A major factor involved in developing Power Ratings in all sports is that of a home field (or court) advantage. This is a number that generally reflects how much better a team plays at home than on the road. 

For many years, NFL teams were generically assigned three points for playing at home. Over the years, greater analysis was done and teams were given differing values for playing at home related to their differing degrees of success. 

The overall range of values was rather small but the exercise was an attempt to explain that not all teams derived the same benefit as measured by home vs. road results. 

There are many websites that provide Power Ratings and Home Field/Court Advantages for teams in the major sports, both college and pro. You can do a simple Google search to find such sites. Some sites are free and others offer the information as part of a subscription to their newsletter or other proprietary content. 

One of the oldest gaming publications has been The Gold Sheet and many readers of this column are familiar with their newsletters for football and basketball. The Gold Sheet has long been a source of information that includes Power Ratings and a specific Home Court Advantage (HCA) for each team. 

Using a recent copy of their newsletter, they have a range of a low of 0 (New York Knicks) to a high of 5 (San Antonio) with the other 28 NBA teams in between. My own calculated range for HCA is also from 0 to 5 but my lowest HCA of 0 is shared by three teams (Chicago, Miami and Orlando) and my team with my highest HCA of 5 is Denver. 

The point is that there are different methodologies used to compute HCA and the time frame used can vary but whatever methodology is used is applied consistently to each team. 

But that’s not the key principle to be taken away from this exercise. 

In factoring HCA into their development and use of Power Ratings most users simply add the HCA for the Home team to that team’s Power Rating and compare that number to the Road Team’s Power Rating to come up with a projected line for a game between those teams (prior to making adjustment for the “artistic” factors they employ.) 

As an example, let’s consider a game between Golden State and Portland. Let’s assume Golden State has a Power Rating of 90 and Portland has a Power Rating of 84. Assume Golden State’s HCA is plus 5 and Portland’s HCA is plus 2. 

If a game between Portland and the Warriors is played at a neutral site the projected line would be Golden State by 6 (90-84=6). If Portland was playing at Golden State the line would be Golden State by 11 (90+5= 95-84=11). 

If Portland was hosting the game, the line would be Golden State by 4 (90-84, Portland’s ‘adjusted’ Rating, +2=86). That is the standard way that HCA is used. 

But consider what happens when you take the approach that an adjustment should be made for both teams. Golden State’s HCA of 5 can be interpreted as both “Golden State plays five points better at home than on the road” and that “Golden State plays five points worse on the road than at home.” 

Similarly, Portland plays two points better at home than on the road which also means the Blazers play two points worse on the road than at home. 

My approach is to add just one half of the Home team’s HCA to the Home team’s Power Rating and subtract one half of the Road team’s HCA from its Power Rating. 

In the above example in which Golden State hosts Portland, instead of the Warriors being favored by 11 (90+ 5-84) my approach would have Golden State favored by 9.5 (90+2.5-84-1). That’s a difference of 1.5 points from the ‘standard’ way in which HCA is used. 

In seeking to wager and win the goal is to find edges. Sometimes those edges come in having information or access to information that is generally not available on a widespread basis. At other times, those edges are found in using widespread information in ways that others are most likely not using that same information. 

For those of you who are mathematically inclined and use Power Ratings and HCA as part of your arsenal you might want to track the results of using the ‘standard’ method and my ‘home/road adjustment’ approach. We all know the value of a half point or a point in the line. 

Trail Blazers at Raptors (Friday): Their prior meeting this season occurred in mid-December when Portland, a 1.5 point home underdog, defeated Toronto 128-122 in a game that sailed over the total by 34 points. Both teams are seeking to maintain a top-four seed in their conference as the playoffs are on the horizon.  

In Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, Portland has one of the best backcourts in the league. This is its fifth of a seven-game road trip that began following the All-Star break, but none of the seven are on back-to-back nights. This is also the final game of a six game home stand for the Raptors. Both teams are 11-4 SU in their last 15 games but whereas Portland is also 11-4 ATS over that stretch the Raptors are just 6-9. TRAIL BLAZERS 

Warriors at 76ers (Saturday): Golden State seeks to avenge a loss from their earlier meeting a month ago when the Sixers pulled a 113-104 upset as eight-point road underdogs.

The Warriors have started to rev up their level of play as the regular season enters its final quarter although they’ve gone just 2-2 since winning 16 of 17 with the lone loss to the 76ers. Yet Golden State has fared poorly ATS since the start of 2019. Despite their 18-4SU record in the new year, the Warriors are just 9-12-1 ATS. 

Of course the explanation is that the Warriors have been large favorites in most games. The line should for this revenge game should not be too steep as the Warriors wrap up a four game road trip. WARRIORS

Rockets at Celtics (Sunday): These teams met in Houston two nights after Christmas and Houston, a 2.5-point home underdog, defeated the Celtics 127-113 in yet another game that showed a huge variance vs. the total, going over the 214 total by 26 points.  

Houston’s James Harden scored 45 points in the eighth game of his 32-game streak of scoring at least 30 points which came to an end this past Monday night against Atlanta. Boston is in the final game of a four game homestand and begins a four-game west coast trip on Tuesday. CELTICS 

Last week: 2-1

Season: 31-23


About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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