The NBA regular season is less than two weeks away from the midway point. With the focus on football, the betting markets (and my own writing) have paid scant attention to the pro hoops ranks. That ends here.
This week I’m going to focus on the good NBA teams – the moneymakers! I’ll break down some of the best money earners thus far and assess their profit making potential moving forward. And I’ll take a look at a pair of “morphers” – teams playing significantly better than current market projections.
Phoenix is at the top of any “moneymaker” list. A classic example of how preseason expectations can affect ATS results for months, even when they were clearly not right from Day 1 of the season!
The Suns lined in the range of 20 wins coming into the season. The markets expected a major tank from first year, first time head coach Jeff Hornacek’s squad, angling for ping pong balls in the NBA lottery, not for a playoff spot. But that clearly wasn’t the case, right from the get-go – they blew out Portland on opening night.
The Suns got great play from their dual-point guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. They got some low post defense and rebounding from second year center Miles Plumlee, with lottery pick Alex Len a complete non-factor. The Suns second unit, led by the Morris twins, became a unit of strength. And Phoenix opened up the season by going 7-0-1 ATS in their first eight games, an obvious ATS success story.
Despite a start that turned some heads in betting circles, the Suns have remained an undervalued commodity ever since, covering the spread at a 75% clip through their first 32 games; successful in every role – at home and on the road; as favorites and as underdogs. Their longest ATS losing streak of the entire year is only 2. Without “household name” stars or national TV gigs, we’ve yet to see the markets catch up with Phoenix, a hot team from the start that has managed to retain value.
Indiana is very good and it’s no surprise. After all, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals last year and gave Miami a legitimately tough test in their seven game series. They were lined in the range of 55 wins. So how does an elite team everybody knows is going to be good come out of the gate with a 23-10 ATS mark in their first 33 games? Like Phoenix, they haven’t lost more than two in a row against the spread.
My answer is two-fold: focus and defense. Frank Vogel had the Pacers thinking about home court advantage in the playoffs from Day 1 of training camp, and the Pacers have used all kinds of perceived “slights” as a smaller market team (like not being scheduled on Christmas Day) as additional motivators. That has led to extraordinary focus, a ballclub that just hasn’t had many weak efforts this year.
And the Pacers championship level defensive effort has covered more than a few point spreads. Indiana has the best defensive efficiency numbers in the NBA, barely allowing 93 points per 100 possessions. Opposing teams have struggled to hit “spread covering” shots against them time and again in the latter stages of the fourth quarter.
Charlotte spent the last two years as the epitome of a bottom feeder, the very worst team in the NBA both SU and ATS over that span. And the Bobcats are a long way from being “good” this year, despite their current status as the No. 7 team in the Eastern Conference playoff race. What the Bobcats have been this year is “competitive,” and competitive bottom feeder teams cover point spreads.
I’ve been impressed with first year, first time head coach Steve Clifford, who has established a “defense and rebounding” mindset from a squad that previously had none. And two personnel keys for Charlotte – the addition of low post force Al Jefferson and the emergence of Kemba Walker as a go-to scorer and distributor during crunch time – have kept Charlotte from the steady string of blowout losses that doomed them in recent campaigns.
Charlotte’s competitive nature has been on display in one particular role – as road underdogs. They opened the season with a pair of double digit losses in their first two tries in that role. Since that time, the Bobcats have been an ATS machine – 12-2-1 ATS in their last 15 tries as road dogs. It’s a streak the markets haven’t really caught on to, offering continued moneymaking potential moving forward.
Golden State is known for stellar three point shooting, most notably Steph Curry’s ridiculous stroke. But the Warriors’ current nine game winning streak has been every bit as much about improved defensive effort as about hot shooting.
Andre Iguodala is a lockdown perimeter defender and the key to coach Mark Jackson’s defense on the wing. But Iguodala got hurt and missed nearly a month of playing time. Since his return to the lineup, the Warriors defensive efficiency numbers have improved by leaps and bounds; currently ranked fourth in the NBA. The other key to their defense has been the steady improved play from low post force Andrew Bogut, finally healthy and in rhythm from the start of the season. As long as Iguodala and Bogut stay healthy, Warriors likely enjoy continued ATS success.
Toronto under HC Dwane Casey’s squad was 6-12 SU when they traded away Rudy Gay, a move that seemingly signified a “tank” approach to the rest of the season. Instead, the exact opposite has occurred. Toronto didn’t just get better immediately after Gay left town – they got a lot better at the same time the markets were devaluing them!
The markets certainly didn’t appreciate the veteran talent Toronto acquired in the Gay trade. John Salmons has become their lockdown perimeter defender. Patrick Patterson has blossomed in a new town, gobbling up rebounds. Greivis Vasquez has had an immediate impact backing up Kyle Lowry at the point. A trio of Sacramento “afterthoughts” have dramatically out-produced the guy they were traded for!
The Raptors rank No. 7 in defensive efficiency, a number that has improved significantly since the trade. They’ve notched an 11-3 ATS mark in 14 games since trading Gay, and the losses can be explained away.
As a smaller market team with very limited national TV exposure and without superstars, the Raptors have the real potential to retain their point spread value long term.
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]