Best NBA Teams ATS
by Trevor Whenham - 11/21/2007
We're about 10 games into the NBA season. That's not long enough to know who the legitimate contenders are and which teams don't have a chance, but it is long enough for some trends to emerge. Some of what has happened so far will change to some extent in the coming weeks and months. Orlando, for example, is a good team, but are they really the second best team in the league? Probably not, and their record should come back to earth. The Bulls, on the other hand, are almost certainly significantly better than their 2-7 start would indicate.
As a sports bettor, one of the most interesting stats to emerge at this point of the season, or at any point for that matter, is a team's performance against the spread. It's a simplification, but it's essentially true - success in sports betting is about finding the teams that excel ATS and avoiding those that don't. Here's a look at the top four ATS teams in the NBA up to this point in the season, and an assessment of their chances of continuing to reward their backers:
Orlando Magic - 10-2 ATS. The Magic had the look of a team that would continue to improve as Dwight Howard grew into his almost endless potential, but this is ridiculous. They lead the league in wins and have won, and covered, five in a row. But can this torrid pace keep up? Hard to say. On one hand, the fact that they are 7-0 away from home shows that they are a tough team. They have also beat Boston and New Orleans, two of the hotter teams in the league, their last two times out. The problem, though, is that beyond those two wins they have beaten a bunch of patsies - New Jersey, Cleveland, Seattle, New York, Toronto, Minnesota, Washington, Milwaukee - and they were handled pretty convincingly by the Pistons and the Suns, the two most proven teams they have faced. There is also the matter of their record - the more success they have, and the more highlight reels Howard lands on, the more attention the public is going to pay. That will force the lines to be inflated, and they will eventually struggle to cover even as they win. If I were guessing I would say that the Magic will continue to have a solid season, and they stand a very good chance of winning the dismal Southeast division, but their ATS record will fall back into a more reasonable realm within the next couple of months.
Boston Celtics - 7-2 ATS. I must admit that it really surprises me that the Celtics are up in this lofty company at this point in the season. I was confident that the team wouldn't be able to live up to the ridiculous expectations as it adjusted to its entirely new look, and I expected the public enthusiasm to lead to a betting disaster early on. Goes to show what I know. This team has barely met a spread it didn't like. But is there a crack appearing in the foundation? After starting off the season with seven covers in a row, the team barely squeaked past Miami (while not covering as 10.5-point favorites) and then lost to Orlando. Like the Magic, the Celtics have benefited from a pretty underwhelming roster of opponents to kick off this new era - Denver is their only opponent besides Orlando with a winning record. Based on what we have seen, I expect the Celtics to be at the top of the Atlantic division at year end, but I expect their record to be well below their current .889, and their ATS to be far less profitable than it currently is.
L.A. Lakers - 8-2 ATS. If I'm surprised that Boston is where they are, I am shocked that the Lakers join them. Despite the soap opera turmoil and the ridiculous lack of depth this team has somehow managed to win seven of 10, and to cover in all of their wins and one loss. They have covered as dogs four times and favorites four times, and they have done it all against by far the strongest schedule on this list so far - covers against Detroit, Houston twice, Phoenix and Utah. They suffered a bit of a blow on Monday when they lost Kwame Brown for an extended period of time. Brown hasn't been spectacular by any means, but his absence will force Andrew Bynum into extended duty, which he might not be ready for quite yet. I also don't have a lot of faith that the relative harmony that the team is enjoying now will continue throughout the season - there are too many egos involved, and Kobe just can't keep it together all year.
Memphis Grizzlies - 7-3 ATS. This is a very interesting case. Memphis is a very young team with a bright future, but they aren't ready for prime time yet, as their 3-7 record indicates. They are clearly better than people think, though. They have covered five in a row despite only winning two of those games. They've covered against some very solid teams - San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Dallas. As importantly, two of their wins have been blowouts of Seattle, proving that they are good enough to win the games they need to win. This is the kind of team that could keep up their covering ways, too - they aren't doing much to get any public attention, and their straight-up record will scare away casual bettors, so they could easily keep doing what they are doing without being bothered.