NBA Playoffs Betting Lessons
by Trevor Whenham - 05/22/2008
The NBA playoffs are into the third round, so this is as good a time as any to look back on what we have seen so far to see what we have learned as bettors. The fianl two rounds of the playoffs this year set up to be as interesting as they can possibly be. All four teams are talented, they all have proven veteran talent, and they all could conceivably be the last team standing. None of them are perfect, however - each has faults that the other teams could potentially exploit. To help figure out who will be the exploiters and the exploited, here are four interesting trends that have emerged up to this point:
A good point guard is good enough - There is always lots of talk about the importance of the point guard. It's even more appealing to talk about now that we have so many good point guards in the league, a couple of young stars who will be perennial all-stars, and another superstar about to enter the league. Curiously, though, this playoff run has shown us that having the best point guard isn't necessarily the key to success. All four remaining teams have decent point guards, and some would argue that Billups and Parker are among the higher tier, but the true superstar quarterbacks are all watching the games on TV. More significantly, the two young tigers - Chris Paul and Deron Williams - were both knocked out last round by teams still in action. You can easily argue that the teams remaining have the best talent from top to bottom, and that is what has advanced them as far as they have gone, but dominance up front seems to be far more important than the short guys in the back. As a crude indicator of what I am saying, just two of the 10 leading playoff performers in assists per game are still in action, and one of those is Kobe Bryant.
Home court - Much has been written and said about the dominance of the home teams in the second round of the playoffs, so I won't touch on that any more here other than to say that it was quite incredible. There's another aspect of the home court advantage that is worth noting, though. Of the four teams that have made it so far, Detroit is the only team to have lost a playoff game on their home court, and that was back in the first game of the playoffs. These teams have gone as far as they have because they have taken care of business at home. That's not entirely a good thing in all cases, especially Boston's - since they have gone to game seven twice that also means that they have yet to win a road game. That home court advantage is a big part of what got them to where they are in the first place in all four cases, too - each team won at least 30 of their 41 home games in the regular season.
Individual scoring isn't the key - The most attractive and celebrated statistic for basketball fans both casual and rabid is scoring. A 30-point scoring effort is almost always enough to make the nightly highlight reels. As fun as scoring is to watch, though, it hasn't proven to be the key to success in these playoffs. The obvious exception is Bryant - he has averaged five points per game more than any other player in the playoffs, and he is still alive and well. Only one other player in the top 12 in scoring is still alive, though - Tony Parker in eighth with 23.7 points per game. That's not to say that scoring doesn't matter - the players that need to be doing well are. It's just that effective consistency is far more important than flashy numbers.
Good teams bounce back - These teams have not cruised through the playoffs unscathed. In fact, the four of them have combined to lose five games by 15 or more points so far in the playoffs. The teams are 4-1 in the next games, and 3-1-1 ATS. Beating these teams badly, then has been a mixed blessing - on one hand teams get a win, but on the other hand they have angered a strong team. There are two things that are noteworthy in this group. Boston has only been blown out once, against Cleveland, but they came back in the next game and lost by 11. They haven't shown that anger and desire to exact revenge like other teams, and that is another indicator, along with their problems on the road, that lead people to question their hunger and ability to go all the way. We also can't judge the Lakers' hunger based on this criteria, because they have yet to be blown out. They have just two losses so far - one by five, and one by eight in overtime. Based purely on style points, then, the Lakers have the edge so far.