NBA Handicapping: Some Straight Up Duds are ATS Studs
by Josh Nagel - 01/15/2009
If you're looking for value in the NBA as the season nears its midpoint, there might be a natural temptation to look toward the league's top-echelon teams.
Looking down might not be a bad idea, either. Down toward the bottom of the standings, that is, where the league's worst teams reside.
It turns out that some of the NBA's doormats have been the bettor's delight, turning in extraordinary records against the spread. Now, bad teams covering the number isn't exactly news, but the frequency with which they are doing so in the NBA this season is worth notice.
In particular, the moribund Oklahoma City Thunder, who already have fired their coach and might challenge a league record for futility, boast an outstanding record of 26-14 ATS and have covered in 20 of their past 26 outings. They are 7-33 straight up but, evidently, they lose in style.
The only clubs with as many wins ATS this season are two of the Eastern Conference's elite, the Orlando Magic (26-12 ATS, 31-8 SU) and Cleveland Cavaliers (26-10, 30-6 SU). Coincidentally, last year's NBA Finals participants, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, are a combined 38-40 ATS.
Clearly, the oddsmakers haven't given the Thunder much respect. Moreover, the Thunder haven't done much to deserve any. Be that as it may, they are still doing enough to cover the big number and bring bettors the cash.
A distinction as the Best of the Worst for gamblers isn't exactly a proud title. But the Thunder are far from alone: the downtrodden Charlotte Bobcats are 22-17 ATS to counteract their 15-24 straight-up mark and the much-improved Milwaukee Bucks are 25-13-2 at the cage to support a 19-21 overall clip.
So what gives with these duds bringing in the dollars?
"I think it's mainly a case where these were horrible teams, and the spreads were too large," said Mike Seba, senior oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which sets the line for several Nevada sports books.
"The spreads were a little higher than they should have been, and it took us too long to catch up with them."
By the time Seba and his colleagues caught up with the Thunder, the gritty team found another way to elude their grasps. The Thunder had been covering at a rapid clip on the road but struggling at home. They have since reversed the trend, and have covered five straight times on their home court.
But if you're not sitting at home counting a wad of Benjamins courtesy of the Thunder and the Bobcats, you're not alone. That's why Seba and other oddsmakers aren't exactly losing sleep over the Thunder. For one, they are not a team that the public jumps on when they start covering like crazy and, what's more, things have a way of changing course once the bandwagon begins to fill up.
For the most part, the Thunder's covers this season have meant a win for the books. Most public bettors will back a good team against a really bad one, sometimes in blissful ignorance of the double-figure spread. That's just the way the oddsmakers want it and intend to keep it.
"The books aren't really getting hurt by this," Seba said. "We still have to protect the favorite to guard against people betting them all the time."
While the Thunder appear to be headed for an epic disparity between won-loss record and ATS acumen, history suggests that straight-up misery sometimes loves spread-covering company.
In other words, Oklahoma City has competition for the worst-ever spread beater. The 2002 Rutgers football season was a doozy. The Scarlet Knights went 5-7 straight up but posted an 11-1 mark ATS.
Their lone ATS defeat came on a backdoor touchdown from 7.5-point chalk Boston College with a minute left to make the final score 35-25. Rutgers had gone 1-10 overall and 6-4 ATS the previous season.