NBA Handicapping: Offense or Defense Key to Betting Success?
by Trevor Whenham - 1/28/2010
Offense or defense? That's the question. If you spend any time at all watching the NBA then chances are that you prefer one over the other - the potential explosiveness of offense, or the strategic determination of defense. But what about from a betting perspective? Is there one side of the ball that you should be paying more attention to when you are trying to pick winners? Just out of interest, I thought I would look at the NBA season so far this year to see if one or the other has been kinder to bettors. Here's what I found:
Offense - The most productive offense in the league, by almost 2.5 points per game, is the running-and-gunning Phoenix Suns. They haven't been profitable ATS on the season, though at 23-24 ATS they have come close to breaking even. Next in the rankings are Denver and Golden State, both of which have averaged 107.5 points per game. Like Phoenix, Denver has come close to breaking even - they are 21-22-2 ATS. Golden State is a better betting entity - they are 25-18-1 ATS. The last two teams in the Top 5 offensively are the Lakers and the Raptors. Neither of them are profitable on the season - Toronto is 23-23 ATS, while the L.A. is a pitiful 21-24-1 ATS. It seems fairly clear from this limited sample size that a team that can score a lot of points isn't necessarily one that can cover the spread. Those five teams have combined to go 114-111-4 ATS - not exactly profitable.
How about the worst offensive teams? The five at the bottom of the league in offensive production are the Clippers, Bulls, Bobcats, Pistons and, least surprising of all, the Nets. Those teams are a combined 102-115-4 ATS, which is obviously not a profitable situation. It's not nearly as bad if you dig a little deeper. The Nets are a historically terrible team - they just won their fourth game of the year on Wednesday night. They are so pitiful that they obviously can't cover a whole lot of spreads. They are a dismal 14-30 ATS - by far the worst in the league. If you take them out of the mix then the other four teams are 88-85-4 ATS. That's slightly better than the five best offensive teams even if it isn't profitable. It's pretty clear from that that relying on offensive prowess to influence your NBA handicapping decisions isn't a great idea.
Defense - The top defensive team in the league is, surprisingly, Charlotte - it seems like Larry Brown's magic is working again. They are 26-18 ATS this year. That's a promising start for the defensive teams. Unfortunately, the Celtics are about to derail the early momentum. They are the second best defensive team in the league, but just the third worst ATS squad - at 17-25 ATS. Cleveland is next at 23-23-1 ATS, followed by Portland at 24-22-1, and Oklahoma City at 27-18 ATS. That's a combined 117-106-2 ATS - basically a break even proposition, and an improvement over the defensive teams. More significantly, two of those five teams are nicely profitable, compared to just one of the offensive teams.
So, how about the teams that struggle on defense? The five least competent teams are the Raptors, Kings, Timberwolves, Suns, and Warriors. It's interesting to note as a start that three of those five teams are among the five best scoring teams so it is obvious where they focus all of their energies. Those squads have a combined ATS record of 114-110-4. That's not quite as good as the top five teams, but it is in the same ballpark.
Conclusion - There isn't a clear connection this season in the NBA between offensive and defensive prowess ad betting performance. Different things work for different teams, and some are more suited to playing certain styles than others, so you can't draw simplistic conclusions - teams that can score, for example, aren't necessarily any better at covering spreads than teams that struggle to find the hoop.
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