NBA Load Management Creates New Era for Basketball Bettors
Before the 2017-18 NBA season, there was a major concern in the league with superstars sitting out during regular season games for rest.
In the 2016-2017 season, the Warriors' top players, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, took off a nationally televised game against the San Antonio Spurs in March. Furthermore, the Cleveland Cavaliers did the same thing when they sat Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love against the Los Angeles Clippers in that same season. This sparked a lot of debate and controversy.
Many fans with tickets to these particular games voiced their displeasure. Some traveled miles to see their favorite players, only to be told their idols would be taking a day off to rest.
While fans weren't happy, neither was the NBA. Having their star players sit during nationally televised games surely didn't help ratings. This forced the NBA to expand the schedule one week and push the start date earlier into October to give teams more time off between games in 2017.
Starting in the 2017-2018 season, the NBA completely eliminated playing four games in five nights and also made sure no team had to play 18 games in 30 days. The NBA also cut in half teams playing five games in seven nights. There were 90 instances where a team had to play five games in seven nights in the 2016-17 season, while on the contrary, there were only 40 instances in 2017-2018.
The league also ensured that no marquee national TV match-up would be played on the second night of a back-to-back. The NBA hoped that if a player was going to sit out a game, there would be no reason to do so during a nationally televised game.
These changes to the schedule became a large stepping stone for the NBA and basketball fans around the world, especially bettors. Due to the new scheduling process, new trends emerged.
In the 2018-2019 season, each team still played 82 games. However, each team had different circumstances. The Charlotte Hornets (39-43), New York Knicks (17-65), Sacramento Kings (39-43), and Washington Wizards (32-50) had the most back-to-back games with 15 each.
Each team with 15 back-to-backs didn't make the playoffs. However, throughout the season, Sacramento covered 56.2% of their games. Charlotte, New York, and Washington covered the spread less than 50% of the time.
The Hornets missed the playoffs by two games in the East. They had 10 of their 15 back-to-backs on the road. Ironically, Charlotte, New York, and Washington had five or six instances where they had three or more days of rest between games. These teams had the most back-to-back games but were also on the top of the list with three days of additional rest.
Denver (54-28) had eight instances with three or more days of rest between games. They covered 51 percent of the time and took second place in the West.
On the flip side, Atlanta Hawks (29-53), Houston Rockets (53-29), Miami Heat (39-43), Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33), Phoenix Suns (19-63), Portland Trail Blazers (53-29), and Toronto Raptors (58-24) played back-to-backs just 12 times apiece. Twelve was the least amount of back-to-backs played in the NBA during last season.
Excluding the Hawks and the Suns, the teams with less back-to-back games made the playoffs. The Heat were an outlier. However, the Hawks and Suns were too young to compete for anything last season.
Also, you would think that more rest would equal more defense. But if you thought that, you'd be absolutely wrong. More rest equals more offense, which, of course, is just what the fans want to see.
In the 2017-2018 season there were 13 times when a team scored 140 or more points. More rest means the pace of play is faster, leading to more shots and points. With the new scheduling, the NBA had its best offensive season. Offensive numbers continued to rise last season, and they continue to rise during the current season being played now. It's hard to believe that five years ago there were regularly totals posted in the 180s, while any total now posted under 200 is a rarity.
All 30 NBA teams combined to average 106.4 points per game in the 2017-2018 season, which was an entire point more than 2016-2017's 105.6 average. Pace of play skyrocketed to 97.3 possessions per game, which was the highest in the NBA (at the time) since 1990-1991.
Offensive efficiency had never been higher as the league averaged 52.2 effective field goal percentage with a league record of 108.7 points scored per 100 possessions. The schedule changes to allow more rest was a factor for this offensive explosion in the league. Teams also turned the ball over on just 13.1 percent of possessions, which was labeled as the second lowest in league history. More rest meant less laziness and more focus.
However, the NBA's scheduling tactics haven't gone as planned during the NBA's current season. The new term for rest has become, "load management." Teams are resting their superstars very early in the 2019-2020 season. The average All-NBA selection will only play about 34 minutes a game (there are 48 minutes in an official NBA game). Only 21 players in the entire NBA played all 82 games last season. That's less than a player per team!
As you can imagine, there's outrage stemming from fans and media. But the group struggling the most from load management is the gambling community. The average NBA team used 17.4 different starting lineups a decade ago. It's now reached over 20 lineups and these lineup combinations are only going to grow from here.
Averages for each team in any statistical category can be untrustworthy due to star players taking rest days. For example, Kawhi Leonard has a history of taking games off due to load management. The recommendation would be to eliminate games that he didn't play in and then look at the averages to make your betting decision.
During the 2017-18 season, the Warriors would see the same exact line movement when Steph Curry was out compared to when Kevin Durant was out. Oddsmakers thought these superstars had the same value, but on/off splits proved that the Warriors were plus 13 per 100 possessions with Curry on the floor, while they were just plus 1.6 per 100 possessions when Durant was on the court.
When Durant played 25 games without Curry during the 2017-2018 season, the Warriors went 10-14-1 against the spread in those 25 games. When Curry played without Durant, the Warriors were 6-1-1 against the spread.
Load management, from estimation at CBS Sportsline, costs teams between 1.5 to 2.5 wins per season. The NBA can change their scheduling as much as they want. They can try to keep their star players from taking a rest, but the reality is that science is taking over the game.
Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban agrees with load management. When asked, he said that it's "the best thing to ever happen to the league."
Cuban believes load management will keep players in better shape and allow them to be ready when the games matter the most in the postseason.
But remember when the NBA tried to stop superstars from sitting out during nationally televised matchups? Kawhi Leonard has already sat twice in the current season with the Clippers during nationally televised games. Astonishingly, he got the OK from the NBA to do so on both occasions. The NBA has not been strict with their rules and policies.
So while it might be the best thing to happen to the league, for bettors all around the world, it's a struggle.
At the very least, the new scheduling has made an impact in the NBA. The scheduling will prevent instances like a team having to play consecutive nights on the road two times during a five-day stretch. This was a "thing" not too long ago. Bettors took advantage of these spots by taking the home team. Remember, home teams are winning nearly 60 percent of games in the NBA.
The new schedule has given bettors less trends to look at from a scheduling perspective. There are less long road trips and less early starts compared to previous years. However, if you find an early start for a road team, you should take a look at the home underdog as the road team was likely out too late and didn't get much sleep.
Thankfully, the NBA schedule has limited the drastic instances. Just understand that an informed bettor is a successful bettor. Know who's playing in the game and what their schedule was like prior to the game before making bets and dig deep into the numbers on what makes each team the most successful.
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