BettorIQ’s NBA Betting Preview: The Impact of the Bubble
After a layoff that stretched over four months, the NBA finally returns to meaningful action on Thursday, with a two-game slate, before settling into a schedule that will see six or seven games played each day. If the much-discussed NBA bubble works out, the seeding game portion of the NBA restart will be filled with opportunities for NBA bettors who have been desperate to get back at it. Plenty has been made of the fact that games will take place on neutral floors without any fans. Let’s take a look at some of the things to look for in this strange new world of NBA basketball, and where bettors might find some value out of the gates.
Style of Play
Many NBA coaches and players have noted how different it feels to be playing in an empty arena. But how will this translate to the action on the floor? One thing that most certainly has jumped out during the scrimmage schedule has been the serious increase in pace of play. The league average pace rating during this time has been 107.5, a substantial increase from the regular season league average pace rating of only 100.9. To be sure, bettors should take into account how new all of this is, and some of the factors that led to this that may not translate to seeding games. Starters and key rotation pieces were limited in their minutes over this time, leading to expanded playing time for minor roster players. Injuries to a whole raft of NBA players has forced plenty of teams, in particular the likes of Brooklyn, Washington, and San Antonio, to adapt on the fly. A lot of players getting run during the scrimmages had limited familiarity with scheme and personnel, and often it’s just easier for coaches to try to push the pace. Additions to rosters (Victor Oladipo returning for Indiana jumps out) will also have an impact. Many players and coaches noted the “summer-league feel” of the scrimmages. It remains to be seen if the uptempo play continues.
That said, it seems likely that pace will remain high, at least at first. Coaches will likely play deeper rotations to begin with, and the fresher legs may lead to quicker overall play. Also, all players will have something of a learning curve at the beginning of the seeding round, and this too may make it simpler to get out and run. One possible area of value would be to look at teams who were already playing at a fast pace during the regular season. Milwaukee, New Orleans, Houston, Washington, and Memphis were the league’s fastest. They may have an easier time adjusting in the first few games of the seeding round. Slower teams like Denver, Miami, Orlando, and Utah could be forced out of their comfort zone, at least at first. Bettors should also consider the likes of the Nets and Wizards, who are running out a lot of new lineups and pieces. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks, for example, is adamant his team will run. He said, “We wanna play fast and we wanna share the basketball, and the guys are doing a really good job of doing that. It’s just gonna be a lot of scoring opportunities by committee. We wanna help each other score...But we’re trying to focus on playing fast and help each other score, and we wanna make sure we get a lot of opportunities in transition.” The Wizards put up a pace rating of 106.5 over the three scrimmages, up from their regular season number of 103.5. There’s little reason to believe this will not hold up. There’s a chance that the books can’t account enough for the uptick in scoring at the start of the seeding games.
While the NBA plans to pipe in some amount of crowd noise during games in the bubble, it will be nothing even close to how loud league arenas get, particularly in crunch time. This will allow players to communicate much more effectively than in regular times. End game situations run by solid floor generals could be much more efficient than when the game is on the line and the players can barely hear themselves think. Now, with the arena empty, there will be no problem getting messages across to players and teammates.
After a convincing loss to the Thunder in his team’s first scrimmage game, Celtics head coach raised an interesting point. “I thought the most interesting part — when you listen to Chris Paul, the whole place, there’s nobody else in here. And Chris Paul dominated the game with his voice,” Brad Stevens said, according to MassLive.” Paul is regarded as one of the league’s best leaders and most intelligent players. A true coach on the floor, he should be able to provide even more value than he typically does. LeBron James obviously also falls into this category. Bettors should look for matchups where one team has players who is superior in this way over his opponents’ counterpart, and value will almost certainly be found. In addition to the practical consequences of more clearly articulating plays and defensive rotations, this increased ability to communicate will likely favor teams with the best chemistry. Toronto and Boston jump out as a couple of teams to get some advantage from their strong togetherness on the floor. In addition, it follows that coaches will also be able to put their stamp on proceedings in an even bigger way. Identifying coaching mismatches is certainly something to take even more seriously than usual, as both staffs and players begin to adjust to playing in the bubble. Improved communication between players on the floor and coaches off of it, in this unprecedented environment, will be very difficult for bookmakers to quantify, particularly at first. This should be an area from which serious betting opportunities will emerge. If we listen closely enough, we may even hear Kawhi Leonard speak!
Motivation could prove to be a difficult thing for books and bettors to factor in as so many teams in the bubble will be treating the seeding games in different ways. Milwaukee, for example, is locked into the top playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has said that the eight-game slate will be something of a tuneup for the playoffs. His rotation will be extended, and we will likely see key contributors, including presumptive MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo rested at times as the Bucks eye a deep playoff run. Teams like Brooklyn, Washington, San Antonio and Phoenix, for differing reasons, will probably have an eye on the future, and in some cases, on the draft lottery. Look for lots of different players to get run for these groups, and a ton of lineup experimentation from their coaching staffs. This should lead to inconsistent and likely inefficient play.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Orlando Magic should be very keen on piling up some wins during the seeding round. They begin play only a half game back of the Brooklyn Nets for the seven seed in the Eastern Conference. The Nets have been decimated by injury, and will be without Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince, in addition to Kevin Durant. Avoiding the dreaded eighth position in the conference comes with the very valuable prize of not playing the powerhouse Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs. Additionally, the Magic are 5.5 games ahead of the Wizards for the final playoff berth. Orlando will want to make sure they keep more than a four-game buffer with Washington, so as to at least avoid the uncertainty and increased workload of a double-elimination play-in series. The return of now-healthy Jonathan Isaac should help the Magic improve, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.