For handicappers it can be a real challenge to assess situations when a key player is returning to action after a long absence. Whether it’s in the postseason or the regular season handicappers need to be sure they can quickly get a sense of what is likely to happen so that they know how it impacts the team, their games, and ultimately the value. Here are seven questions to help assess what impact a long-absent returning player can have:
What role is he returning in? – If we are concerned about a player enough to spend this much time thinking about him the he must be not only a starter but an important one. When he comes back, then, is he going to be starting right away? If he’s going to be eased back into the lineup – not starting and playing limited minutes early on – then it would be very easy to overstate the impact of his return, and that can be costly.
Who replaced him? – The betting public gets very concerned about injuries to key players and the dire impact they can have. Often times, though, an injury only illuminates that a team didn’t rely on the star as much as people assumed. Often, the replacement player was more than capable of providing strong play. Sometimes the replacement player is even a star caliber himself and just needed a chance to show it. It can be easy and dangerous to assume that the team will get a boost from a returning player before you look at whether he’ll actually improve the team.
What was the injury? – Some injuries are reasonably easy to come back from, and play isn’t likely to be affected. Others just aren’t. For example, a player who relies on an aerial, athletic game might find it very difficult to come back form a serious knee or foot injury because it could take time for him to trust his legs to allow him to do what he was once capable of. A slow return to form could have a big impact on the team, and the public isn’t likely to compensate for it. That means potential opportunity.
Is he being rushed back? – Sometimes a player comes back sooner than they probably should because they are needed for a big game – a key conference contest, the conference tournament if the team is on the bubble, or the NCAA Tournament. The media and the public will be very excited by the return of a star in a situation like this – it’s like a script out of Hollywood. If he isn’t ready to play at his best, though, then it is very possible that the odds will be worse than they should be, and there could be value on the opponent.
How strong is team chemistry? – A player who hasn’t been on the team who not only returns but is widely expected to make a big difference is inevitably going to be a distraction for a team. It doesn’t have to be a negative, though, if the player is well respected and has a good attitude, and if the team plays with strong chemistry and respect for each other. A team with more of an individual focus, though, could struggle to deal with the return, and could find themselves disrupted more than they are improved.
How did the team perform without him? – Another way to ask this would be – how truly valuable is the player? Sometimes a player has such a dramatic impact on a team that his absence totally changes what the team is capable of and how they play. Quite often, though, the impact of the loss of a player isn’t nearly as significant as people think it will be. Basketball is very much a team sport, and elite teams often have more than enough talent to at least adequately deal with the loss – including a highly recruited player to replace the injured star. That’s not to say that an injured player can’t or won’t have an impact with his return. It’s just that the impact of both his loss and his return are likely to be less than the public will assume them to be.
How is the public responding? – When a key player returns it is crucial to watch the betting action to get a sense of how the public is responding to the return. If there are clear signs that the public is overreacting to the situation based on line movement, opening lines, and betting volume then there is a good chance that there will be value on the opponent in the game. If the public seems to be largely ignoring the situation, though, then value will be harder to find.