Every year in the NBA there seems to be a small handful of good teams that disappoint early in the season. They enter the year with high expectations – to make the playoffs in style and make some noise when they get there. After a significant number of games have passed, though, the team is not looking anything like they are expected to. They are losing games they should win, and playing unlike they should be playing. Sometimes NBA teams are able to shake off these slow starts, while other times they are indicators of significant problems that are going to plague them throughout the season. As a sports bettor there can be great betting opportunities uncovered if you can assess whether a team is capable of a turnaround, how your views differ from the public betting views, and what that means for value.
Here are eight important factors to consider when looking at NBA teams that have stumbled out of the gate:
Who have they been losing to? – No loss is a good thing, of course, but some are better – or at least more acceptable – than others. Have they been losing to top level NBA teams certainly headed to the playoffs, or are they losing to marginal teams or just plain bad ones? Are they losing to teams that they match up well against, or are they losing because they don’t have the depth, the talent, or the right personnel to compete at this time? You need to look beyond just the teams involved here as well. Are they playing as well on their home court as they are on the road, or are they losing to weaker teams on the road? Are they performing poorly on short rest? How about when they have extra rest?
How have they been losing? – As important as who they are losing to is how they are losing. Are they keeping games close and fighting right up until the end before falling just short, or are they failing to show up and throwing games away early on? Have they been struggling to adapt to opponents, or are they losing despite setting the tempo and controlling the pace of play? Have their best players been playing like their best players, or are opponents regularly able to disrupt what the stars, and therefore the whole team, wants to do: making them miss the hoop, stealing offensive rebounds, and blocking shots? Most significantly, has the team been putting forth consistent effort despite their struggle to win? There is no stronger indicator of problems in my mind than a basketball team that looks dramatically different from game to game – they are offensively explosive one game, and offensively incompetent the next, for example.
How healthy are they? – This is straightforward – a NBA team that is healthy is more likely to be able to play at their full capacity than an injured one, so a struggling healthy team is a much bigger concern than an injured one. The public will focus heavily on the star players here, but it is just as important to look at two significant but less recognized types – the character guys and the trustworthy depth players. The public will often see that the stars are healthy so will assume that a team is healthy without looking deep at the factors that can really help teams win or lose and affect how you handicap as game in relationship to the point spread.
How have they really performed the last couple of years? – Sometimes the problem with a professional basketball team not meeting expectations is just that the expectations weren’t realistic in the first place. The public is slow to adjust a reputation unless their is a dramatic event that causes them to do so. It’s quite possible, then, that the poor start this year is really just a continuation of the decline that has quietly been evident for the last couple of years if you were looking for it. Perhaps the key players are aging, or the message of the coach isn’t getting through anymore. Maybe the home hardwood isn’t the advantage it used to be, or the division has improved faster than the team has.
How strong is the division? – A rough start for a NBA team can be made to look even worse if they are playing in a strong, deep division. If the division is weak, though, then there are two factors to consider. On one hand, the weak division makes the slow start even more concerning, but on the other hand the weak division can make it easier for the team to get on track if they can turn things around.
Have they started slow in the past? – Some teams just need to feel some desperation before they can play at their best. There is no urgency for them to perform at the start of the season, so they don’t. If a team has shown this tendency before then there is little reason to be concerned that they are showing it again. On the other hand, if the same players and the same coach have typically started strong – or at least solidly – then a slow start is a bigger concern for sports bettors.
How is home attendance? – I like to take a look at the official attendance at the bottom of every boxscore I read. It’s a surprisingly strong indicator at times of when a NBA team is facing real troubles. The fans that go to games are the ones who know the team best, so if they are staying away from the arena then it can be an indicator that there are real issues that the fans aren’t optimistic will pass quickly. This obviously isn’t useful when a team struggles to draw fans at the best of times.
How is the public responding? – The sentiment of the public is always important in sports betting, and the NBA is no exception. If the public is very negative about a situation then there could be value in betting on the team if you believe that they have a chance of turning things around. If the public is still blindly following the team despite their struggles then the value could be in betting against them. Are the home lines as inflated as they have always been, or are visitors getting more respect? What has happened to the futures odds for the team? Pay attention to all of these aspects when a good NBA is struggling and you’re making your picks ats.