Analytics have come roaring into the NBA the last few years especially when it comes to betting on the NBA. Points per game have been replaced by efficiency, net rating, pace and a handful of other non-box score numbers that become much better indicators of a team’s offensive worth.
In this full break down of key factors to consider when Over/Under betting on basketball, and the NBA specifically, we’ll get to explanations on all of that, and why it will help when deciding where to place your money on over-unders.
True, every game is 48 minutes (assuming no overtime). But the number of possessions a team has in a given game can change drastically based on opponent. A simple look at points per game, or how many points a team has allowed during a recent stretch, can help. But pace is critical.
During the 2016-17 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets averaged 103.58 possessions per game. That same year the Utah Jazz averaged 93.62 possessions. Brooklyn played at a pace of nearly 10 possessions faster, the greatest discrepancy between the fastest and slowest teams in a single season since 2010. Pace matters. Every team is playing faster these days – average league paced topped 97.0 in 2018 for the first time since 1991. But, by definition, half the league will play below league average.
It’s important not only to look at points per game and points allowed. Understand the styles of play each team likes to implement. Yes, the top oddsmakers likely have taken that into account when setting the over-under. But it can be even more pronounced than what it looks on the surface, all because of pace. A slower team is more likely to speed up against a fast-paced team than vice versa. Take into account how fast (or slow) a game will be played when considering the point total.
NBA players are creature of habit. If the NBA scheduling messes with routine, there are ripple effects. Teams play a majority of their games on one day of rest. In 2018, teams played 1,463 of 2,460 games with one day off in between, or just under 60 percent. So it isn’t surprising that teams on one day of rest averaged more points per game (106.5) than they did on zero days of rest (104.3) or two days rest (106.2).
One key takeaway is that teams struggled to score on zero days of rest. In 2018, half of the teams in the league had their lowest scoring output in games without any rest by more than two points. And if you take out a massive outlier in the 2018 Warriors, who averaged 117.3 points on no days rest, the league average falls to 103.8 points.
The same is true for zero rest days defensively, but it’s not as pronounced. In 2018, teams with zero days rest allowed an average of 106.9 points, compared to 106.0 on one day of rest and 106.2 on two days’ rest. As a whole, teams playing on zero days rest had games that averaged 211.2 total points, lower than one day rest (212.5) and 2 days of rest (212.4). It’s just a single point, but it’s a trend that shows offenses struggle in back-to-back settings. It’s something to consider.
Let’s not overthink this one. From 2011 to 2018, of the 15 teams each year whose games went over the most (120 total teams), 78 of them finished the year ranked in the top half in the NBA in points per game. That’s 65 percent of the highest “over” totals teams being among the top half of the league’s highest-scoring offenses.
While oddsmakers certainly will take into consideration these high-scoring teams when setting their totals, the best offenses in the league have a tendency to take off and score at will…even higher than where lines are set.
Points per game have gone up in the NBA each of the last seven seasons, and average efficiency has reached 108.6 or better for a second straight year, the first time that’s happened since 1992 and 1993. It’s tough for sportsbooks to keep up with the growing trend of offensive output. So chances are if you’ve got a high scoring team involved in a game, it’s going over.
There isn’t another sport affected more on a game-by-game basis than basketball. And just as it’s important to take player and team statistics into account when considering an over-under, looking at which referees are officiating the game also matters. In 2017-18, 35 officials refereed 50 or more games.
The amount of personal fouls called by those referees ranged from 37.9 to 42.5. The total points per game in those officials’ games ranged from 206.9 to 222.1.
Oddsmakers will factor this in to their decision-making, but it’s safe for a better to also add (or subtract) a point or two based on which three-man crew is officiating the game. The discrepancies can be significant and, as all gamblers understand, fouls and free throws can and will make or break an over-under bet.