The NBA has been evolving for several years. We’ve seen so many analytical advances with regard to shot selection and offensive scheming. How do you adjust for and handicap these changes so you can have success betting on the NBA?
3-Pointers on the rise
Take a look at the 3-point attempt rate (3PAr). The rate of 3-point shots relative to overall field-goal attempts was .392 last season, so 39.2 percent of field-goal attempts came from beyond the arc. Compare that to 38.4 percent for the 2019-20 season, 35.9 percent for 2018-19, 33.7 percent for 2017-18 and 31.6 percent for 2016-17.
We’ll be knocking on the door of 40 percent this season when we had our first season over 30 percent just five seasons ago. A decade ago, the 3PAr was 22.6 percent.
As the game has evolved, bettors and oddsmakers have had to evolve as well. Scoring has gone up, while pace and the number of possessions have stayed pretty consistent. The 3-point barrage is the biggest reason we’ve seen more offense over the last few seasons.
The average Over/Under in the NBA over the last five years indicates how the game’s offensive philosophy has changed:
– 2016-17: 210.6
– 2017-18: 212.4
By comparison, a decade ago when the 3PAr was 22.6 percent, the average total was 192.
Increased 3-point attempts have led to an increase in scoring, but teams also have to make those shots. Efficiency from beyond the arc continues to mean more than simply taking a lot of those shots. Teams such as the Jazz and Trail Blazers took a lot of 3s and made the playoffs, while teams like the Rockets and Raptors took a lot of 3s and did not.
The Rockets were 28th in 3-point percentage (3P%) last season. The Raptors were 15th. The Rockets paired bad defense with their awful shooting to finish 17-55, and the Raptors finished 27-45 as a team that had a Pythagorean Win-Loss of 35-37 and should have been significantly better.
The top 12 teams in 3P% made the playoffs — the Clippers, Nets, Knicks, Bucks, Jazz, Blazers, Suns, Nuggets, Warriors, Celtics, 76ers and Hawks. Golden State was bounced from the postseason in the play-in games as the No. 8 seed. Boston was the only other team forced into the play-in games to advance. The others were top-six seeds in their conferences.
How’s this for a stat? Eight of the top nine teams in 2P% didn’t make the official playoffs. The Nuggets were the only team that did, and they also appeared in the list of the top 3P% teams. The Hornets made the play-in round but looked terrible when they got there. The other teams were the Kings, Thunder, Cavaliers, Rockets, Bulls, Pistons and Magic. Each was at least 10 games under .500.
So we’ve determined that 3-point shooting prowess is a must in the current NBA environment. Which other stats are indicative of future success?
Defense still matters
Defensive Rating (DRtg) is another metric in which playoff teams fared extremely well. DRtg is an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions. The top 10 in DRtg were the Lakers, 76ers, Knicks, Jazz, Warriors, Grizzlies, Clippers, Heat, Suns and Bucks. Golden State still would have been a playoff team in a traditional setting, so for all intents and purposes, we can say the top 10 in DRtg were playoff teams.
If you follow basketball at either the NBA or collegiate level, you hear a lot about “3 and D.” This is it. Shoot 3s at a high level and play defense. Even though the game is tailored to offense nowadays, teams that can defend well and defend the 3-point line can succeed.
When looking for futures or “Yes/No” playoff props, remember “3 and D” and you should be in good shape.
Should bettors pay close attention to other stats as potential indicators of future success?
Second chances mean a lot
Offensive rebounding is quite a big deal. Ten of the top 14 teams in ORB%, which is an estimated percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed by the team that took the initial shot, made the postseason. Extra possessions are really important. We tend to look a lot at turnovers, and rightly so, but an offensive rebound is essentially a turnover for the defensive team.
The defense did its job by forcing a missed shot. Giving up a second possession not only means another chance for the opponent to score, it also takes away a chance for your team to score. Furthermore, offensive rebounds can often turn into putbacks or easy shots with the defense out of position.
Three teams in the top 10 of ORB% missed the playoffs. They were the Pelicans, Cavs and Hornets. Those three ranked 26th, 30th and 14th in 3P%. All three were also below-average defensive teams by DRtg.
When you start to put together a profile of teams that have a chance to go over their season win totals or make some noise in the futures markets, just think “3DO” for 3s, defense and offensive rebounding.