IDENTIFYING LATE SEASON NBA ‘QUITTERS’
The NBA isn’t what it used to be. In fact, it’s hard to believe that it’s even the same sport that once boasted players like Willis Reed, Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan. Today’s NBA is as soft as a bag of marshmallows which makes it absolutely painful to watch and follow but does present decent betting opportunities.
2016 was Kobe Bryant’s final season in the league and I’d imagine that if you sat him down for a ‘heart to heart’ you’d find out that he couldn’t leave soon enough. His Los Angeles Lakers team is an embarrassment on and off the court. On the court, they had the worst record in the Western Conference and second worst in the NBA. Off the court, it’s one embarrassment after another from players ostracizing each other due to a prank gone bad to fringe players not wanting to bother to fly with the team to games.
Chicago’s Jimmy Butler wants his own airplane so he doesn’t have to fly with his teammates to games. Never mind the fact that Michael Jordan had no issue with flying with his teammates. Making it all the more absurd—Butler’s Bulls aren’t even going to make the playoffs. A recent article said that the biggest concern of NBA players was keeping a good supply of hand lotion around. Seriously.
BETTING EDGES FROM THE DECLINE OF THE NBA
While I’m not sure who actually enjoys watching a league where only two or three teams exert an effort every night that’s really not my concern. My concern is betting on the NBA which is less a matter of evaluating the relative strengths and weaknesses of teams involved in a matchup than it is trying to figure which team in a matchup cares the least and betting the other way. And there’s no better time to find teams that flat out don’t care than late in the season.
Unlike the NHL where teams battle hard for 82 games—even if they’re out of playoff contention—the NBA has plenty of teams that ‘phone it in’. The trick is to identify these teams and get ahead of the market. That’s becoming more and more difficult with fewer teams that put forth even a halfhearted effort after being eliminated from contention.
Of course with a bad enough beating any team becomes motivated—at least temporarily. On March 29, 2016 in Kobe Bryant’s last visit to Salt Lake City the Utah Jazz beat the Lakers by 48 points. It was the worst loss in franchise history and to their credit the Lakers came out and beat Miami in their following game. Not that their true colors were ever in doubt—they haven’t won since and pending the outcome of their final game of the season they’ll finish the year with 14 losses in 16 games.
The best teams to use against non-caring sides are second tier teams that still have something to play for. The Utah Jazz in the example above are a clear case in point—they’re no longer among the league’s elite but are a hard working, improving team that still has a chance to make the playoffs. The ‘marquee’ teams in the league can usually get a decent effort out of any opponent but teams like Utah, Portland and Memphis don’t have the same cachet—but they’re good enough to put a beating on an opponent that doesn’t care.
DEFENSE IS HARD WORK—WHY SOME PLAYERS AVOID IT
A clear sign of a team that will at some point quit caring—if they haven’t already—is one that is built around an underachieving malcontent. Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo are a couple of the biggest head cases in the league and they’re expected to lead their franchise. This pouting duo does bring up another important point—even bad teams that don’t care any more have players that want to keep their stat line looking good. This is the reality in the new NBA—it’s not about team productivity, it’s about personal accomplishments. For that reason, any commitment to defense is the first thing to go. Sacramento finished #3 in points scored per game but dead last in defense. Pity Kings’ season ticket holders but the team does present a good opportunity for Over/Under bets.
Matchups between teams like Sacramento and good defensive teams—again, below the top tier—are also good spots to bet against a ‘quitter’. Conversely, you want to avoid ‘high octane’ offensive teams like Minnesota and Sacramento when they play another up tempo side. It doesn’t matter what their W/L record is—the type of players that care about stat lines more than team accomplishments will show up for this type of game even if they’re done playing defense for the year.
Finally, the gift of teams that have quit don’t stop giving at the end of the regular season. The level of competition in the NBA is at such a nadir that you’ll see a few teams make the playoffs with losing records. As I’m writing this the Memphis Grizzlies have lost 9 of their last 10 games—yet they’re somehow going to the playoffs. They’re going to get eviscerate by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round—though Spurs’ coach Greg Popovich might use it as an opportunity to give his starters additional rest before the playoffs start to get serious.