With NBA Tip-Off Approaching, Bettors Seeking Opportunity and Value

Jul 20, 2020

The NBA is now in uncharted territory.

Never in history have teams been isolated at a single location.  Never in history have teams been scheduled to play all games in a controlled environment.  Never in history have games not included live spectators.  Never in history has a league paused play for several months.  Never in history has basketball played what amounts to a playoff-seeding tournament in a few weeks time.

The task of placing odds on what will happen are even more daunting.  

This likely leads to oddities, disparities, and value for those who take the time to hunt for influences which might not be factored into the game line and totals.

Bookmakers are operating with as little information as the public right now, which creates some extremely tempting opportunities on the futures market. (CBS Sports)

There are 22 teams that will resume play next week.  Tip off is scheduled for July 30th.  Here's a closer look at the odds to win the Eastern Conference:

Best value to win the Eastern Conference , according to Sam Quinn (CBS Sports):


If you aren't betting the favorite for a championship or conference championship, the play is to bet upside. Philadelphia, a popular preseason Finals pick, has the most upside of any non-Milwaukee Eastern Conference team.

The simplest reason why is, despite viable arguments from Jayson Tatum, Pascal Siakam and Jimmy Butler, The 76ers have the best non-Giannis Antetokounmpo player in the East. Few numbers can accurately measure Joel Embiid's postseason impact, but plus-minus comes the closest. In 237 minutes with Embiid on the floor against the NBA champion Toronto Raptors last postseason, the 76ers outscored the Raptors by 89 points. In the 99 minutes that he sat out, Philadelphia was outscored by 108 points, more than a point per minute. If the 76ers had been able to keep Embiid on the floor slightly longer, they likely would have beaten the champs before they were ever crowned. Embiid played 33.9 minutes per game in the Toronto series. Brett Brown wants to get him up to 38 this time around. Whether his conditioning allows that remains to be seen, but four months of rest likely help on that front.

There is also a compelling argument that they have the most roster talent in the East, but were unable to show it during the regular season. Their original five starters missed a combined 54 games during the regular season, and their presumed starting point guard at Disney, Shake Milton, didn't join the rotation until late January. The version of their starting lineup that includes Milton over Al Horford literally hasn't played a single minute together. Chemistry is obviously going to be an asset in the bubble, but these odds are based on regular-season performance, and for most of the regular season, this complete version of the 76ers has not existed. As a bonus, no members of the team are currently known to be battling coronavirus. The three unnamed 76ers that tested positive did so in March, and are presumably healthy.

Their greatest weakness has been taken off of the table by virtue of the bubble. The 76ers went 10-24 on the road this season. There are no more road games as all 22 bubble teams are playing at the same, neutral venues. The obvious retort is that Philadelphia's incredible home record of 29-2 no longer matters, but remember that the 76ers are currently in line for the No. 6 seed. Under normal circumstances, they were likely going to start every series they played on the road. Even if you count a neutral-court game as half of a road game, their worst-case scenario has dropped from four road games in a series to three and a half. Not only is their weakness negated, but so was an advantage teams were going to have over them.

And then there are the potential stylistic changes these playoffs could bring. Nobody knows what bubble ball will look like. If, for instance, rust erodes everyone's shooting, then Philadelphia is suddenly equipped to win the bully ball derby that would likely follow. That wrinkle is an edge Boston and Toronto don't have, and while Miami holds similar stylistic traits, it lacks Philadelphia's raw talent.

This is a risky play. The 76ers could easily flame out in the first round. Milwaukee's edge over the rest of the East is vast. There are arguments in favor of Philadelphia, viewed as its equal before the season, rising to Milwaukee's level by the playoffs. No other team in the East has that upside.

Here's a closer look at the odds to win the Western Conference:

Best value to win the Western Conference, according to Quinn (CBS Sports):

Houston Rockets (+800)

Ironically, the Rockets haven't shot the ball particularly well since their trade deadline makeover. They've hit just 34.8 percent of their 3-point attempts since then, good for 23rd in the NBA. But their 45.7 attempts per game would break the record that they set last season, and if you assume the Rockets get even minimal positive regression for a team filled with shooters underperforming this season, Houston would open each playoff game with an enormous mathematical advantage.

The obvious refrain against the Rockets is that bigger teams, most notably the Lakers, will destroy them inside in a slower-paced playoff setting. The truth is, maybe they will and maybe they won't. We have no earthly idea because no team has ever attempted such brazen small ball before. The key point to remember is that, like the 76ers, the Rockets are an upside play. We don't know whether Houston's plan can work. But if it does, it pays out at +850. If the traditionalists are right and the Lakers beat them up, your reward is ... essentially an even-money payout should they manage to get past the Clippers.


Headline Photo Credit:  Beaumont Enterprise