Does Postseason Experience Matter when Betting the NBA Playoffs?
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The NBA Playoffs start on Saturday, and the Philadelphia 76ers are in for the first time since 2011-12. Philly has outscored opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions this season, the fourth-best net rating behind that of the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors.
The young Sixers appear ready to make some noise in the postseason, except their best players have no playoff experience. Using an average of Basketball-Reference.com’s value statistics, the top four players on the team are Ben Simmons (pictured above), Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Robert Covington, none of which have played past game 82.
According to FiveThirtyEight.com, Philadelphia will be the 10th team since the 1976 NBA-ABA merger to make the playoffs when their top four players had no postseason experience. Only two of the teams won their first-round matchup, the last being the 1987 Warriors. Since 1990, for games with betting data, teams such as the Sixers with no playoff experience went 2-13 straight up and 5-10 against the spread.
The results suggest that playoff experience matters. But should bettors trust the small sample and fade the Sixers? Using Bet Labs, I’ve identified a winning betting system for postseason games that feature inexperienced playoff teams.
Since the 2006 postseason, teams that did not make the playoffs the year before have gone 181-174-8 (51.0%) ATS when facing an opponent that did. Venue matters, as casual bettors tend to overvalue home-court advantage in the playoffs, and the data back this up.
Road teams that weren’t in the postseason the previous year are a profitable 99-85-4 (53.8%) ATS when matched up against an opponent that was in the playoffs the previous season. This system improves further when we look at round.
In the first round, since 2006, road teams without playoff experience are 71-45-4 (61.2%) ATS vs. teams that made the postseason the year before. Historically, teams such as the Sixers, whose top players have not made the playoffs, have struggled. But with a larger sample, we actually see that playoff experience and home-court advantage are overvalued early in the NBA postseason.
There are four new postseason participants this season: the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves. Unfortunately, the Sixers and Heat meet in the first round and will not be matches for this system.
New Orleans Pelicans (+5) at Portland Trail Blazers (10:30 p.m. ET Saturday): The Pelicans are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014-15 and will begin their playoff journey on the road, where they have succeeded this season. New Orleans was 26-15 (63%) ATS away from home this season, including 11-5 ATS since DeMarcus Cousins suffered a season-ending injury.
Minnesota Timberwolves (+10) at Houston Rockets (9 p.m. ET Sunday): Minnesota ended the league’s longest playoff drought by returning to the postseason for the first time since 2004. As a reward, the Timberwolves get to take on the top-seeded Rockets, who swept them in the regular season. But with a healthy Jimmy Butler and the benefit of inflated lines after failing to cover in all four games against Houston this season, the Wolves are likely undervalued in the first round.