NBA Betting Odds & Picks (March 9): Taking Advantage of Public Recency Bias
Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks.
- Looking for betting value on tonight's short NBA schedule? There are two games that stand out.
- Bryan Mears makes picks on the Hornets vs. Hawks and Bucks vs. Nuggets plus injury news, lineups, DFS strategy and more.
- Check out his breakdown of Monday's NBA slate and picks below.
This NBA season, I’m trying something new. I’m going to write a daily piece that highlights everything bettors and DFS players need to know for that night’s slate. For more on what to expect, read the inaugural piece.
Friday I finished 4-0 for +4.5 units. While I don’t want to get sucked into the past, I think it’s worth reviewing things each day.
The best way to do that is to look at closing line value (CLV), which is just measuring whether the line you bet moved for or against you by closing.
- I bet Hawks-Wizards under 243.5 and it closed at 239.5 (won)
- I bet Wizards -5 and it closed at Wizards -5.5 (won)
- I bet Spurs-Nets over 223 and it closed at 226 (won)
- I bet Pacers-Bulls under 211 and it closed at 208 (won)
Friday was a great day both in terms of results and closing line value; I beat the closing market on all four games, and some by quite a bit. I did get the Hawks-Wizards game after Trae Young was ruled out, but it was after it was re-opened; it was initially at 245.5 when the news came out. That wasn’t nearly enough — 239.5 wasn’t either, honestly — so I didn’t mind hammering it at 240-plus.
The other games — Spurs vs. Nets and Pacers vs. Bulls — just moved a bunch right before tip as sharp bettors got in. It was nice to be on the right side of those games, and we’ll try to do so again today.
Let’s dive into today’s slate and find some angles.
- Overall: 248-231-3
- Spreads: 96-94-3
- Totals: 96-104
- Moneylines: 24-11
- Parlays: 3-0
- Props: 29-22
NBA Betting Odds and Analysis
- 7:30 p.m. ET: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks (-4), 223.5
- 9 p.m. ET: Toronto Raptors at Utah Jazz (-4.5), 224
- 9 p.m. ET: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets (-5.5), 221.5
Hornets at Hawks
The Hawks are likely ready for summer break at this point. In what they were hoping to be a surprise season in which they push for the playoffs, they now sit 19-46 and have been dreadful lately. Over the past two weeks, they’re dead last in the league with a -8.6 Net Rating.
The defense in that span has been terrible, which is no surprise; it’s been awful all year long, and they don’t exactly have awesome personnel. But the offense has also taken a nosedive, ranking in the bottom-10 over the past two weeks. Their recent games against the Grizzlies — Offensive Ratings of 95.2 and 84.6 — are about as bad as it gets offensively.
For whatever reason, the shooting just isn’t there right now. That’s been a large question mark for them all year: They really struggled at the start of the year but got a little better once Kevin Huerter and John Collins were back. But it’s slipped again, and we might be seeing the effects of a long, grueling season from Trae Young & Co.
Take a look at Young’s splits by month:
- October (4 games): 50.7% FG%, 50.0% 3P%, 64.9% TS%
- November (15 games): 44.2% FG%, 36.4% 3P%, 58.7% TS%
- December (12 games): 42.9% FG%, 34.2% 3P%, 56.7% TS%
- January (13 games): 45.1% FG%, 37.5% 3P%, 62.1% TS%
- February (12 games): 42.3% FG%, 33.9% 3P%, 60.4% TS%
- March (2 games): 27.3% FG%, 7.1% 3P%, 42.8% TS%
My point is not to highlight the March games; that’s obviously an incredibly small sample size of two games. But his February was down, too, and the only reason the true shooting number stayed high was the ridiculous 92.3% outlier shooting from the foul line, which will come down back to his career marks.
The team overall did pretty well in February, scoring 120.2 points per game, but that was largely due to increased, fast pace, along with some hot 3-point shooting that could regress.
So on top of the concern of a late-season drop — due to tanking, exhaustion or other factors — they’re also playing tonight the Charlotte Hornets, who have easily been the slowest team in the league this year. And since the All-Star break, they’ve been even slower, averaging just 95.7 possessions per game.
One thing I’d like to devote a study to at some point is the effect of a fast-paced team vs. a slow-paced one. Do they meet in the middle? Does the fast-paced team speed up the slower one, or does the slow-paced team drag down the fast-paced one into a half-court affair?
These teams have played just once this year so far, but that one — in early December — was a slow-paced game, way below Atlanta’s average. The Hawks put up a 130.8 Net Rating and thus still put up a great 119 points in a blowout victory, but they also get incredibly lucky shooting, hitting 58.8% of their mid-rangers and 53.1% of their non-corner 3s.
They did well in transition efficiency-wise but weren’t able to get out very often, showing again the Hornets slowed down the pace of the game. If the Hawks had even average efficiency, the game goes under easily.
This is the fun — or perhaps maybe not so fun — part of handicapping basketball. You can project pace, matchups and a variety of other factors to try to find value on a total, but it often comes down to whether shots go in. “It’s a make or miss league” seems like a First Take truism, but there’s a lot of truth to it.
We often don’t want to admit just how much variance affects the game. We want to focus on factors we can measure (not to say we can’t measure variance; it’s just inherently less predictable) as opposed to ones we can’t. We try to find edges with rest, player injuries and matchups — and all of those things can provide edges — but variance is the elephant in the room.
Think about a normal spread in the NBA between two even teams. If we say home court is worth 2.5 points or so, that gives the home team a spread less than a single possession. But think about how random something like 3-point shooting can be. In the betting market, getting 1-2 points of closing line value on a spread is a big deal, but that’s not even one random 3-pointer. If two 3-pointers go in vs. randomly miss, that’s a swing of six points!
The effect is less in college hoops for a variety of reasons: Slower pace, fewer possessions, shorter games, a lower 3-point rate, a bigger gap between teams, etc. In the NBA, where teams are pretty close — you’ll see spreads in college of 30-plus sometimes, where the highest you’ll ever see in the NBA is in the high teens, and that’s extreme — and the fast pace and high 3-point rate exaggerate variance, “make or miss” holds a lot of truth.
All this to say, don’t get discouraged in betting — it can be random — and when you’re handicapping, one of the best things you can do is to try to scrub out variance. Find teams that have been lucky or unlucky in a recent stretch and see whether the market has underrated or overrated them. Scrub out garbage time. Focus on representative samples.
For this game in particular, given the expected pace and recent play of these teams, I think there’s value on the under at 224 or lower, and I like a first-half under play as well. But don’t be surprised if the Hawks get hot and the over hits due to some good ol’ variance.
Bucks at Nuggets
Update: Eric Bledsoe is now doubtful, and George Hill is out.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is out yet again with a knee injury. The Bucks are on a road back-to-back in Denver at altitude. They’ve lost three of their past four, including last night to the Phoenix Suns in which they let up 140 points. The sky is falling!
You know what this really means? We can buy low on the Milwaukee Bucks, who have proven to be the best regular season team in the league this year. Recency bias is a beautiful thing!
Speaking of variance, let’s take a look at the Bucks’ 3-point shooting over their past five games, which is really when they started struggling:
- 3/1 at Hornets: 22.6% 3P%
- 3/2 at Heat: 20.6% 3P%
- 3/4 vs. Pacers: 33.3% 3P%
- 3/6 at Lakers: 27.9% 3P%
- 3/8 at Suns: 39.4% 3P%
This is what I mean about variance and why it’s so hard to measure. We want to take a random thing — 3-point shooting — and then ascribe meaning to it. “The Bucks aren’t motivated because they’re coasting to the playoffs.” “They can’t perform without Giannis.”
Those things could be true, but it could also be that they got unlucky shooting the ball and now we’re trying to give it a meaning beyond what it also could be: random bad luck.
In that five-game sample, the Bucks on wide-open shots are posting a miserable 44.4% eFG% — one of the worst marks in the league. On wide-open 3-pointers, they’re bottom-five at 29.4%. Looking at open shots, they’re still generating them at a top-10 rate; they just aren’t hitting them. The looks are there; the offense hasn’t changed that much — they just have gotten somewhat unlucky on them going down.
That’s not to understate Giannis’ impact: He’s the leading candidate in the betting market to win MVP for a reason. But this team has still been quite excellent even with him off the floor this year, and it’s possible that we’re now overstating his absence because of recent losses against really good teams on the road and on back-to-backs.
I get it: The Bucks are on the road on a tough back-to-back at altitude in Denver, and that’s probably contributing to this line inflating to -5.5 after opening at Denver -3.5. But what is this line two weeks ago with Giannis playing? Bucks -1 or -2? So you’re telling me the recent play and Giannis’ absence is worth potentially 7.5 points to the spread?
Call me a fish, but I think this line is inflated due to that recency bias. It’s not surprising at all to see the Nuggets as the popular side; They’re getting 63% of the bets and 73% of the money so far. We’re predicting the line is going to move even further up to -6 in the short term.
To be fair, it seems sharp bettors are on the Nuggets’ side here. Look at the steam moves on them once the market opened:
The Nuggets should absolutely be favored right now; I absolutely would’ve bet them at that Nuggets -2 number. But now we’re talking huge movement in the market; this line might close at -6 or higher. I would expect there to be some buyback from sharps as it approaches -6/-7, and I will be part of that wave.
Oh yeah, and we haven’t even talked about the Nuggets, who just lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers last time we saw them. They have a negative point differential over the past two weeks. Yeah, I’ll buy low on one of the best regular season teams we’ve ever seen. If I look like a fool and they get blown out, so be it. I’ll go down with that ship.
Projected Starting Lineups and Injury News
Note: Info as of 12:45 p.m. ET. For up-to-the-minute lineups and news, see our live lineups page.
- Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young – Kevin Huerter – De’Andre Hunter – John Collins – Dewayne Dedmon
- Charlotte Hornets: Devonte’ Graham – Terry Rozier – Miles Bridges – PJ Washington – Cody Zeller
- Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray – Gary Harris – Will Barton – Paul Millsap – Nikola Jokic
- Milwaukee Bucks: Eric Bledsoe – Wes Matthews – Khris Middleton – Ersan Ilyasova – Brook Lopez
- Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry – Norman Powell – OG Anunoby – Pascal Siakam – Serge Ibaka
- Utah Jazz: Mike Conley – Donovan Mitchell – Bojan Bogdanovic – Royce O’Neale – Rudy Gobert
- Atlanta Hawks: DeAndre Bembry (abdominal) is out. Jeff Teague (illness), John Collins (thigh), De’Andre Hunter (knee) and Kevin Huerter (groin) are no longer on the injury report.
- Charlotte Hornets: Nothing new.
- Denver Nuggets: Nothing new.
- Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) remains out. DJ Wilson (ankle) is TBD.
- Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet (shoulder) is TBD.
- Utah Jazz: Nothing new.
To bet props, I use our FantasyLabs player props tool. Follow me in the Action Network app to see my bets (or go to the bottom of the article), but the more important thing is the tool, which measures our projections for every player vs. current odds in the market and highlights the biggest edges for you.
Player props are an inefficient market, which allows casual bettors (limits are low, so pro bettors aren’t incentivized to prioritize them) to grab very +EV bets.
That said, the lines move quickly. Our props tool is set up so you can always see whether there’s an edge even at the updated numbers throughout the day.
It’s one of my favorite tools we offer and should be one of your bookmarked pages if you like making a few extra bucks. Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like:
My usual recommendation: Bet unders.
Last season, 10-rated props in our tool hit at a 60.31% rate. But overs hit at a 57.08% rate vs. 66.47% for unders. For 9-rated props, 55.96% of overs were successful bets vs. 62.60% for unders.
As I have noted in the past, unders have more outs: A blowout, an injury, a poor shooting night all will likely make the under hit. But also, props are less efficient as a market given the low limits, so they’re less likely to adjust for things like opponent and pace.
One example is Kevin Huerter’s 4.5-assist prop.
The theme of today’s article is recency bias, and we’re seeing that today in this Huerter prop. He’s gone over this mark in each of his past two games, dishing out six and 11 dimes, respectively, against the Grizzlies and Wizards.
But those were two of the higher-paced games we’ve seen this season among teams that really like to run. Today he’ll face off against the Hornets, who have been easily the league’s slowest team all year and especially of late. Even if you kept his assist rate the same — and that’ll regress, too — he would have much fewer opportunities solely because of the fewer possessions he’ll see in this game.
I think there’s some value in looking at these games between slow-paced and fast-paced teams, especially when they’re at the extremes. The slower-paced guys will likely provide some over value, while the faster ones will likely provide value on the unders simply because of the possession change.
DFS Values and Strategy
Tonight brings a super interesting slate. There are only three games, and because Giannis Antetokounmpo is out for the Bucks, there aren’t a whole lot of studs from which to choose. Only two players are priced above $8,600 on FanDuel: Trae Young at $9,600 and Nikola Jokic at $9,700.
Both of those guys are priced down quite a bit on FanDuel, which makes it easier to get up to them; on DraftKings, they’re more expensive with a tighter salary cap, so it’s going to be more advantageous to go with a balanced lineup.
Both are in iffy matchups, as Jokic gets the Milwaukee Bucks and Young gets a slow-paced Hornets team. Surprisingly, Jokic actually has a solid +3.12 Opponent Plus/Minus (vs. +0.1 for Young), which highlights the importance of pace in DFS. The Bucks have a superior defense, but they also give a whole lot more opportunities because of their pace in fantasy; the Hornets are so slow.
The best values are in that mid-tier, and that’s likely the way to go, especially on DraftKings. The best value is with the Bucks minus Giannis: Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton are propping as the slate’s strongest value plays. They’re way underpriced given their expanded roles in the offense.
Other values today include Dewayne Dedmon, Mike Conley, Cody Martin, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell, Terry Rozier, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. As usual, value is really dependent on site, so make sure to check out our models to see which guys are underpriced on which site.
Injury-wise, there isn’t a whole lot today. Giannis is out obviously, and John Collins and Kevin Huerter — the only two question marks — are confirmed playing. The only other piece of news to watch is Fred VanVleet, who is doubtful to suit up tonight.
You know the drill: Follow the news and make sure to subscribe to our models to see up-to-the-minute projection updates.
My Bets Currently
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