NBA Betting Trends: How to Bet the Final Stretch With Teams Employing Load Management
Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kawhi Leonard (left) and Paul George (right).
This has been the season of load management, in part because of the shortened offseason, the condensed schedule, and this belief that the regular season means nothing without a ring.
With that in mind, as the regular season comes to a close and teams secure their playoff berths and seeds, there are a few stars and role players that we expect to have a couple of rest days.
When the stars take a seat, we generally see line moves; however, if you can anticipate a break in the action due to a back-to-back or a matchup that possibly allows for a rest day, there is significant value on both spreads and player props as well.
I’ll examine some of the primary rest candidates and how their absence impacts the rest of their team.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers’ dynamic duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have each played in 46 and 47 games, respectively, this season out of a total possible 63 games. While they’ve both had some injuries, and Kawhi is currently dealing with foot soreness, there have been spots for role players to succeed.
This season, the Clippers are 11-6 without Kawhi, 9-7 without Paul George, and 5-2 without them both. The Clippers have eight games remaining after tonight’s battle against the Suns, including a back-to-back set on May 13-14 against the Hornets and the Rockets on the road.
Both Kawhi and Paul George have massive usage rates of 30.4% and 31.3% respectively, per Cleaning the Glass. When they miss games, the burden falls on the role players, namely Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, and Nicolas Batum.
Here are the Clippers’ counting stats for the season:
As you can see, not all of these role players take as significant of a step forward. Morris takes the most notable leap, which is natural because he has the ability to create his own shot and score on his own.
Luke Kennard also sees a spike, and this is due to his elite points per shot attempt — 123.1 points per shot, 95th percentile for a combo guard, per Cleaning the Glass.
He has significant potential for blow-up games because of his ability to score on limited attempts. When Kawhi and/or George don’t play and he sees an expanded role, he is a target for betting props.
As the season rolls on, the 76ers are in a position to rest their MVP candidate center. Joel Embiid has played just 42 games this season due to a variety of injuries and the league’s health and safety protocols, but his presence is always missed, and the 76ers are just 9-10 without him this season.
After today’s game against the Hawks, the 76ers have 10 games remaining, including three back-to-back sets: May 2 and 3 vs. the Spurs and Bulls, May 7 and 8 vs. the Pelicans and Pistons, and May 13 and 14 vs. the Heat and Magic. It would not be surprising to see them rest Embiid in at least one of these sets.
Here are the 76ers’ stats this season:
Here, there really is not a single player who assumes the role of Embiid, and while we see slight upticks from Simmons and Harris, Dwight Howard is not being asked to play 30 minutes a game, so any expected increase to his stats should be tempered. I’d avoid the 76ers if Joel Embiid sits.
Portland Trail Blazers
Although Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic both play dramatically different positions, their absence sends a ripple effect through a Portland roster that is struggling to stay afloat in the Western Conference Playoff picture.
The Blazers have been resting Nurkic in back-to-back sets, and Damian Lillard is now dealing with some nagging injury issues. Without Lillard, they are 3-2 this season.
After tonight’s game against the Grizzlies, the Blazers have 10 games left, including four back-to-back sets: April 30 against the Nets, May 2 and 3 vs. the Celtics and Hawks;,May 7 and 8 vs. the Lakers and Spurs, and May 12 and 13 vs. the Jazz and Suns.
This is a brutal stretch, and the Blazers need every game, so we will see if they will continue to rest Nurkic or try to sneak a load management day in for Dame.
Here are the Blazers’ stats this season:
Kanter has been excellent offensively, and his counting stats reflect that when Nurkic is not on the floor, he sees significantly more minutes and opportunity. If Nurkic does not play, Kanter’s props are a must-play.
Also, it’s notable just how different his stats are when Nurkic does play compared to his averages, and it’s one reason that averages are deceiving. His playing time was sliced by over 33% when Nurkic returned from injury, and his stats reflect that.
Without Lillard, the main beneficiaries are Carmelo Anthony and Norman Powell, considering they had the biggest opportunity to have the ball in their hands and expand on their role. While CJ McCollum sees an uptick as well, it’s not nearly as dramatic as Melo’s or Powell’s.
Kristaps Porzingis, the oft-injured unicorn, has missed 22 games this season, and the Mavericks are 11-11 in those games. While he’s been effective offensively, his defense has slipped, as he’s seemingly lost a step when he moves laterally.
The Mavericks are holding a thin lead over the Blazers for the 6-seed, and at the time of this writing are just two games behind the Lakers in the loss column for the 5-seed. That being said, considering Porzingis is currently dealing with an injury, I’d be shocked if he is not rested in a few games down the stretch.
The Mavericks have 11 games left, including three back-to-back sets: May 1 and 2 vs. the Wizards and Kings May 6 and 7 vs. the Nets and Cavaliers and May 11 vs. the Grizzlies and Pelicans.
We may see the Mavericks sit the big man against the Nets because that’s a coin flip and then try to absolutely secure the game against the Cavaliers on May 7.
Here are the Mavericks’ stats this season:
As you can see, the entire team takes a slight step back offensively without Porzingis, which makes sense considering he is +4.2 points per 100, per Cleaning the Glass.
He helps to stretch the floor for the Mavericks, and he gives Luka Doncic more room to operate. Without him, the Mavericks are forced to use more traditional bigs such as Willie Cauley-Stein or Boban Marjanovic, and this has a negative impact on their offense overall.
When Porzingis is on the floor, the Mavericks have an Offensive Rating of 115.8, and when he is off, it falls to 111.3, per NBA Advanced Stats. When Porzingis does not play, the player who benefits the most is actually Hardaway, Jr. as he’s asked to stretch the floor a bit more.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Yes, we are talking about the second-year defensive phenom for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Lu Dort.
Dort does not have the star power as the prior players, but he is critical for the Thunder to be successful. News flash — the Thunder do not want to be successful the rest of the season.
We have already seen the Thunder shut down Al Horford, and who knows if we will see Shai Gilgeous-Alexander play the rest of this year.
Dort is a weapon on both sides of the floor, and the Thunder score fewer points and give up more with him off the floor. When Dort, SGA, and Horford are off the court, the Thunder are -11.6 points per 100, per Cleaning the Glass.
So, who is expected to play if Dort sits? Darius Bazley, Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski, and Isaiah Roby are all under 23 years old and are building blocks this team wants to examine. Kenrich Williams and Svi Mykhailiuk are two others that have seen more playing time and even starts.
Without SGA and Dort, the Thunder have given these players extended run. Here are their stats on the entire season:
We can see there’s a clear uptick in overall production from Bazley, Maledon, and Pokusevski when Dort sits. But the there is some value on the non-usage based stat of rebounding for Pokusevski and Roby if Dort does play. Both players see no difference in that statistical category regardless of Dort’s status.
The Thunder will be difficult to navigate down the stretch because they are in the middle of the Cade Cunningham sweepstakes and are clearly prioritizing tanking and the development of their young talent over winning.
I thought last year’s Clippers were the epitome of a team that was dictated by load management, and then I have seen this Nets team that constructed a Big 3 that barely plays together.
Despite this, they have the best record in the Eastern Conference and maybe this strategy will work, but it’s tough to say when chemistry is paramount in the NBA.
Maybe this is the Nets’ way of sharing the ball (there’s only one of those), but you’d hope to see all of them share the floor in the playoffs.
What’s mind boggling is that the trio of James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant have only shared the floor for a total of 383 possessions, and they’re +13.1 points per 100 possessions while scoring an incredible 126.4 points with a 61.2% eFG%, per Cleaning the Glass.
And with any number of the Big 3 on the floor, the Nets are still +6.8 points per 100 possessions. They are obviously a force to be reckoned with, but considering the randomness at which they are available to play, this creates some value in the betting market.
The Nets have interesting rotations, and much of it depends on who is or is not available on any given day.
Moving forward, the Nets have 10 games left to play and three back-to-back sets. April 29 and 30 vs. the Pacers and Blazers, May 11 and 12 vs. the Bulls and Spurs, and then again May 15 and 16 vs. the Bulls and Cavaliers.
The Nets have already discussed holding Harden out until the playoffs, and when he misses time, Durant and Irving average about one more assist per game.
When both Harden and Durant miss, Irving’s assist numbers skyrocket and he averages 9.1 per game, however, his points per game stays the same.
When both Harden and Irving miss, Durant takes over the team on his own. In those four games he has played, he’s averaged 31.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in 32.8 minutes.
Durant has played the fewest minutes of all the stars, but he realistically shines the brightest. When he is on the floor, it’s evident how dominant he is even with Harden and Irving sharing the spotlight. He scores 136.6 points per 100 shot attempts, second best on the team, per Cleaning the Glass.
Once the Nets make the playoffs, I will be interested in playing his overs. He’s historically played at least 30 minutes per game with his totals being 46 games between 30-39 minutes and 86 games over 40 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.
I’d expect the Nets to lean on their best scorer even more so when the games truly matter. Looking at his numbers with his last super team, Durant’s per-36-minute stats were 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists over three seasons.
He had a slightly different role due to the presence of Stephen Curry, but Harden and Irving should be able to open up a few more opportunities for Durant to score on open looks.
How to Bet the Load Management
Not all rest matters equally as we have seen through this dive into each team’s key player’s impact on others’ counting stats.
When examining lines moving forward, be sure to consider whether there is value at the prop based on their season averages, but if there’s an opportunity for a last minute day of rest, be prepared to jump on a line immediately.
For some games, I still stay away from the spread when a star player rests because it changes the matchup even with a line move. However, skipping a spread does not mean there is not value to be had in a betting market.
As the season winds down and we see teams secure playoff spots, it will give them an opportunity to rest their best players to prepare for the playoffs, and this will create opportunities for their teammates. Although some stars shine brighter, it’s the NBA, and every role player can have his day.