NBA First Basket Playoff Trends: First Scorer Variance, Betting Exact Method Props, More

NBA First Basket Playoff Trends: First Scorer Variance, Betting Exact Method Props, More article feature image

Dustin Satloff/Getty Images. Pictured: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts after making a basket.

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The NBA Playoffs will tip off soon, but before we jump into the postseason, it's worth it to reflect on some first baskets trends from the regular season. I have compiled data on the opening possessions for teams and players to fine tune my first scorer analysis for the next few months of playoff basketball. Let's start from the top.

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Joel Embiid dominated the NBA this season and he was a monster in the regular season when it came to opening possessions. Embiid made the most first team field goals in the NBA this season, and scored first for the Philadelphia 76ers in 48% of games started.

The MVP candidate tied with Jonas Valanciunas for the most first game baskets, cashing 20 first basket tickets during the season. Embiid scored the first basket in 31% of games started while Valanciunas scored the first basket in 25% of games started. Embiid had the highest usage on early possessions by a large margin (1.21) ahead of Jaylen Brown (1.01) who was the next closest player on the list.

Other top first basket players on the season included Nikola Jokic, Pascal Siakam, Nikola Vucevic, and Deandre Ayton. You may have picked up on a trend here: centers scored the first team basket in 26% of games this season.

The majority of players listed on the chart below are moving on to the playoffs and this is a useful group of players to reference as the season shifts to the playoffs.

Betting First Basket Prop in the Playoffs

Postseason first baskets can be easier to predict because we have a whole season of data to analyze. During each playoff series we get additional data points on tip-offs and early possession usage for each team, too.

Ignoring matchup data, one primary thing I look for is concentration of first basket scorers on each team. I want to see that the top two first basket options combine to score the first team field goal in close to 60% of games started. New Orleans is a great example here, with Brandon Ingram and Valanciunas dominating first possessions for the Pelicans.

Alternatively, if we see data where the three top first basket options combine to score the first team field goal more than 80% of games started, that is also a solid team to focus on. Philadelphia is a great example here, as the trio of Embiid, Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey provides a very high concentration of first baskets this season.

If we look at the most predictable teams heading into the postseason, the 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and Phoenix Suns have the highest concentration of first basket scorers.

The least predictable teams heading into the playoffs include the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder. The New York Knicks are also very unpredictable right now with Julius Randle's status up in the air.

Regular Season vs. Playoff Variance With First Baskets

Looking at first basket scoring in the playoffs last season, there were a few significant differences from the regular season results. Some players like Jaylen Brown and Devin Booker made first team baskets at a similar rate as they did in the regular season, but others saw notable decreases from the regular season to the postseason first team baskets.

Andrew Wiggins, Bam Adebayo, Valanciunas, Embiid and Ayton fell off significantly in the postseason last year. As an example, Adebayo made the first team basket in 34% of games last season, but in the playoffs, he only made the first team basket in 10% of games.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat.

There were some players who had notable increases from the regular season to the postseason in their first team baskets, though. Kevon Looney, Desmond Bane, P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler all saw an increase in the postseason.

Bane saw the highest increase, jumping from 16% in the regular season to 46% in the postseason, but Tucker and Kevon Looney were equally impressive as there was significant value in their odds each game.

Look for Value in Exact Method Betting Options

Just like spreads, totals and player props, lines for first baskets will also sharpen as we get deeper into each playoff series. It will be important to look at exact method betting as an option to increase profits when possible. I'm looking for exact method betting options when a player has a high concentration of first team baskets using one specific method during the season.

For example, let's say we like Adebayo in the play-in game, and his odds are around +450 to score the first basket. Looking at his stats during the season, exact method "other" hit 70% of the time during the season when Adebayo scored the first team basket. It will be worth looking at the opening line for exact method options to see if there is value when the lines come out.

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