How to Use NBA Rotation Patterns to Find Betting, DFS Value
Photo credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton
- If you're willing to dive into the data, bettors can find an edge in more niche markets like quarter spreads and second-half-only DFS slates.
- Below, I run through playoff rotation patterns and DFS production by quarter to help you identify profitable spots.
There are a variety of ways beyond betting full-game spreads and totals to get action on an NBA game, be it quarter spreads, second-half-only daily fantasy (DFS) slates or live betting. Sometimes, those niche markets can be softer than full-game markets, leading to more value.
To spot that value, let’s run through some rotation, fantasy and quarter data, starting with the latter.
Team Net Rating by Quarter, Regular Season
The Warriors’ third quarter of death is definitely still a thing this season, and interestingly Steve Kerr has elected not to stagger Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant much, even in the playoffs (we’ll see if that changes). In Game 4, Kerr played Curry with the bench units, but in the other games it has largely been Klay Thompson assuming that role. As such, you’re getting the Warriors’ best units mostly in the first and third.
Perhaps the most interesting split is coming in the Bucks-Celtics series. The Bucks have been incredible in the second quarters this season, while the Celtics have merely been average. Even in the first round against the Pacers — a sweep, mind you — the Celtics got outscored by 16.8 points per 100 possessions.
That’s mostly because Kyrie Irving religiously sits at the beginning of the second quarter, and the offense at large has fallen off a cliff without him playing, dropping by 7.1 points/100 (94th percentile). The Celtics shoot worse and turn the ball over more.
Meanwhile, the Bucks have dominated second quarters by bringing Giannis Antetokounmpo back in most of the time:
That has continued even in the playoffs. Mike Budenholzer has taken Giannis and Eric Bledsoe out in the first quarter earlier than the other starters, staggering them with Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
The Celtics do a similar thing when Irving is out, leaving in either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown with Al Horford — and they’ll definitely have to do that to guard Giannis — but I would expect the Bucks to have an advantage in the second quarters.
Team Net Rating by Quarter, Playoffs
I already mentioned the Celtics and Bucks in the playoffs, but another notable team is the Denver Nuggets, who have largely struggled in the first quarter of their first-round series against the Spurs. Perhaps one reason for that is Jamal Murray has left earlier than the other starters in the first quarter to come back in for the start of the second.
Meanwhile, the Spurs have largely played LaMarcus Aldridge the entirety of the first quarter, staggering him with DeMar DeRozan, who comes in and leads the charge in the second. I will note that the playoff data obviously has a small sample size, and maybe that’s just it. The Nuggets were good in that quarter in the regular season, although so were the Blazers, who are awaiting the winner of that series after Damian Lillard’s ridiculous Game 5 heroics.
The best fourth quarter team in the playoffs so far has been the Celtics, although quite a few teams — notably their second-round foe, the Bucks — have been in blowout situations. Still, the data confirms a couple public (true) narratives: Irving is awesome in the clutch, and Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in terms of making halftime adjustments. It will be interesting to see how that holds up against a juggernaut Bucks team.
DFS Production by Quarter, Playoffs
Some DFS sites are now offering second-half-only slates. I believe the more niche a mark is, the bigger the edge, so it’s likely that you can grind a higher ROI% on these slates than you might in full slates. Further, most DFS sites don’t offer models for these slates (although we have discussed strategy).
Thus, rotation data can be incredibly valuable. In the graph above, I broke down what percentage of a player’s fantasy production has come in which quarter in these playoffs. Note again that blowouts are a concern for some of these teams, but there are still some takeaways.
Notably, Joel Embiid, Donovan Mitchell and Danilo Gallinari have been second-half DFS studs. Look at their production by half so far this season:
- Embiid: 23.4 fantasy points 1H | 34.7 2H | +11.3 differential
- Mitchell: 15.0 fantasy points 1H | 22.1 2H | +7.1 differential
- Gallinari: 13.1 fantasy points 1H | 19.7 2H | +6.6 differential
Most players are priced according to their overall, full-game production, so finding players who produce outsize results in the second half can give you a big leg up on your competition.
Playoffs Rotation Notes
- Boston Celtics: Rotations have varied, but Kyrie typically sits out the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second. Stevens has usually staggered him during that time with one of Brown or Tatum plus Al Horford. Still, Kyrie’s one of the most valuable offensive players in the league, so his absence is strongly felt in that stretch.
- Denver Nuggets: Murray usually comes out earlier than the other starters in the first and third quarters but comes back in for the beginning of the second and fourth to lead the bench units. That’s a bit different from the regular season, as Monte Morris and Malik Beasley have largely led the end of the second/early third units. That’s allowed the Nuggets to dominate the second quarters in the playoffs, although they’ve fallen behind a lot in the first.
- Golden State Warriors: Kerr kept DeMarcus Cousins and Thompson together with the bench for Game 1, but Boogie is obviously out for the remainder of the playoffs now. In Games 2 and 3, Thompson was with the bench largely by himself, and Curry took that role in Game 4. Otherwise, Kerr has kept Curry and Durant largely together. That’s interesting, as the Warriors have posted a terrible -8.9 Net Rating with both of those players out this year.
- Houston Rockets: The Rockets do the opposite. Mike D’Antoni brings out Chris Paul and Eric Gordon early in the first quarter, which allows them to spell James Harden after he leaves late in the first. CP3 bridges that gap in the fourth quarter as well. With both CP3 and Harden off the floor, the Rockets have a Net Rating of -18.8, so it makes sense to make sure one is on the floor at all times.
- LA Clippers: The Clips, since they don’t start their two best players in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, obviously aren’t concerned about staggering starters. They’re the only team in the playoffs to employ hockey-style rotations, swapping out all five starters for Lou, Harrell and others. Doc Rivers will combine them in the fourth to get Danilo Gallinari back on the floor.
- Milwaukee Bucks: As mentioned above, Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe have been leaving early in the first to come back for the beginning of the second quarter. That could give a slight edge to Boston in the first quarter but a sizable one to the Bucks in the second — when Irving is on the bench.
- Philadelphia 76ers: Brett Brown has been staggering Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and Embiid with Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler. The former group comes out earlier in the first quarter to lead the second with bench guys. Brown will play the starting five as much as possible in the fourth quarter.
- Portland Trail Blazers: Interestingly, for most of the Thunder series, Terry Stotts didn’t really stagger Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in the first half (that was true in the regular season, too). He removed the starting five together, although McCollum did bridge the gap at the end of the third/beginning of the fourth. Stotts did show in Game 5 last night that he’s not afraid to play Lillard heavy minutes when needed.
- San Antonio Spurs: Gregg Popovich does stagger DeRozan and Aldridge. The latter has mostly played the entire first and third quarters, while DeRozan has come in at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters to bridge the gaps. DeRozan has poor on/off splits this season, so it hasn’t been terribly surprising to see the Spurs struggle in the second.
- Toronto Raptors: Like a lot of other coaches in the playoffs, Nick Nurse has been staggering his stars. He keeps Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry together to lead the start of the second and fourth quarters, which is smart since Kawhi Leonard can competently lead the offense by himself.
- Utah Jazz: At the beginning of the series, Quin Snyder pretty much left just Joe Ingles to fend for himself with the bench units. He did adjust in later games, however, trying to get keep either Mitchell or Ricky Rubio in to lead the offense. Mitchell will often sit a decent chunk of the third quarter to get ready to play almost all of the fourth. As a result, the Rockets have won three of the first four third quarters.
- I’ll be looking at the second-quarter spreads in the Bucks-Celtics series, as Giannis and Co. could have a big advantage when Kyrie Irving is out.
- I’m afraid the Rockets-Jazz third quarter edge might be over: In Game 4, Mitchell sat just two minutes in the third and played the entire fourth in a must-win game. That’ll likely happen again tonight.
- The Warriors could be vulnerable in the second quarters, especially if Kerr indeed keeps Curry and Durant together at all times. The Rockets almost always keep one of Harden and CP3 on the floor, so the Rockets could have an edge in the second quarter.
- In DFS, make sure to note rotations and take advantage of players who produce more in the second half than the first. Examples so far are Embiid, Mitchell and Gallinari.