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Early Season NBA Totals Trends and Teams to Target this Week

Early Season NBA Totals Trends and Teams to Target this Week article feature image

Sean Gardner/Getty Images. Pictured: Ja Morant

In the past decade, the NBA has seen a steady increase in Pace and 3-point shooting. The influence of Mike D'Antoni's "seven seconds or less," the success of the Golden State Warriors and the increase of analytics in basketball operations shifted the NBA toward the high-scoring, fast-paced game we see today.

The average score in the NBA has increased season-over-season for several years now. It has steadily gone from 205.3 in the 2015-2016 season to 224.2 last season.

However, one month into the current season, scoring has gone down dramatically. Unders are hitting at an incredible rate and have gone 148-104 (58.7%) season-to-date. The average score this season is 213.7 points per game.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Moore wrote a piece breaking down the causes of this movement. The new ball, the new rule changes implemented to prevent drawing fouls, the crowds and fatigue from a shortened offseason could all be contributing factors. For a totals bettor like myself, it has been fascinating to see this shift and the market reaction to it.

Thus, I've been tracking several relevant weekly statistics to break down for you below:

  • The average closing total this season is 217.6. The average closing total in Week 1 was 223.2, consistent with average scores last season. Those totals dipped down to 213.9 in Week 5.
  • Average points scored, Offensive Efficiency and 3-point percentage steadily increased from Weeks 2 through 4. The gap appeared to be closing between actual scores versus market totals in Week 4, and totals went 27-25 (51.9%) indicating that the market was finally catching up.

However, these dipped back down in Week 5, as the average total points scored dipped to 210.9. We are dealing with a small sample size in these weekly breakdowns, and they can be heavily influenced by the matchups that week.

For instance, low-scoring teams like Cavaliers/Celtics and Wizards/Heat both met twice last week. Also, high profile scorers Stephen Curry, Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown and Luka Doncic each missed time last week as well.

It will be interesting to see how Week 6 shakes out, especially amidst the Thanksgiving holiday.

  • One interesting observation is that Pace continues to drop each week. The average Pace in Week 1 was 101.1 and has decreased down to 96.9 in Week 5.
  • Free throw attempts have stayed constant, but average fouls called have slightly increased. Turnovers have been steadily decreasing.

Teams with highest scoring games (220 and above)

  • Lakers: Avg: 109.9 | Opp. Avg: 113.4 | Total: 223.3
  • Grizzlies: Avg: 109.6 | Opp. Avg: 114.7 | Total: 224.3
  • Hornets: Avg: 112.3 | Opp. Avg: 113.7 | Total: 226
  • Kings: Avg: 109.1 | Opp. Avg: 111.1 | 220.1

Teams with lowest scoring games (205 and below)

  • Cavaliers: Avg: 101.7 | Opp. Avg: 101.7 | Total: 203.4
  • Nuggets: Avg: 102.6 | Opp. Avg: 101.6 | Total: 204.2
  • Thunder: Avg: 98.6 | Opp. Avg: 105.5 | Total: 204.1

Best Over Teams

  • Lakers: 11-7 (61.1%)
  • Heat: 10-7 (58.8%)
  • Magic: 10-7 (58.8%)

Best Under Teams

  • Thunder: 4-12 (25%)
  • Pelicans: 5-13 (27.8%)
  • Bucks: 5-12 (29.4%)
  • Cavaliers: 5-12 (29.4%)

Recent Under Trends

  • Wizards: 8-2 to the under in Last 10
  • Pacers: 8-2 to the under in Last 10
  • Thunder: 9-2 to the under in Last 10
  • Pelicans: 9-2 to the under in Last nine
  • Cavaliers: 7-2 to the under in Last nine
  • Knicks: 7-0 to the under in Last seven

Recent Over Trends

  • Nets: 5-1 to the over in Last six
  • Lakers: 6-2 to the over in Last eight
  • Raptors: 5-1 to the over in Last six

Teams in Totals Spotlight

Unders — Washington Wizards

The Wizards are 11-5 to the under this season and have gone 8-2 to the under in their last 10 games as their pace has continued to trend downward week-by-week. Their average Pace is 97.4 for the season, but it is down in the ~93 range for the past two weeks. Their Defensive Rating ranks fourth in the league (104).

This week, the Wizards have a four-game slate against the Hornets, Pelicans, Thunder and Mavericks. These all appear to be great matchups for low-scoring games and potential unders.

The Hornets have gone 5-1 to the under in their last six games and have improved their defense during this time. The Pelicans and Thunder are both bottom 10 offenses. The Mavericks play at one of the slowest paces in the league and the Wizards will be on the second night of a back-to-back so fatigue could factor in.

Overs — Memphis Grizzlies

Another team to keep an eye on this week is the Memphis Grizzlies who could be in line for some high-scoring games. After starting off red-hot and going 3-0 to the over, the market adjusted accordingly as they went on a shooting slump and went 7-3 to the under in the following 10 games. They've recently gone 3-0 to the over.

The Grizzlies’ offense has picked it back up, and, although they need to work on efficiency, their Offensive Rating is 13th in the league (108.4) and has improved week-by-week for the past three weeks. Their pace has also increased as of late.

Their defense has been trending the wrong direction, which is not great for the Grizzlies, but great for overs. They are currently ranked dead last in Defensive Rating (113.8) and they have seen that metric worsen week-by-week for the past three weeks.

This week, they have favorable matchups for high-scoring games against the Jazz, Raptors, Hawks and Kings. I don't see how the Grizzlies defense is going to be able to stop the high-scoring Jazz. The Raptors have had a recent surge in scoring and taken a hit to their defense — they've gone 5-1 to the over in their last five games.

Likewise, the Hawks have strung it together on offense, averaging 118.5 points per game in their previous four games. The Kings are one of the league's worst defensive teams (26th in Defensive Rating) and fastest paced teams (eighth in Pace). There could be some nice targets for overs if the price is right.

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Nick Sterling
Feb 22, 2024 UTC