Moore: The Worst NBA Teams Aren’t Tanking Against the Spread

Moore: The Worst NBA Teams Aren’t Tanking Against the Spread article feature image
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USA Today Sports. Pictured: Trae Young, Zach LaVine

  • With lowered draft incentives and a weak overall class, the NBA's worst teams aren't outright tanking.
  • Sub-.400 teams are keeping games competitive, proving to be profitable against the spread.

The NBA altered the lottery odds this season, flattening the various odds for teams looking to secure a top-three pick in the NBA Draft.

There was some question as to what real impact that would have on teams. But along with lowered incentives in the draft — and a top-heavy, overall weak class — the league is also benefitting from some great young corps that continue to try and win games.

The only truly horrible teams at this point in the season are the Dallas Mavericks — who traded all of their veterans at the deadline and have slunk back down, with their owed pick to Atlanta protected for top-five — and the New York Knicks — who you may know are the Knicks.

But everyone else? Pretty competitive!

Our Bet Labs Tanking Model looks at fading teams with worse than a 40% winning percentage after Game 55 when they’re underdogs against other sub-.400 teams. Overall, that system has been profitable at a 57% win rate ATS.

But this season? That same model comes in at 9-12, meaning the dogs are 12-9 ATS.

Since the All-Star break, teams with a 40% winning percentage or worse are 35-24 (59.3%) against the spread compared to 36-46 (43.9%) following last season’s break.

The sample size here is small and there’s still opportunity for squads to start dropping games and resting key players to try for Zion Williamson. But look at recent history: The Bulls beat the Celtics and the Sixers over the past three weeks. And the Suns have beaten the Bucks and the Warriors inside of a week.

Here’s a look at the ATS trends for the league’s worst teams — with worse than a 40% win percentage — since the All-Star break, when teams usually start shutting things down:

So of the 24 losses among those teams, you have 25% accounted for by the Knicks. Tank on, New York. Meanwhile, Dallas is 3-6 over that same span of time.

The Bulls, for the second year in a row, are showcasing a great young corps. Maybe next year they won’t completely set it up to fail with free agency and team construction options. The addition of Otto Porter Jr. has made a real impact, as has the return of Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls are 5-5 since the break, but have remained competitive in most of their games.

The Hawks have also put their best stretch together.

All this coincides with struggles from the top of the league.

The Warriors are in a slump, struggling to find their motivation. The Bucks lost their first set of back-to-back games this season in Utah and Phoenix. And many of these sub-.400 teams played the Lakers during their meltdown.

What we’re clearly seeing here is a higher level of parity reflected in this ATS performance.

The young teams are still fighting to learn how to win with good, young talent. Few teams are outwardly trying to lose. This is what the league wants, along with competitive playoff races down the stretch (which have sadly fell by the wayside for the most part in both conferences).

It might be a one-off — these numbers were similar in 2016-17 in a similar span of time — and it might be a temporary trend for this stretch specifically before late March arrives and teams start to shut down players. But right now, the system is working.

Teams aren’t tanking, and bettors can profit off it.

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