How the New York Knicks Made Betting History Ahead of the NBA Playoffs

How the New York Knicks Made Betting History Ahead of the NBA Playoffs article feature image
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Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: RJ Barrett (left), Alec Burks (center), and Reggie Bullock (right).

“Our beautiful league is always more beautiful when the Knicks matter and the Garden is jumping”– LeBron James 

Ain’t no denying DIPSET! And the league is simply better off when the Knicks are winning. https://t.co/Zifxs2OtVH

— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 22, 2021

By all accounts, the Knicks surpassed any and all expectations that were set for them this past season.

But how do you measure expectations set for a sports team? Do you compare their results to the expectations of the fans? Or the media? What about both?

In reality, there are just too many people in the world to compare expectations to, especially when you are referring to the most popular sports team in the world (when it’s good) that happens to play in the epicenter of all things entertainment, fashion, commerce and, of course, sports. 

So, how do we do it? 

It’s actually easier than the average person might think.

All we really need to do to get a better understanding of how much the Knicks overachieved is compare the season’s results to how sportsbooks set the odds for their season-long futures. This is the most effective way to eliminate bias and go strictly by what the numbers say. 

When oddsmakers set lines, they don’t bring fandom into the picture. They let the statistics do the talking and try their best to get an even amount of wagers on both sides of the bets they are releasing to the public. 

You could spin a blind orangutan around 15 times, and it still would be able to identify that the Knicks outperformed every expectation that was set for them by a country mile. Forget about where you think they will finish in the playoffs, and appreciate the fact they just put together one of the most historic seasons in NBA history. 

How They Did It

Season Win Total 

  • O/U: 23.5
  • Number of Wins: 41

The Knicks finished last season with a measly 21-45 record, good enough for a 12th-place finish in the Eastern Conference. 

Fast forward to this year, and the NBA season was slated with 72 games and books set New York’s win total at 23.5 wins — tiny improvement from last year’s campaign but clearly nothing to write home about. 

There were only two other squads that entered this season with lower win totals than the Knicks. 

  • Cleveland Cavaliers: O/U 22.5 
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: O/U 22.5 

Cleveland and OKC finished with 22 and 21 wins, respectively. Their win totals were pretty much dead-on with their actual season results, and the under hit on both of those bets. 

The Knicks, meanwhile, eclipsed their win total by an astonishing 17.5 games. The over cashed on March 16 — two months before the regular season ended. 

From 12th place to fourth place in a single season, the Blue and Orange shocked fans, bettors and oddsmakers everywhere.  

Odds to Make the Playoffs 

  • Yes: +2000

In the city that never sleeps, the Knicks may have been slept on. New York entered the season at 20-1 to make the playoffs. 

To put things into perspective, over the last five years, no team with 10-1 odds or higher to make the playoffs actually did… before the 2020-21 Knickerbockers. 

The New York Knicks have clinched a playoff berth 🗽

They were +2000 to make the playoffs at the start of the season 💰 pic.twitter.com/lPIiKQeiQA

— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) May 13, 2021

From strictly a numbers point of view, +2000 odds converts to a 4.76% implied probability. Sportsbooks essentially gave the Knicks over a 95% chance to not make the playoffs. 

If the season were played 1000 times, based on the odds, they’d be projected to not make the playoffs approximately 952 times.

Not only did the Knicks make the postseason for the first time since Carmelo Anthony was in the Big Apple, but they have also secured home-court advantage in the first round. 

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Against the Spread

  • Best record in the NBA: 49-22-1 (63.4%)
  • $100 bettor would profit $1,715 betting on them every game 
  • Covered by 4.15 PPG

The Knicks were a betting anomaly the entire season. 

It didn’t matter which way the line moved or if they were a favorite or underdog. The Knicks seemingly got the job done almost every single night. 

Not only did they have the best record against the spread in the entire NBA, but they also had the third-best cover percentage over the past 30 seasons, joining some extremely elite company. 

Put the 2020-21 New York Knicks in the Sports Betting Hall of Fame ✍️ pic.twitter.com/1dIyoyl1Fc

— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) May 17, 2021

Over the last 7-8 years the words “Knicks” and “favorite” went together about as well as “lamb” and “tuna fish,” but this year was much different. Every time oddsmakers made them the favorite, they showed they deserved to be in that position and were the superior team on the court. 

  • Best ATS record in the NBA as a favorite: 19-8 (70.4%)
  • Covered by 5.5 PPG
  • $100 bettor would profit $1,019

They also thrived in their regular role as the underdog:

  • Third-best ATS record in NBA as an underdog: 26-18-1 (59.1%)
  • Covered by 3.34 PPG.
  • $100 bettor would profit $696

In a 23-day stretch that made us feel like we were living in a parallel universe, the Knicks strung together the longest cover streak of the entire NBA season. 

Twelve straight covers, nine straight wins. 

The longest cover streak of the NBA season now belongs to the New York Knicks 🤯 ✅ pic.twitter.com/fsqp6SeaCC

— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) April 24, 2021

For a team that has been the butt of way too many league-wide jokes, the Knicks have shown they can no longer be underrated by those setting the lines.  

Against the 1H Spread

  • 49-22-1 (Best record in NBA) 
  • Covered by 3.38 PPG
  • $100 bettor would profit $2,451

I’m starting to regret investing my money in cryptocurrencies this past year rather than investing in the New York Knicks in the first half. 

After all, they racked up a 34% return on investment over a 72-game span. 

According to our BetLabs database, no team has finished a season up more against the 1H spread in 13 years than the 2008 Indiana Pacers (+$2,331). Well, the Knicks finished the season up $2,451. 

Just another freakish stat you didn’t know existed until the Knicks decided to break it. 

On the Moneyline 

  • 41-31 (58.1%)
  • Won by 2.31 PPG
  • $100 bettor would be up $2,078. $866 greater than the next best team (Washington Wizards). 

Like the old adage goes… when it rains, it freaking pours. 

If New York City is the center of the universe, then Madison Square Garden is Eden. The Knicks experienced a resurgence on their home hardwood this season, going 25-11 (69.4%). That’s the most profitable mark in the NBA, $488 greater than the next best team (Warriors). 

Now, I’m not going to get too ahead of myself, but don’t the Knicks have home-court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. Just keep that in mind when the dance gets started and the World’s Most Famous Arena is rocking. 

Most Improved Player (Data via BetMGM) — Julius Randle

  • Line movement: opened +900, now -5000
  • Handle %: 61%
  • Ticket %: 19%

After last Thursday’s resilient comeback win against the Spurs, RJ Barrett was singing Julius Randle’s praises after an impressive 25-point performance in which he hit clutch shot after clutch shot. 

In front of the Garden faithful, he said, “It’s great to have a vet like that on our team.”

“We do it for you guys. Us as a team, we’re doing it for each other, playing for each other and we’re not done yet.”

— Julius Randle on bringing playoff basketball back to The Mecca pic.twitter.com/FCWX6Qm4ti

— x – NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) May 14, 2021

As soon as those words came out of RJ’s mouth, one of my good friends jumped up off the couch and shouted at the top of his lungs, “He’s not a vet, he’s an All-Star!”

That’s right. The man who was seemingly discarded by his last two teams is an NBA All-Star and has led the Knicks back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13. 

Randle has all but locked up the MIP award and with good reason. He’s averaging 24.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, and 6 APG, and most importantly, has been the fearless leader the Knicks have been looking for.

Not only is Julius a lock to win Most Improved Player, but he has my vote (I know, super important) to win NBA MVP. 

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