The endless stream of sports statistics can make even the most analytical handicapper’s head spin to the point of nausea.
And, truth be told, many NBA sharps don’t give the numbers a second glance, basing most of their plays on situational and matchup circumstances.
There are a few stats basketball bettors should lean on when breaking down a game, but these aren’t your general figures, found on the back of basketball cards (do they still have those?). We asked some the Covers Experts, some of the sharpest capping minds in the biz, which stats they consider the most valuable to NBA bettors.
Turnover percentage/Assist-to-turnover ratio
Turnovers can kill a team – and a bet. Careless play can quickly turn the momentum of a game, taking what should be points for your side and swinging them against your wager. Basketball bettors should keep a close eye on stats like turnover percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.
If you look at the current NBA figures, heading into Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers are the worst team in terms of turnover percentage – which should come as no surprise to anyone who has bet on L.A. this season. The Lakers, who are a dismal 6-9 ATS, are coughing up the ball on nearly 18 percent of their possessions.
On the other end of the scale, the New York Knicks have been able to take care of the basketball, posting a league-low 12.4 turnover percentage and also top the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.699). The Knicks happen to be one of the best bets at 10-4 SU and ATS to start the year.
“Assist-to-turnover ratio is a stat that I won't make a bet without checking,” says Covers Expert Teddy Covers.
Effective field goal percentage
This offensive stat is a clear way to factor 3-point shooting into a team or players’ field goal percentage, using the formula: Field goals + (0.5 x 3-pointers) / field goal attempts. A team could have a high field goal percentage but may not shoot a lot of 3-pointers, while a team with great range may suffer a bit for those low-percentage shots.
It’s not a shocker to see most of the NBA’s elite clubs top this category, led by the Miami Heat at 55.2 percent heading into Thursday’s showdown with the Spurs, who are third in EFG% at 52.8 percent. The Oklahoma City Thunder are second at 53.5 percent.
In fact, the top five teams in EFG% (Miami, OKC, San Antonio, New York, L.A. Clippers) are a combined 44-28-2 ATS, with the Heat as the only sub-.500 ATS team at 6-7 ATS heading into Thursday.
This unique stat is the brain child of ESPN’s NBA mastermind John Hollinger and is a must-use for totals bettors looking for an edge when it comes to the over/under. Pace factor is simply the average number of possessions a team uses per game, giving you a clearer idea of what teams are running and gunning and which ones are sitting on the ball.
“Stats are key for totals,” says Teddy Covers. “John Hollinger's pace ratings at ESPN.com control the market.”
As of Thursday, the Houston Rockets, with new weapons Jeremy Lin and James Harden, top the league in pace with an average of 97.7 possessions per outing. Houston is fifth in scoring (102.1 ppg) and has topped the total in nine of its 15 games so far, including a 5-2 over/under record on the road.
At the low bottom of the totem pole are the Brooklyn Nets, who average just 90.6 possessions per game. The Nets’ controlled pace has led to 95.6 points a night (18th in the NBA) and limited opponents to only 90.7 points per game – lowest in the league. That strategy has not only helped under bettors cash nine times in Brooklyn’s first 14 games, but Nets backers are also enjoying a 9-3-2 ATS windfall.
Free throw rate
Fouls and their subsequent free throws are a big part of betting basketball. How many of us have been burned by a needless whistle or a missed foul shot in the final seconds?
Free throw rate (free throws attempted/field goals attempted) can be interpreted numerous ways when applied to NBA betting. The stat shows which teams are the best at drawing fouls but needs more of a breakdown when looking at certain teams.
The Lakers lead the league in free throw rate, posting a massive 40.1 FTR which is nearly 12 more than the league average of 28.2. With the best front court in basketball, L.A. is getting to the foul line almost 32 times a game but shooting 66.8 percent from the charity stripe (second worst in the league). In a way, defenses may be getting their money’s worth by hacking the Lakers and those missing points don’t help when L.A. is drawing a pile of points from books most nights.
The Thunder, on the other hand, are second in free throw rate (37.1) and get to the line 27.4 times per game (second in NBA). But, unlike Los Angeles, Oklahoma City makes teams pay for those whistles, hitting an NBA-best 84.5 percent from the stripe. The Thunder recently thumped the Charlotte Bobcats, who allow a 30.6 FTR, 114-69 as 11.5-point home favorites. They made 21 of 23 from the foul line which helped cover that pile of chalk.
The worst team in terms of free throw rate (giving fouls more than getting fouled) is the Sacramento Kings, who boast a -14.16 in terms of FTR difference. The Kings are 4-10 SU and 4-9-1 ATS despite being sizable underdog most nights.