Saturday, 15 June 2019

Fast and Three

So in the space of two days, both the NHL and NBA seasons are over, and it's all about baseball for the summer. 

At the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, I shared some thoughts regarding the totals markets that even the most critical of readers would struggle to find fault with.  

Actually, the only fault was that I underestimated how rapidly the totals would increase, and the suggested entry point of 215.5 soon became unmanageable, although had you been on all of them, you'd have been rewarded, but 431 bets over six months is a lot of work.

For the 2018-19 season, the initial band I targeted turned out to be even more ridiculously low, resulting in a whopping 701 bets! 
Whatever your entry point, the key to this idea is that the public have been slow to adjust to changes in the game, and the resulting higher totals.

In the five seasons between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the total was never set at 230 or higher.

In 2015-16, there were five such occurrences, in 2016-17 there were 30, and last season there were 233. That's fairly conclusive evidence, although sceptics might want to wait a few more years to confirm. 

Even the traditionally lower scoring Eastern Conference has joined the party. Having never previously had a total set higher than 230 points, 2018-19 saw no fewer than 42 such totals set, and as you might have guessed, the public balked at such a novelty, biases kicked in, and consequently Overs went 26-16.

The number of three-point baskets is the biggest factor in this increase in points. Looking at the regular season, in 2005-06, the average number of 3-pointers scored was 5.7 from 16 attempts; numbers which exactly doubled in 2018-19 to 11.4 and 32. These numbers have climbed steadily over the past seven seasons, and show no sign of slowing down.

One thing that is perhaps a little surprising is that the strike rate from 3-point attempts is pretty much the same as it was 25 years ago. Last season's 35.5% is actually slightly lower than the 35.9% of 1994-95.

The 3-point line was introduced in 1979-90, and it took teams a while to get up to that percentage, but since then it has remained in the 33.9% to 36.7% range.

The reason there are more attempts these past few seasons, is that the pace of the game (as measured by possessions per 48 minutes) is increasing. Last season, for the first time in 30 years, the number of possessions hit 100. This was to be expected, as the pre-season rule change reducing the shot clock from 24 seconds to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound was implemented for this purpose. 

While offensive rebounds stayed about the same, defensive rebounds hit an all-time high, the result of more missed shots.   

While there is a limit as to how high the pace can go, we do know that it has been as high as 107.8 and as that was in 1973-74, the first season the statistic was recorded, it's quite likely to have been higher at some point prior to that. 

For the second consecutive season, and the only two seasons since the introduction of the 3 point line, the ratio of free throws to field goals was less than 1:5. 

Bottom line is that I don't see the totals as peaking just yet. There's room for the pace to increase, and for improvements in shooting accuracy. Kyle Korver's 53.6% in 2009-10 is the benchmark.

The only question is when will the markets catch up.  

Following Eastern teams when playing in the West as underdogs had a winning record, but a small loss, while the 'tired' dogs eked out a small profit. 
The idea of 'Eastern' teams being value when playing 'Western' teams received a somewhat wider audience than this blog when the Guardian published an article on the topic at the start of last season (no wonder edges disappear!) including this comment that readers of this blog were already aware of:
It’s just one more home court advantage for West Coast teams, hosting sleepy teams from the East.
One problem with defining teams as Eastern or Western is that a match between teams from the two conferences isn't necessarily a match between teams from different time zones, with the Central Time Zone having both 'Eastern' and 'Western' teams. The Eastern Conference spans two time zones, while the Western Conference spans three.

So an Eastern (Central Time Zone) team playing at a Western (Central Time Zone) is at far less a disadvantage than an Eastern (Eastern Time Zone) team playing at a Western (Pacific Time Zone) team.

After reading that article, I made some adjustments to the "Tired NBA Eastern Road 'Dogs in the West" system, excluding matches between teams in the same time zones for example, but the research uncovered a fact that was even more interesting. Games involving teams traveling west don't have as many points scored as the market expects. In a league where the talk is all about the increase in scoring, finding an edge on Unders was promising to say the least. 

Here are the results from backing the Under when Eastern Time Zone teams headed west for a game in a different time zone for the past ten seasons:

As the prior would suggest, the edge is stronger in the Pacific time zone than in the Central, with the Mountain zone hosting relatively few games. 

Using Joseph Buchdahl's spreadsheet, the chance that the results in the Pacific time zone are luck is 1 in 106. I share this idea because I'm a generous chap, and by the time the 2019-20 season rolls around, you'll all have forgotten about it! 

And for what it's worth, I use the previous season's average points total (adjusted) as my entry point because not all Unders are value.

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