Welcome to a brave new world. In this world, fans actively root against their favorite franchise, pray for losses, and scoff at the possibility of making the playoffs. In this world teams don’t seek to accrue more wins, they seek additional ping pong balls. This scourge has existed for years, but in recent years tanking has gained increased notoriety in the mainstream media. In fact, former Philadelphia 76ers GM Sam Hinkie opened embraced tanking as part of “The Process.”
The 2017 NBA Draft is considered by many experts to be one of the deepest and most talent-laden in years. Players like Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball are viewed as franchise building blocks and future All-Stars. The current crop of college freshman is loaded with elite prospects, and teams are desperate to acquire top picks in this year’s draft.
With marquee free agents consistently leaving their teams for larger media markets, building through the draft seems to be the only option for many small market teams. Need an example? Remember when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach? How about Kevin Durant’s exodus from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area? Being a mid-tier NBA team is the equivalent of basketball purgatory, and tanking is a viable strategy for many franchises.
Since the tanking process typically begins around the All-Star break and trade deadline, I wanted to determine whether bettors could capitalize on this phenomenon. It’s logical to think that these cellar dwellers would begin losing a higher percentage of their games, but do they cover the spread.
Dating back to 2005, NBA teams with a losing record have gone 2,244-5,203 SU (30.1%) and 3,707-3,635 ATS (50.5%) against teams with a winning record. There are usually around 54 games played before the All-Star break, so I wanted to know whether those percentages changed dramatically after that point.
Using the “game number” filter, I found that teams with losing records have gone 695-1,856 SU (27.2%) and 1,208-1,320 ATS (47.8%) in these late season games. Although there’s historically been value buying low and taking the league’s worst teams, that hasn’t been the case in late season games. Teams that believe they’re out of the playoff hunt are more likely to rest their starters in an attempt to lose more games and improve their draft pick.
I believed that teams with losing records would be particularly unlikely to cover the spread against an opponent with a winning record for two main reasons. One, teams with winning records are still motivated to secure a playoff spot. Two, if both teams have losing records, neither team would be motivated to win.
The table below displays how teams with losing records perform against teams with winning records after the All-Star break.
|Winning Percentage||Record (ATS)||Cover Rate||Units Won||ROI|
As you can see, teams with losing records consistently fail to cover the spread against teams with winning records. There’s also a direct correlation between a team’s winning percentage and a team’s ability to cover the spread in these late season games. The spread is supposed to account for a team’s lack of talent, but these tanking teams consistently fail to cover even the biggest lines. That makes this the perfect fade system.
Knowing that it’s profitable to fade these tanking teams, we developed an NBA betting system that has gone 107-55 ATS (66%) with +47.19 units won and a 29.1% return on investment (ROI). This system can be copied from the Think Tank, which is available to all Bet Labs members.
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This is one of our most popular NBA strategies, and it has the type of consistent year-to-year success and driving hypothesis that’s essential for any data-driven betting system. It’s worth noting that this strategy will produce around 13-14 system matches per year, though it produced just eight matches last season (going 6-2 ATS in those games).
At the time of publication, there were seven teams with a winning percentage of less than 40%, although the Nets don’t have much incentive to lose since their draft pick will be conveyed to the Boston Celtics.
- Brooklyn Nets 9-46 (16.4%)
- Phoenix Suns 17-39 (30.4%)
- Los Angeles Lakers 19-38 (33.3%)
- Orlando Magic 21-36 (36.8%)
- Minnesota Timberwolves 21-35 (37.5%)
- Philadelphia 76ers 21-34 (38.2%)
- New Orleans Pelicans 22-34 (39.3%)