This article is part of our Handicapping the NBA series.
NBA basketball resumes Thursday, with plenty of teams in new situations given trade deadline shenanigans, not to mention the extra break giving certain players time to get healthy. New team dynamics provide us with new and interesting betting angles. Our sample sizes aren't ideal, but they're just meaningful enough to spot some trends and, hopefully, acting on those trends can turn a profit before the market corrects. Let's dive in:
Statistics are from Basketball-Reference, NBA.com, Covers, and The Action Network
The Wizards are healthy, and they're chasing the eighth seed
Yes, those Wizards – the ones on pace for the second-worst defense in NBA history (115.9 defensive rating) – could make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, as they are just three games out of the eighth seed behind Orlando. The Wizards will come out of the All-Star break potentially fully healthy (minus John Wall, of course), which is great news for a team that's had 14 different players draw a start.
Given that the Wizards are currently 20-33, bright spots aren't exactly glaring. But the added flexibility of a healthy roster will only help, as there have been a couple five-man groups that have found success: 31 minutes of an Ish Smith/Bradley Beal/Jordan McRae/Davis Bertans/Thomas Bryant lineup is +56.9 per 100 possessions, while 61 minutes of a Smith/Beal/Isaac Bonga/Rui Hachimura/Ian Mahinmi lineup is +23.5 per 100 possessions.
Since Jan. 20, the Wizards are 7-5 straight-up, 8-4 against the spread and also 8-4 to the over. They still can't play defense, but they can at least now catch up on the other end of the court. Washington has also had high-scoring games on the road all season, going 17-9-1 to the over away from home.
Victor Oladipo's return has destroyed the Pacers
Oladipo is back from a torn quad, which is a devastating injury, and we shouldn't expect him to be playing at an All-Star level. But it's really bad right now. He's shooting just 32.9 percent from the field on 12.1 shots per game – enough to tank an offense.
In the 175 minutes Oladipo has been on the court, the Pacers' offense is 11.7 points per 100 possessions worse and their defense is 2.6 points worse. Yikes. Given those numbers, it shouldn't surprise you that Indiana is 2-6 since Oladipo made his return Jan. 29, plus 3-5 ATS. It's possible the All-Star break will help Oladipo make some improvements, but I'd still be willing to bet against the Pacers right out of the gate.
Zion Williamson might be saving the Pelicans' season
It's difficult to over-emphasize how impactful Zion has been. Here are some statistics to paint a picture:
- The Pelicans are 16.1 points per 100 possessions better when Zion is on the court
- Zion's Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.153) is higher than DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Devin Booker and Paul George
- Zion's overall Win Shares (a stat that takes into account total minutes played) is higher than Eric Gordon and Carmelo Anthony
- The Pelicans' offensive rebounding rate when Zion is on the court is 31.6 percent – a mark that would lead the league by 6.2 percent. That's a margin bigger than the current best offensive rebounding team (Knicks, 25.4%) and the current worst offensive rebounding team (Thunder, 19.4%)
- Zion is on pace to become the eighth player in NBA history to average 20-plus points on 15 or fewer shots, plus 3.5 offensive rebounds. The others:
Since Zion returned, the Pelicans are 6-5 straight-up, 6-5 ATS and 7-4 to the over (30-23-1 to the over on the season). I don't want to belabor the point too much. Don't be afraid to bet on the Pelicans to win games. They're a good team now.
The Pistons sans Andre Drummond
"Basketball" is a loose term for what the Pistons have been doing at Little Caesars Arena since trading Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers in exchange for the rights to watch John Henson shoot corner threes. Detroit has played four games since, and they're averaging 95.3 points per game. For reference, the Bucks, who lead the NBA in points per game (119.6), have never scored fewer than 100 points in a game this season, and they only scored 95 or fewer points three times last season.
Unsurprisingly, the Pistons are 0-4 straight up and 1-3 to the over since trading Drummond, but a respectable 2-2 ATS. Getting Derrick Rose back will help, and it's possible Luke Kennard will be healthy coming out of the break, but this team is built to chase a high draft pick. Their defense has actually still been solid (107.7 DTRG), so the safest bets on this team might be on unders.
The small-ball Rockets
The Rockets' final game with Clint Capela, who has been sidelined with a heel injury before being traded, was Jan. 29. Since then, Houston has gone small, mainly playing P.J. Tucker at center. General manager Daryl Morey finalized the playstyle by trading Capela to the Hawks and acquiring Robert Covington from the Timberwolves on Feb. 4. The new-look Rockets made their collective debut Feb. 6 in a 121-111 victory over the Lakers.
The move to small-ball has turned the Rockets into a team wildly reliant on three factors: three-point shooting, rebounding and turnovers. Obviously those factors matter to all teams, but the Rockets have taken it to another level. Over the past seven games, Houston is first in three-point attempts per game (47.6), last in rebounds per game (38.3) and give up the second-fewest turnovers per game (10.6). The Rockets managed to beat the Pelicans on Feb. 2 despite grabbing 20 (!) fewer rebounds because Houston hit six more threes and committed 14 fewer turnovers. Houston figures that if they only marginally lose the possession game, they can still win by making more points per possession through threes and free throws. It's obnoxiously mathy, but it's working.
Since Capela has been out, the Rockets are 5-2 straight up, 4-3 ATS and 2-5 to the over. Since Covington made his debut, the Rockets are 2-2 straight up, 2-2 ATS and 0-4 to the over. While I'm not quite sure what to make of the over/under trend (it's been going on all season, actually, with Houston 22-31-1 to the over on the year), it might be advantageous to look at the rebound totals on opposing players' prop bets.
And defense is optional. We should acknowledge that the Timberwolves somehow blew out the Clippers on Feb. 8 (without Russell), but I'm going to chalk that up to post-big-trade fluke. Disappointingly, Towns and Russell have only played 25 minutes together, as Russell started out with a quad injury, and Towns has suffered a wrist injury and it's not clear when he'll be back. Not an ideal start to Minnesota's new dynasty.
Also not an ideal start, the Timberwolves had a -20.3 net rating when Towns and Russell were on the court together, plus a -11.7 net rating in the 67 total minutes that Russell has been on the court, allowing 126.4 points per 100 possessions. That doesn't seem to be a wild fluke, either, as the Warriors had a -10.6 net rating when Russell was on the court for Golden State.
Admittedly, the numbers here are very, very small sample. But bettors could take advantage of the (possibly unwarranted) hype of these two players pairing together. Taking opposing team total overs would be my strategy. They've also been atrocious ATS all season, going 18-33-2, not to mention a gross 6-20-1 at home.
Andrew Wiggins' Warriors
Wiggins has been excellent since joining Golden State, averaging 23.0 points on 13.3 shots, plus 4.0 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.7 blocks. The team is also +4.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court. They're 0-3 straight up, but 2-1 ATS (also 1-2 to the over). So how much of this is real?
He (obviously) won't continue to shoot 57.5 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from three. But Wiggins has been taking better shots, and that's sustainable. Compared to his time in Minnesota this season, Wiggins with the Warriors has:
- A nine percent rate increase in "wide open" shots
- Zero shot attempts with seven or fewer seconds left on the shot clock
- An 11 percent increase in catch-and-shoot jumpers, and a 14 percent decrease in pull-up jumpers (these are related, and a good thing)
Wiggins is consistently being put in better positions to succeed with the Warriors. And given how low their collective talent level is, someone of Wiggins' caliber playing 30-plus minutes should be able to make a real difference. As a result, I'd be looking to take the Warriors to win ATS more often. Things will really get interesting once Steph Curry is back in early March.
The Hawks have real centers now
Clint Capela (heel) has been sidelined, and it's unclear when he'll be back. But the Hawks also traded for Dewayne Dedmon, who has been great. A 38-minute sample of a Trae Young/Kevin Huerter/De'Andre Hunter/John Collins/Dedmon lineup is +7.4 points per 100 possessions, with both an absurd 132.1 offensive rating and 124.7 defensive rating. The Hawks also have a +10.4 net rating in the 78 minutes Dedmon has been on the court overall. He's notably blocking 4.6 shots and hitting 1.8 threes per 36 minutes.
The Hawks still have their issues (1-2 straight up since trading for Dedmon, 0-2-1 ATS, 2-1 to the over). But I have faith in Young to be able to run a good offense with two legitimate NBA centers on the roster (once Capela is back). Whether or not the overall defensive issues get solved is another question. The safest bets might be on overs moving forward assuming that's the case. Atlanta is 32-23-1 to the over on the season, anyway. They've also been a solid 15-10-1 ATS at home, which is something to keep in mind.
The Cavaliers trading for Andre Drummond broke coach John Beilein
Reports surfaced during the All-Star break that Beilein is expected to be out as the head coach of the Cavaliers as soon as play resumes, which is sort of like using all your vacation days at work and then quitting/being fired as soon as you're back. This news comes on the heels of the Cavs trading for Drummond and subsequently suffering one of the worst losses in franchise history (133-92) to the Clippers in his debut.
I wasn't gambling my hard-earned money on the Cavaliers before this (7-22 straight-up at home, 10-18-1 ATS at home – SeatGeek has upper-level tickets for $5 a pop), and I'm not sure how much this news ultimately changes that. Maybe a new coach can spark some life into this team, or maybe Drummond can be a slight difference maker. Although, teams in which Andre Drummond has led in win shares (including this year) are a combined 204-263. Cleveland is also -19.8 points per 100 possessions in the 51 minutes he's been on the court for them, so…
Let's continue to bet against this awful team.