Updated Championship Odds: Finding Betting Value
Over the last few years, the seeming inevitability of an NBA Finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers has sapped the fun out of chatting about championship contenders and betting on potential underdogs.
This year, things have changed.
The Warriors are without two-time MVP Stephen Curry for at least the first round of this year’s postseason, and Cleveland has hit a wall -- with a little too much roster turnover, no Kyrie Irving, and the league’s 29th-ranked defense.
Add to that the Houston Rockets steamrolling the league this year and the Toronto Raptors legitimizing their contender status with a top-five finish in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and suddenly things are a bit more open. At the very least, Warriors-Cavaliers Finals for the fourth consecutive year is less likely now than it’s ever seemed over that span.
Suddenly, nothing is a given, and betting the eventual NBA champion is a more interesting venture.
When it comes to Vegas’ betting odds, they typically correlate with the opinions of pundits and fans, paying attention to things like experience, past playoff failures and so on. Our metrics, on the other hand, try to strip out that bias and deal with the facts using cold, hard numbers.
Here’s a look at how Vegas’ current title odds (via Bovada) differ from what our algorithms have as the title odds for each playoff teams.
|Team||Bovada Implied Title Odds||nF Title Odds||Difference|
|Golden State Warriors||48.7%||17.8%||30.9%|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||2.4%||2.2%||0.2%|
|New Orleans Pelicans||1.5%||2.6%||-1.1%|
|San Antonio Spurs||0.8%||1.1%||-0.3%|
|Portland Trail Blazers||0.8%||0.5%||0.3%|
Many still believe that the Warriors can flip a switch and are kind of coasting -- at least until the Western Conference Finals -- and Vegas giving them nearly a 50% chance of winning it all despite drops in wins (-9), offensive rating (-2.0), defensive rating (+3.7), and margin of victory (-5.65) this year compared to last reflects that. Our metrics, on the other hand, have taken note of the Dubs being less invincible this year and currently have them behind the Rockets (26.4%) and Raptors (24.3%) in terms of title odds.
The Rockets are a popular choice to be the team that bucks the Warriors-Cavs in the Finals trend, which makes total sense when you consider the fact that they led the league in wins (65), offensive rating (114.7), and margin of victory (8.48) this season. Our metrics do give them the highest championship odds of any team in the Association (26.4%), but that’s not quite as high as Vegas’ implied odds (38.5%).
Is this the end of the Cavs as we know them? After three straight Finals appearances, they’ve lost Kyrie, they may be on the cusp of losing LeBron, and they look less and less like a title contender by the day. Losing Game 1 to the Indiana Pacers was a continuation of a season-long trend of unmet expectations, so it’s only natural that their title odds have begun to dwindle. Vegas still likes them a fair bit (10.0%, second in the East, fourth in the NBA), but we’re moving away from them (8.6%, third, fifth).
The Raptors have years of playoff missteps baked into every pundit’s opinion on their hopes of even making the Finals. But winning 59 games and going up 2-0 on the Washington Wizards has finally earned them some love in Vegas -- their 10.5% implied title odds are the best in the Eastern Conference and third in the league -- but our bias-free numbers are absolutely in love with them and have been all season. Their 24.3% championship odds, by our algorithm, are not only the best in the East, but they knocking on the door of being the best in the Association (behind Houston’s 26.4%). Don’t sleep on the Raps as a dark horse.
Everyone is looking past the Boston Celtics as title contenders this year, since they’re without arguably their two best players in Kyrie and Gordon Hayward. Still, this is a team that ranks first in the NBA in defensive rating, and neither of those guys really contributed to that (Hayward because he was out, and Kyrie because he’s not a great defender). They’re definitely a longshot to win it this year, but we still give them the second-best odds in the East and fourth-best in the NBA at 12.6% -- a far cry from the fourth-in-the-East, sixth-in-the-NBA 2.4% that Vegas’ +4000 line implies.