Updated NBA Playoff Odds: The Bubble Teams
Now that the All-Star break is over, the NBA season is coming down to the wire, and playoff races are heating up. The title picture is becoming clearer as the Warriors have continued to dominate with the return of DeMarcus Cousins from injury. Milwaukee and Toronto have become the betting favorites to win the Eastern Conference at the FanDuel Sportsbook.
The Bucks no longer have the same great betting value as they did earlier in the season since the public seemingly has caught on. Giannis Antetokounmpo and company remain the top-ranked team by our schedule-adjusted metrics.
There are still several playoff bubble teams, though. Our models gives nine other teams besides the Bucks and Warriors at least a 90% probability to qualify for the postseason. There are nine more teams that have between 10% and 90% probability, per our models.
numberFire Probability: 62.9%
Charlotte is currently holding on to the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, just a game and a half ahead of the Magic. We’ve discussed how there’s betting value on the Hornets to win their division, which they’re currently leading, earlier this season, but make no mistake: this is a mediocre team led by one all-star player.
Kemba Walker is averaging the most points-per-game of his career, at 25.1, and he ranks amongst the top-10 players in the NBA in offensive real plus-minus (RPM), per ESPN. Charlotte relies on Walker on the offensive end of the floor, especially since they rank just 13th in offensive efficiency. The Hornets are one of the slower teams in the league, sitting 20th in pace, but they’re the best at maintaining possession, ranking first in turnover percentage.
While the Hornets have one of the toughest schedules left, according to Tankathon, they’re competing for a playoff spot with the other mediocre teams in their division. For bettors who wagered on Charlotte to win the Southeast -- still a worthwhile bet to make right now, with FanDuel Sportsbook placing Orlando as the favorite -- it’s a good time to double down on the Hornets, who are our models' best East bubble team.
numberFire Probability: 41.0%
While Sacramento is currently on the outside looking in on the Western Conference's top eight, the current odds are far off our models' projection. The Kings have an exciting young backcourt in De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, who have been leading the way for a surprise playoff contender. Hield has become the shooter many expected he would be out of college as he’s shooting 44.7% from beyond the three-point line with an effective field goal percentage of 58.1%.
The Kings aren’t great at either end of the floor; they rank 18th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Similar to Charlotte (but not to the same magnitude), their strength on offense is limiting turnovers. Only Fox averages more than two turnovers per game among Kings players. Sacramento is also one of the best teams at forcing turnovers; Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Bogdan Bogdanovic all average at least one steal and two deflections per game, according to NBA.com.
Despite the longer odds and their current position in ninth place, the Kings have one of the easiest schedules remaining, and they’re only two games behind the Clippers, who just traded away their best player, Tobias Harris. Sacramento is a young, motivated team that has a much better shot at making the postseason than their current betting odds imply. Bettors would be wise to capitalize on the value while it’s available.