​WNBA Betting Guide: Sunday 8/15/21

If you’ve ever seen Ocean’s Eleven, you know that it’s extremely hard to get one over on the casinos. In the movie, they have security guards, feet-thick vaults, state-of-the-art camera systems, and in some cases, tripwire lasers and booby traps that would belong in a temple being raided by Lara Croft if they weren’t so high-tech. As casino owner/antagonist Terry Benedict says in the movie: “I know everything that's happening in my hotels.”

Even if the only heist you’re planning (editor’s note: the author of this piece is not advocating for assembling a Hollywood-esque heist team) is to walk out of a sportsbook with a few extra bucks, it can be tough to find an edge. Fortunately for you, dear reader, one of the most undertapped betting markets in professional sports is the WNBA -- and it shouldn’t be.

That’s why, going forward, I will be your Danny Ocean with a schematic of how traverse the WNBA betting landscape. We’ll be aiming to have WNBA betting guides up every Tuesday and Thursday through the 2021 season, with look-aheads for any island games on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well. If you’re a hoops fan, getting into the WNBA is not only another delightful dose of your favorite sport -- it can also be profitable for you.

With the entire W back in action on Sunday, August 15th, after the All-Star and Olympic breaks, where should you look to find solid betting value? (All odds from NBA Finals odds.)

Connecticut Sun (-172) at Dallas Wings (+140)

Spread: Connecticut Sun -3.5
Total: 157.5

The Connecticut Sun have made huge strides in 2021, with star forward Jonquel Jones coming into her own as a two-way master of the court and current MVP award leader. Center Brionna Jones is herself in pole position to take home the Most Improved Player award, and the two Joneses make for a sweltering defense. That said, the Sun got obliterated on Thursday in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup final, looking all sorts of rusty.

Now they travel to the Dallas Wings, who appear as 3.5-point home underdogs in this contest. These two teams are also the two best in the WNBA against the spread (ATS) in 2021, both with 12 spread wins. In Connecticut’s seven games as a road favorite this year, they have an ATS record of 3-4, with an average ATS point margin of -4.6. Dallas, as a home 'dog, has gone 3-3 ATS this season, but with an average ATS point margin of -0.8.

Over their last 10 games, Dallas holds the second-best offensive rating and third-worst defensive rating in the league. In that same span of time, the Sun have the second-best defensive rating and fifth-worst offensive rating. The dominant frontcourt of the Sun holds easily the best rebound percentage in the W -- though the Wings are a league-average sixth -- but the Wings are a tier above in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and drastically better in turnover percentage.

Considering they get the home-court advantage and the points, I’m giving the solid edge to the Wings +3.5. With both teams as slow as molasses and the total rising from opening at 156.5, too, the under is in play if it gets to 159 or more.

Seattle Storm (+176) at Chicago Sky (-220)

Spread: Chicago Sky -5.5
Total: 162.5

After a resounding victory in the Commissioner’s Cup final and closing as 2.5-point underdogs this past Thursday, the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm are surprisingly 5.5-point 'dogs to the home Chicago Sky.

The Storm, among the betting favorites to pick up another title this fall, are led by a big three of point guard Sue Bird, forward Breanna Stewart, and shooting guard Jewell Loyd. This trio played a ton of minutes in the United States' run to Olympic gold, so oddsmakers can be forgiven for assuming they might be tired coming into the Commissioner’s Cup final. With two days of rest under their belts, however, there’s nothing uncommon about the Storm’s energy situation coming into the post-break restart. Sure, most of the Sky are better rested, but -- as Thursday showed -- that doesn’t always matter.

The Sky also come into this game having gone 6-4 ATS in their last 10 games as a favorite, with an average ATS point margin of -0.5. Seattle is rarely an underdog, going 2-1 in those contests this year -- but with an average ATS point margin of +10.5 in those games (including the Commissioner’s Cup final). In addition, though both teams are in the top third of the league in offensive and defensive rating and eFG% over their last 10 games, Seattle outpaces Chicago handily in rebound percentage and turnover percentage.

With Seattle playing one of the slowest paces in the W this year, as well, expect this game to stay close enough that +5.5 points will seem generous for the Storm. I’m taking them to cover the spread easily.

Atlanta Dream (+200) at Phoenix Mercury (-250)

Spread: Phoenix Mercury (-5.5)
Total: 164.5

Coming off a long break, especially where bettors and books are factoring in a lot of off-court stuff like rest versus rust, there seem to be a lot of edges to be gained in betting the spread. We don’t know yet how the W will settle out in the second half of the season, but taking lessons from the first can lead us to some good values.

One of those major edges seems to be sitting with the Atlanta Dream, who visit the Phoenix Mercury. Atlanta is getting +5.5 points, a sizable boost that is to be somewhat expected given their league-worst 108.9 defensive rating. That said, Phoenix isn’t much better, with their 103.8 D rating coming in as just the fourth-worst. Both have comparable offenses, as well, near the bottom of the league.

Team eFG% captures their offensive futility perfectly, with the Dream 9th and the Mercury 10th in this metric. Both are bottom-half in offensive rebound rate and middling in defensive rebound rate, too, so there’s little to separate them there. The one difference lies in Atlanta’s league-best turnover percentage, whereas Phoenix is a middling seventh.

This game should be low-scoring and close, which means I’ll take the +5.5 points with Atlanta. Considering Atlanta has a top-third Pace/40, compared to Phoenix’s bottom-third pace, the Dream should be able to keep up and bring things back to their spread margin even if they trail in this game. If you’re feeling spicy, the +200 for Atlanta to win is even better valued by my model.

Washington Mystics (+540) at Las Vegas Aces (-850)

Spread: Las Vegas Aces -11.5
Total: 171.5

An 11.5-point spread is tough to overcome, but the Las Vegas Aces have been one of the best teams against the spread as big favorites. In games in which they were favored by double-digits in 2021, the Aces are 6-2 ATS with an average ATS point margin of +5.8. Las Vegas features the best offensive rating in the league across their last 10 games, paired with the best defense by defensive rating. The Washington Mystics, still sans star big Elena Delle Donne, hold the second-worst defensive rating in the WNBA in that same timeframe.

I’m avoiding this game, as even though under 171.5 is an interesting play by my model, Vegas plays with the fastest pace in the league with the top offense and Washington is top-half in both Pace/40 and offensive rating.

New York Liberty (+210) at Minnesota Lynx (-265)

Spread: Minnesota Lynx -6.5
Total: 161.5

The total in this game has risen dramatically after opening at 158.5. That actually would have been a solid smash point, as the New York Liberty and Minnesota Lynx are both top-five in Pace/40 over their last 10 games, while the Lynx have a top-three offensive rating. As is, there’s not a ton of value in this game. My projection model favors the Libs +6.5, but the Lynx hold the top eFG% in the league (New York is eighth), as well as a top-three rebound percentage. And the Liberty have the league’s worst turnover percentage.

I lean New York here, but it’s just a lean. I am avoiding this contest.

Indiana Fever (+160) at Los Angeles Sparks (-200)

Spread: Los Angeles Sparks -4.5
Total: 155.5

The battle of the bottom of the barrel: the lowly Indiana Fever get a nice vacation to visit Western Conference bottom-dwellers the Los Angeles Sparks. I wouldn’t pay much attention to this game: Indy and L.A. are bottom-three in offensive rating over their last 10 games, and both are solidly middle of the road in defensive rating. Each is in the cellar in eFG% but is seventh and ninth in Pace/40, so I can’t even recommend you look at the total.

Inefficient offenses combined with middle-of-the-pack defense and mediocre pace indicates a coin flip that I suggest you avoid betting on. Watch it -- it’ll be fun no matter what -- but I don’t want to touch this contest.