Betting Against the Public During the NBA Finals

The 2017 NBA Finals begin on Thursday, and that means there will be a massive increase of public money entering the marketplace. In fact, my research found that the average number of bets placed on an NBA Finals matchup is roughly twice the average playoff game and five times greater than the average regular season game — and that may be a conservative figure.

“When comparing against another series in the playoffs, the Finals generally do about three times as much in action,” according to Scott Cooley, a spokesman from the market-setting Bookmaker.eu. “As far as a regular season game, the handle could be 7-10 times higher.” That massive uptick in volume is great news for contrarian bettors.

In the past, I have concluded that betting against the public will produce a positive return on investment, although the optimal threshold varies greatly from sport to sport. Past analysis has also proven that the value derived from betting against the public is directly correlated with the number of bets placed on each game. Oddsmakers won’t adjust their numbers based on public money unless there’s massive liability on one side; however, with more casual bettors entering the marketplace for these marquee matchups, it’s far more common for sportsbooks adjust for public action.

It’s rare to find extreme levels of one-sided public betting during the postseason, but the increased volume can create tremendous risk for sportsbooks. To help mitigate some of their liability, sportsbooks will shade their lines and force casual bettors to take bad numbers when taking the popular side of a game. That means contrarian bettors can often get free points by simply going against the grain and fading the public.

“We’ll move [based on public money] if there is very little to no sharp action, which does happen in the latter series of the playoffs because the sharps are obviously more disciplined,” stated Cooley. With one-sided public betting and limited sharp involvement, contrarian bettors can easily exploit artificially inflated lines.

Playoff teams receiving less than 50% of spread tickets have gone just 517-518 ATS since the start of the 2005 season, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. There’s far more value betting against the public in heavily bet games, and there’s far more action during the NBA Finals than any other round.

Round Record (ATS) Cover Rate Units Won ROI
Overall 517-518 50.0% -24.55 -2.4%
First Round 265-285 48.4% -29.08 -5.3%
Second Round 136-146 48.2% -16.09 -5.7%
Conference Finals 76-62 55.1% +10.55 +7.6%
NBA Finals 40-27 59.7% +11.07 +16.5%

As the playoffs progress and the amount of public money on each game increases, the value derived from fading the public improves in kind. That helps explain why $100/game bettors would have lost $4,517 fading the public during the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs, while those same bettors would have earned $2,162 fading the public in the final two rounds. Those returns are impressive, but the returns improve tremendously when we focus on increasingly one-sided public betting.

Since 2005, NBA playoff teams receiving no more than 40% of spread tickets have gone 248-227 ATS (52.2%) overall including a 31-16 ATS (66%) record during the Conference Finals and a 12-4 ATS (75%) record during the NBA Finals. That’s admittedly a small sample size, but we have consistently found value fading the public in these heavily bet, late-season games.

It’s also worth noting that public bettors seem to gravitate towards the road team during the NBA playoffs, and that’s especially true during the Finals. During the first three rounds of the NBA playoffs, the majority of spread bets were placed on the visitor in 56.0% of games. During the NBA Finals, that figure jumps to 67.6% of games. That can largely be explained by focalism, in which bettors overreact to a single piece of information.

As an example, the Golden State Warriors are listed as 7-point favorites at home (Game 1 and 2) and they’re listed as 2-point underdogs on the road (Game 3 and 4). That swing can be easily explained by the shift in home-court, yet there’s a clear shift in public perception. Although there’s evenly balanced public betting for Game 1, the early trends show bettors hammering the Warriors in Game 3. If casual bettors are willing to lay Golden State -7 at home, there’s no doubt they’ll be even more willing to take Golden State plus the points on the road.

Although bettors overvalue home-court advantage during the regular season, they actually undervalue it during the postseason. Since 2005, home teams have gone 540-521 ATS (50.9%) during the NBA Playoffs including a 153-134 ATS (53.5%) mark when receiving no more than 40% of spread tickets. Again, that value increases substantially when focusing on the later rounds.

There’s clearly more value fading the public in these nationally televised, late season games, where casual bettors come out in droves. The influx of public money creates artificially inflated lines, which can be exploited by opportunistic bettors. That said, it’s important to note that the only picks we officially endorse are our Best Bets, which are available exclusively to Sportsbook Insider Pro subscribers.

We already have a pending Best Bet for Game 1, but in addition to our Best Bets, Sportsbook Insider Pro subscribers also have access to real-time odds, public betting trends, money percentages, bet signals (including steam moves and reverse line movement alerts), injury alerts, value meter, line watcher, line predictor, and many other unique features. Looking to try our service? Sign up now for a 4-day trial and start winning today!

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David Solar

David Solar is the Content Manager at Sports Insights. He specializes in sports betting analytics and creating data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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