How Have NBA Super Teams Performed Against the Spread?
With the arrival of Kevin Durant to a Warriors squad that already broke over 25 NBA records including most regular season wins, longest home winning streak and best start to a season, Golden State has cemented themselves as basketball’s newest super team. Their roster now features two former MVP winners (Durant and Stephen Curry), one of the league’s most versatile forwards (Draymond Green) and arguably the best pure shooter in the game (Klay Thompson).
Following their acquisition of Durant, Golden State emerged as the odds-on favorite (-130) to win the NBA championship, with a league-high win total of 66.5 games. For many NBA analysts, this was reminiscent of the “Big Three” created by the Miami Heat (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh) just four years prior.
However, oddsmakers were actually far less optimistic about that Heat team, who were listed at +175 to win the NBA title. No NBA team has been such a large preseason favorite since the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls (-150), who were coming off a 69-win season and their fifth title in seven years.
While the Warriors’ talent is undeniable, these super teams seem to struggle with chemistry and depth — especially in early season games. Last night in their season opener, the Warriors received 76% of spread bets as 8.5-point favorites against the Spurs, but they were blown out by 29 points. Are these super teams actually overvalued in early season games?
I wanted to find answers, so I decided to examine the past four super teams.
2007-08 Boston Celtics
More than 20 years removed from their last championship and coming off a disastrous 24-58 season, the Celtics looked like an unlikely title contender. Though they had a bonafide star player in Paul Pierce, he was 30-years old and the rest of the roster was very, pardon the pun, green. After failing to land a top-two pick in the NBA draft lottery, the Celtics cashed in their assets in trades for two perennial All-Stars: Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Boston opened the season with the fourth-best odds of winning the championship at +450 but, unlike other super teams, they gelled immediately. The Celtics finished the 2007-08 regular season with a record of 66-16 straight up and 53-28 against the spread (ATS) — both representing the league’s best mark. This team went 7-0 ATS to start the season and entered the All-Star break with a 32-17 ATS record before eventually defeating the Lakers in the NBA Finals.
Despite their early success, it’s worth noting the Celtics struggled in the subsequent seasons. After going 53-28 ATS in their first season, they went just 187-200 ATS over the following five seasons.
Casual bettors love taking favorites, so it’s hardly surprisingly that these super teams tend to receive overwhelming public support. During the 2007-08 season, the Celtics received the majority of spread bets in 89% of their regular season games. It’s safe to assume the Warriors will be the league’s most public team this season as well.
2010-11 Miami Heat
When LeBron James and Chris Bosh opted to join Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Heat arguably boasted three of the ten best players in the game. Oddsmakers were certainly bullish about Miami’s prospects, installing the Heat as +175 favorites to win the championship.
Although Miami eventually lost to Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks in the NBA Finals, it’s easy to forget the Heat struggled to build chemistry in their first season. Miami eventually finished the regular season with a 40-41 ATS record, but they were woeful in the opening month. At the end of November, the Heat were just 5-13 ATS which ranked as the second worst record in basketball.
In their four seasons together, the Big Three went 155-153 ATS during the regular season and 50-36 ATS during the playoffs. They were the preseason favorite to win the championship in four consecutive seasons, but managed only two titles. Assuming you wagered $100 on the Heat to win the championship before the start of all four seasons, bettors would have earned $250.
The Big Three were underdogs in just 29 regular season games and they received the majority of spread bets in 87.3% of their matchups. They were double-digit favorites in one-quarter of their games, but were never favored by more than 17.5-points. I’d expect that the Warriors will be larger favorites on several occasions this season.
2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers
Looking back at this roster, it’s almost laughable to think they were once considered a super team. With a solid core featuring Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers reloaded by acquiring perennial All-Stars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Considering they were only two seasons removed from winning back-to-back championships, Los Angeles looked like a force to be reckoned with.
Prior to the start of the season, the Lakers were +275 to win the championship, trailing only the Heat +250 for the league’s best odds. Just five games into the season, Los Angeles fired head coach Mike Brown, eventually replacing him with Mike D’Antoni. The Lakers feasted on inferior teams, but they were woeful against superior teams. As favorites, LA went 40-17 straight up. As underdogs, they went 5-20 straight up.
For spread bettors, the Lakers were particularly anemic. Los Angeles went 1-4 ATS in their first five games,10-15 in the first 25 games and 34-47 ATS on the season. Los Angeles qualified for the playoffs with a 45–37 record, but they were still the second-worst ATS team for bettors. The Lakers were subsequently swept by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs, going 0-4 ATS. They have not qualified for the playoffs since.
2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers
After taking his talents to South Beach just four years earlier, LeBron James returned to Cleveland — forming yet another “Big Three” alongside Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers opened as +275 favorites to win the championship, but they struggled in the early going. The Cavs went 20-20 straight up and 14-26 ATS to start the season. Although they finished the regular season on a 25-17 ATS run, we saw that star players once again struggled to adapt to their new roles.
This team was particularly noteworthy because they consistently failed to rise to the competition, going 36-31 ATS as a favorite but just 3-12 ATS as an underdog. Ultimately they struggled to overcome several key injuries and lost in the NBA Finals to the Warriors. Although they bounced back to win the title last year, the Cavs were only 39-43 ATS during the 2015-16 regular season.
Overall, these four super teams combined to go 176-159 ATS (52.5%) during the regular season, but they’ve clearly taken time to bond. During the first half of the season, these teams have gone 77-87 ATS (47.0%). During the second half of the season, they have gone 99-72 ATS (57.9%).
It’s also worth noting that public bettors love taking overs, especially in games involving elite teams. For what it’s worth, the under has combined to go 170-154 over the four seasons we examined.
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