Betting NBA Totals in 2019-2020

We’re just past the one-quarter mark in the 2019-2020 NBA season, so this feels like a good time to take a look at scoring and how it has affected betting on NBA totals. By the end of the 2018-2019 season, scoring had increased all the way up to 111.2 points per game. Personal fouls per game were up by one, from 19.9 to 20.9 by the end of the season. At the end of the first quarter of the 2019-2020 season, personal fouls are up to 21.3 per game.

While scoring is down slightly this year from 111.2 110.5, pace is up for the fifth consecutive season, from 100 possessions per game to 101. Scoring took a massive jump last year, from 106.3 to 111.2, so scoring is still up by over four points compared to two years ago. Pace is predictive of scoring, and as teams get into the flow of the season, scoring may still increase over last year's number.

Earlier this year we took a look at the rise in NBA scoring during the 2018-2019 season, and for a deep dive into the how and why scoring has increased so much, you can check that article out here.

The rise in popularity of the three-pointer obviously has a lot to do with the increase in scoring. Three-point attempts climbed throughout the season last year, finishing at 32 attempts per game which was up over 29 attempts in the 2017-2018 season. This year, three-point attempts are up yet again, to 33.5 per game and this is the ninth year in a row we’ve seen that number increase. As you can guess, made three-point shots are also up from 11.4 to 12.0 this year, and this is the eighth consecutive year that number has risen.  

The confluence of more three-point attempts, more personal foul calls, and a faster pace have formed the perfect storm for increased scoring. So, how has this affected betting on totals?

Of course, it’s not as simple as looking at a total for a game and clicking OVER. In fact, if you had blindly bet every NBA over this year you’d be losing money as the OVER has hit just 48.7% of the time as of December 5, 2019.

The oddsmakers have done an incredible job of keeping up with scoring in the NBA, and know that casual bettors would much rather take the OVER than the UNDER. Knowing where the majority of the money is going to come allows the bookmakers to shade their totals up by a point or two, as there is little doubt that money will come in on the OVER.

If you want to bet the OVER, pick your spots wisely. Look for well-rested teams and look to see how a team is trending in recent games. The Washington Wizards were the best OVER team last year hitting overs at 60.5% going 49-32-1. This year the Wizards are second in the league, hitting at 61.1%. But more importantly, they have the highest total margin of points over the total at +11.3 on the season. Here’s how the entire league has fared when betting totals through December 5:

 

Team

Over Record

Over %

Under %

Total +/-

Dallas

14-7-0

66.70%

33.30%

6.2

Washington

11-7-1

61.10%

38.90%

11.3

Toronto

12-8-0

60.00%

40.00%

1.7

Phoenix

12-8-0

60.00%

40.00%

2.5

Detroit

13-9-0

59.10%

40.90%

0.4

San Antonio

13-9-0

59.10%

40.90%

5.4

Minnesota

11-9-0

55.00%

45.00%

0.7

Portland

12-10-0

54.50%

45.50%

2.8

Atlanta

12-10-0

54.50%

45.50%

0.9

Milwaukee

11-10-1

52.40%

47.60%

3.3

Charlotte

12-11-0

52.20%

47.80%

-1.1

Orlando

10-10-1

50.00%

50.00%

-3

Miami

10-10-1

50.00%

50.00%

-0.5

Brooklyn

10-10-1

50.00%

50.00%

3

Indiana

10-10-1

50.00%

50.00%

0.1

Golden State

11-12-0

47.80%

52.20%

-0.6

New Orleans

10-11-0

47.60%

52.40%

1.1

Chicago

10-12-0

45.50%

54.50%

-5

Cleveland

9-11-0

45.00%

55.00%

-1

Houston

9-11-0

45.00%

55.00%

4.3

Memphis

9-13-0

42.90%

57.10%

3.8

Philadelphia

9-13-0

42.90%

57.10%

-2

Utah

9-13-0

40.90%

59.10%

-4.5

LA Clippers

9-13-0

40.90%

59.10%

-3.3

LA Lakers

9-13-0

40.90%

59.10%

-2.7

Boston

8-12-0

40.00%

60.00%

-1.4

Okla City

8-12-0

40.00%

60.00%

-2.4

Sacramento

7-13-0

35.00%

65.00%

-4.4

New York

7-14-0

33.30%

66.70%

-2.9

Denver

5-13-0

27.80%

72.20%

-6.4

 

One of the biggest factors when it comes to the Washington Wizards and their propensity towards the OVER is their pace. The Wizards are currently #2 in the league in possessions at 105.2. And when one team plays at a fast pace, their opponent will often get caught up in that same game flow, even if they aren’t a high pace team.

It’s not all about pace though, as the top OVER team in 2019, the Dallas Mavericks, rank just 20th in pace at 99.9 possessions per game. The way Dallas has gotten it done is by scoring the most points per possession in the NBA, ranking #1 in Offensive Rating per Basketball-Reference.

While the Wizards are a high-flying team by possession, what really seals the deal for them as an over team is their dead-last ranking in Defensive Rating. When betting the over, look for teams like the Wizards that combine a fast pace, with below-average defense.

Another way to get after the OVER is to pick games that should be closely contested. In a game with a short spread, there is a higher likelihood that the score will be close at the end, which can lead to a circus of fouls and free throws piling up points in the final minutes.

Also, don’t pigeonhole yourself into only finding games where you want to bet the OVER. Forcing bets is the fastest way to blowing your bankroll, and as noted above, the UNDER hits at a slightly higher rate. The key to betting NBA totals is to do your research and pick your spots wisely.

Look for teams that have been trending either towards the under or the over and look at the total amount of points scored in those games. A team’s current form will be much more predictable than their season-long averages. If you find a team that has been on a streak of OVERS, average out the total points scored in those games and compare it to the total on the board that night. If you see a large discrepancy between the two, you’ll likely have an edge betting the total on that game.

Lastly, make sure to check the lineups before you place your bets. Resting star players has become much more prevalent in the NBA and you don’t want to bet on a team when a scrub off the bench is replacing a star player. By the same token though, you may see an overreaction to the total if a key player is injured. If you know the team has a deep bench and can fill in for the star for one night, you can take advantage of an overreaction to the total.

Conversely, if a team does not have a deep bench and you see that a key player will be sitting out that night, go check to see if the total has moved. If it hasn't, that would be a great time to play on the UNDER.

The bottom line when betting NBA totals is to do your research. Find teams that play poor defense, play at a fast pace, and have been on a hot streak if you want to bet the over. And if you dare to be contrarian, you can find profitable angles to bet the under. At the end of the day, all that matters is cashing that ticket.


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