NBA Conference Finals: Game 6 Insights From Betting Flows
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Conventional wisdom holds that larger bettors make more informed wagers, as they tend to invest more time and effort into their picks and/or have access to better, more complete information than their smaller counterparts. However, through the 74 completed games of the current NBA Playoffs, this thinking has not held up -- at least on the surface.
Joe Public's Picks
Based on data from The Action Network, teams with the backing of more than 50% of spread bets are an unremarkable 37-37 ATS, suggesting that, generally speaking, the public's picks contain no informational content. However, a more nuanced examination does in fact appear to offer guidance for astute bettors.
Popular playoff picks for the current post-season can be deconstructed into two cohorts: 21-17 ATS (55%) for home teams and 16-20 ATS (44%) for road teams. This decomposition makes it clear that riding with consensus' home team picks has been a winning strategy (+2.3 units) so far, while fading the public's picks on the road has been slightly more profitable (+2.4 units).
Sharps Vs. Squares
The percentage of spread dollars wagered has served as a reliable indicator of ATS outcome over the course of the 2018 NBA Playoffs. Of the 36 contests where this stat rose to north of 50% in favor of a home team, that team covered 22 times (61%).
However, the cover rate when the percentage of spread dollars wagered favors a road team is an uninspiring 19-19 ATS.
An oft-quoted approach to betting based on flows data is to fade the public in instances where big money bettors disagree with consensus, as empirical research suggests recreational bettors tend toward popular teams and favorites, even when the line adequately adjusts away better teams' advantages; larger bettors are (at least, theoretically) more objective, and less susceptible to such emotions-based decision-making.
Through the two game 5's of the Conference Finals, there have been 11 playoff match-ups this year where a minority of spread bets backed the home team, but the lion's share of dollars wagered on the ATS outcome supported the team playing in their own building. Big money (presumably sharp) bettors are a meager 6-5 ATS from this spot.
Sharps have been more instructive in these playoffs though when their outlook deviates from the mainstream perspective regarding away teams. When most public bettors are siding with the home team, but most of the spread dollars are taking points, underdogs are 8-5 ATS (62%).
Our analysis also uncovered 37 instances where bets logged in favor of the home team register above 50%, and the percentage of dollars wagered is greater than the percentage of bets. Teams are 24-13 versus the number (65%) from this position. This very high win rate, coupled with the reasonably large sample size make this particular statistic especially interesting (read: most playable) to us.
Similarly, of 35 occasions where the percentage of spread dollars bet on the travelling team bested the percentage of bets these teams took in, the road team is a still profitable 19-16 ATS (54%).
Celtics at Cavaliers, Game 6
At present, 57% of ATS bets back the Cavaliers to cover tonight. Based on the observation that popular home teams have been profitable ATS bets, this finding suggests a spread advantage for Cleveland tonight. The percentage of spread dollars wagered also favors the home team this evening.
In fairness, we must concede that some of the prescience that flows have demonstrated picking home teams in this year's playoffs may well relate to an evident home team bias. In all, teams playing in familiar surroundings have covered at a greater than 55% clip in the playoffs (the Cavs and Celtics actually are the poster children for this phenomenon: the home team has covered in every game of this series).
Whatever the reason though, betting trends appear to favor the Cavs -6.5 at home tonight.