NBA Betting Dime: Cavaliers Keep Cashing Against The Spread

Darius Garland #10 of the Cleveland Cavaliers brings the ball up court against the Charlotte Hornets during the first quarter during their game at Spectrum Center on November 01, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Image Credit: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Welcome to the debut edition of the NBA Betting Dime, a weekly basketball column that combines some of the best aspects of the game. You can expect to find some analytical deep dives, social media clips, gambling information, and maybe some dumb pop culture references sprinkled in.

This week we’re going to take an early look at some of the award favorites, early candidates for dunk of the year, and one of my favorite teams so far this season.

For starters, let’s take a look at one of the biggest talking points over the first quarter of the year.

1. The NBA Is Over All The Overs

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (left) and Los Angeles Lakers forward Kent Bazemore (right) battle for a rebound
Image Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a fan of old-school basketball, you’re probably enjoying the start of the 2021-22 NBA season. For most of the past decade, the league has been defined by two words: pace and space. In 2011-12, NBA teams averaged 104.6 points per 100 possessions, and they averaged 91.3 possessions per game. Those numbers slowly ticked up over the course of the decade, culminating with a league-best 112.3 points per 100 possessions last year. The pace was up to 98.3 possessions per game.

It seemed like that kind of offensive production would continue moving forward. Teams are getting smarter from an analytical perspective, which leads to better shot profiles on the court. More three-pointers, more free throws. more shots at the rim, and less contested midrange shots have all attributed to the rise in scoring.

That said, what’s happened so far this season is shocking.

Not only are teams playing slower, but offensive efficiency is way down. Teams are averaging just 108.7 points per 100 possessions, which is the lowest mark since 2017-18. The offense hasn’t exactly plummeted, but the difference has been notable.

One of the biggest reasons for the change appears to be the new officiating policy. The refs are no longer rewarding players with ticky-tack fouls, so free throw attempts are down across the league. Last season, 25 teams averaged at least 21.0 free throws per game, and the Wizards led the league at 26.3 attempts per game. This season, only 11 teams are averaging at least 21 free throw attempts, and no one is averaging more than 23.4.

The reduced scoring numbers have resulted in a shift in the Vegas Over/Unders this year. The Under is off to a 190-162-1 start, which is good for a +4.2% return on investment for bettors. That puts this year on track to be the most profitable since at least 2004-05.

So is it time to start hammering Unders? Not quite. If anything, it might be time to hop on some Overs.

Vegas isn’t in the business of giving out free money, so they have adjusted to the newer scoring numbers. The Under went 59-34 in October and 119-106 in November, but it’s off to a 12-24 start in December. The 240+ point totals have disappeared, and most of the numbers have settled in the 210-220 range.

It will be interesting to see if Vegas has adjusted to the early Unders or if this current Over streak is just a blip on the radar.

2. Dunk Of The Week

It was a relatively quiet week from a throwdown perspective. We didn’t get any true hammers, but Juan Toscano-Anderson gave us some solid thunder:

I’m going to give this about 7.5 out of 10. There was some good ferocity, it was on JaVale McGee, and the fact that it was in a competitive Warriors-Suns game gives it some extra juice.

Still, we’ve got to keep the bar set somewhat low so we have room to go up in future weeks.

3. Sex(y) In The City

Jae'Sean Tate #8 of the Houston Rockets gestures to the bench after a basket during the first half against the Orlando Magic at Toyota Center on December 03, 2021 in Houston, Texas.
Image Credit: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

One of my favorite parts of the NBA is all the different jerseys. The fact that it took the NFL so long to allow even one alternate is ridiculous.

The NBA City Edition jerseys reign supreme as far as alternates go. There has been plenty written about them so far, but after seeing them all in action, I am officially ready to declare a winner:

Look at these puppies. They’re absolutely perfect. Not only do they look great, but I’m getting some major throwback vibes from the uniforms they wore from 1995 through 2003. It makes me nostalgic for guys like Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and fat Charles Barkley. Seriously, the only way these could be more 90’s is if Jonathan Taylor Thomas was rocking one.

Honorable mentions for the Knicks’ all-black look, the Hornets baby-blue honeycomb jerseys, and the Spurs white/green/pink combo. They’re all great looks, but they don’t hold a candle to the Rockets.

4. The Bulls Are Back

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan brings the ball up court against the Philadelphia 76ers
Image Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls were busy during the offseason. They already acquired Nikola Vucevic from the Magic before last season’s trade deadline, but they weren’t satisfied. They brought in DeMar DeRozan from the Spurs and signed Lonzo Ball in free agency, giving them one of the best top fours in the entire league.

Still, the Bulls entered the season largely as afterthoughts. They were considered playoff contenders, but no one expected them to contend for the Eastern Conference title. However, the absence of Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons has completely turned things around. The Bulls are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference standings, and their odds to win the East have dipped to +1200. There’s still some value with that number, but you could’ve got them at +2000 or greater just a few weeks ago.

The Bulls are led by the dynamic scoring duo of DeRozan and Zach LaVine. They rank fourth and seventh in points per game, and both players are efficient scorers, as well. Both players are also among the fourth-quarter scoring leaders, so they’re coming through in the clutch.

The Bulls have also amassed some quality role players. Coby White has struggled to get and stay on the court this season, but he figures to give them some scoring punch when healthy. Alex Caruso is capable of impacting games in multiple ways. Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green give the team some size.

Overall, the Bulls rank fourth in Net Rating thanks to a top 10 offense and a top 10 defense. I’m not sure if the Bulls can actually win the East, but they’re not going away. They’ve got a puncher’s chance if Irving and Simmons remain out of the lineup, and I expect their odds to continue to drop as we get closer to the playoffs.

If you haven’t gotten in on the Bulls yet, this could be one of your last chances.

5. Cleveland Rocks

Evan Mobley #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers brings the ball up court against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on November 01, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Image Credit: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

As good as the Bulls have been this season, they’ve been just the third-best team from an against the spread perspective. The Warriors rank second in that department, which is not surprising given their 19-4 record and their +12.4 Net Rating.

But the best team against the spread? That would be the Cavaliers, who have greatly outperformed expectations to start the year. They were expected to be among the worst teams in the East once again this season, but they’ve jumped out to a 13-11 record to start the year.

It remains to be seen if they can keep it up, but they’ve rewarded those who were quick to jump on board. They’ve posted an against the spread record of 18-7, good for a return on investment of +38.1%. That means a $100 bettor would be up more than $950 if they took the Cavaliers every game this season.

The Cavs are probably due for regression moving forward – especially with Collin Sexton out for the year – but the cupboard is not nearly as bare as it seemed. Evan Mobley seems like the real deal, averaging 14.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game as a rookie. Darius Garland has also taken a step forward with Sexton sidelined, averaging 22.6 points and 6.9 assists over his past 13 games.

This season may not result in a playoff berth, but the Cavs finally have something they haven’t had since losing LeBron James: hope. In the words of the legendary Andy Dufresne, hope is a good thing.

6. Best Broadcast: Ian & Sarah

Fans cheer as the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics are on the court for pregame warm ups before Game One of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series on May 22, 2021 at Barclays Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Image Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

One of the best parts of NBA League pass is you get to experience all the local broadcasts. There are a bunch of strong tandems out there, but my favorite duo is right in my own backyard.

Ian Eagle and Sarah Kustok (of the Brooklyn Nets broadcast team) are simply a pleasure to listen to. That’s not exactly a controversial opinion, but do yourself a favor and check this duo out if you haven’t.

Eagle is a veteran play-by-play man, and I would argue that basketball is his best sport. However, Kustok is what really makes this booth sing. She became the league’s first solo color commentator for a local broadcast back in 2017, and she’s the complete package. She’s knowledgeable, has great insights, and displays excellent chemistry with Eagle. I’d love for her to get a network job so the rest of the basketball community can experience her brilliance on a more regular basis.

7. Joel Embiid: DFS Hero

Philadelphia Sixers center #21 Joel Embiid reacts to a foul call in a 2021 home game.
Image Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Monday’s NBA slate featured 10 games, so there were plenty of players in action. However, Embiid was clearly the best of the bunch. He racked up 43 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists, bringing his fantasy total to 74.75 DraftKings points for the night.

The best part? He wasn’t all that popular. He checked in with approximate ownership of just 25%, and there’s a good bet that most of the winning lineups had Embiid at center.

Embiid has quietly started to heat up, finishing with at least 55.5 DraftKings points in three straight games. He’s battled injuries and COVID-19 to start the year, but it appears as though “The Process” is ready to start rolling.

8. Time To Worry About Zion Williamson?

Zion Williamson dribbles down the court in a 2021 home game.
Image Credit: Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

This is just an unfortunate story all around. Williamson had an excellent sophomore season, but he was shut down right before the start of his third year with a foot injury. Any injury is concerning for a young superstar like Williamson, but a leg/foot injury is particularly scary.

Of course, that was just the beginning. When Williamson did emerge from hibernation, there was something noticeably different about his body:

Shaq and Chuck’s comments aside, Williamson’s weight has been a concern since he entered the league. He’s an absolute freak of nature, but when he’s playing heavier than he should, it puts extra pressure on his legs and feet to absorb all that impact.

It’s important to remember that not only is Williamson likely carrying a little extra weight from his foot injury – which makes it tougher to work out – but he’s 21 years old. Not only that, Williamson is a 21-year-old multi-millionaire. I could only imagine what I would be doing at 21 years old with that much money in my pocket. I definitely would not be a “living in the gym” type of person, that’s for sure.

We are ultimately thinking that Williamson will be able to turn things around eventually, but hopefully, it isn’t too late for his body.

9. Awards Odds Update

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry reacts during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers
Image Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

We had some significant movement in the NBA futures market, including the odds for all the individual awards. Steph Curry has moved to approximately a +150 favorite to win the MVP while Mobley is a +220 favorite to win the Rookie of the Year.

Draymond Green (+150) is the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year, Tyler Herro (-150) is the leading Sixth Man candidate, and Miles Bridges (+260) is at the top of the Most Improved leaderboard. Those odds are going to vary from sportsbook to sportsbook – these odds are from FanDuel – but that’s the general consensus at the moment.

Among that group, Curry, Green, and Herro are who the sportsbooks are sweating most.

At BetMGM, Curry has racked up 55.3% of the MVP handle, Green has 41.7% of the DPOY handle, and Herro has a massive 66.0% of the Sixth Man handle. That’s a large potential hit if all three players put together a clean sweep, but there’s still plenty of time for things to change.

10. Who Doesn’t Love A Good Bargain?

Otto Porter Jr. #32 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after making a three-point basket against the Denver Nuggets at Chase Center on October 06, 2021 in San Francisco, California.
Image Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The amount of money that gets thrown around during the offseason can be mind-boggling, but sometimes, quality players can slip through the cracks.

Otto Porter Jr. stands out as arguably the best bargain this year. He signed a one-year deal with the Warriors for the veteran minimum, and he’s given them some excellent minutes to start the year. He’s averaged just 19.1 minutes per game, but he’s shooting a blistering 42.5% from 3-point range. That fits in perfectly with the Warriors’ offense.

When he’s on the floor, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by an average of +14.8 points per 100 possessions. The Warriors obviously don’t need Porter to win, but they’ve been at their best with Porter on the floor. The five-man combination of Porter, Curry, Green, Andrew Wiggins, and Jordan Poole has logged the second-most minutes for the Warriors this season, and they’ve outscored opponents by +15.5 points per 100 possessions.

There’s no award for being the best bargain, but there should be. Maybe like a 401k contribution? I’m not sure, but let’s make it happen Adam Silver.