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NBA Early Season Against The Spread Darlings

NBA Early Season Against The Spread Darlings

 

We’re just about to the quarter-mark of the 2018-2019 NBA season and our SGP NBA nightly picks are sitting at a decent 108-96-3. The difficulty of picking winners in the NBA regular season is widely known; it’s a rarely predictable sport where the ball will bounce every which way over the course of an 82-game schedule.

Now that we have a somewhat large enough sample size with which to evaluate teams’ performance so far this season, some ATS studs and duds are starting to come into the picture. These studs (so far) are almost all cast-off teams who find a way to exceed expectations on an almost nightly basis and, in the process, cover a ton of spreads. A common theme of nearly all of them is that they’ve improved greatly without making major tweaks to the roster. For instance, when the Sixers get Jimmy Butler, everybody is going to upgrade them in terms of league-wide perception. But when Sacramento starts playing at the fastest pace in the league, people might forget to notice.

Keeping that in mind, here are 3 of my favorite teams to play on heading into this week of games.

Memphis: 12-8 Overall, 12-8 ATS

It seems we were right on with Memphis during the offseason, where I called for Over 33.5 wins as one of my best bets of the year. Again, this is not a team that made many major offseason adjustments — just ones that flew under the radar and, as such, are not factoring into people’s minds when they evaluate this Memphis team. A crazy injury bug forced a one-season tank job that allowed the Grizzlies to land a potential franchise cornerstone in Jaren Jackson Jr., whose early returns have been flat-out fantastic. A low key trade for veteran wing Garrett Temple has proven to be one of the best moves of the offseason. And cast-offs like Kyle Anderson and Shelvin Mack have found a home in one of the NBA’s quirkiest cities.

But getting Conley and Gasol back has allowed the Grizzlies to get back to basics and, importantly, back to Grit N Grind basketball. The two are so damn good; Conley is a quintessential point guard who makes everyone around him better and a trimmed Gasol is playing the best defense of his career.

Memphis covers spreads because they have an uncompromising identity, especially at home. They allow just over 104.9 points per 100 possessions, good for 5th in the league, and also play at the league’s slowest pace. In an age where all anyone can talk about is small-ball and spacing, the Grizzlies go against the grain. They grit, they grind, and they keep games at a pace where they can hang around and then out-execute you in the fourth quarter. They allow just 24.9 points per 4th quarter, good for 3rd in the league.

An older bunch, this team shows you just how good they are when rested. With 2 or more days in between games, they are 5-0 ATS. And at home, where they are most comfortable in front of their home crowd, they’re just taking care of business en route to a 7-3 ATS home record and 6-1 ATS as a home favorite.

In a league where teams travel from city to city talking about staying in front of ball-handlers and defending the three-point line, it’s tough to adjust when you fly into Memphis and have to prepare yourself for a mucked-up dogfight. I really like this Grizz team and, if they can stay healthy, should continue bringing in some cash.

Charlotte: 11-10 Overall, 14-7 ATS.

No praise can be given in “Buzz City” without first shouting out Kemba Walker, one of my favorite players who is having a complete career renaissance in his age-28 season. It seems like one of those moments where things just click for a guy, and boy are things clicking for Kemba. He’s averaging over 27 points per game this year in a completely modern way, averaging career highs in 3PA (9.6 per game) and FTA (6.6 per game). Kemba deserves a ton of credit for putting this Charlotte team on his back thus far and making their games really fun to watch.

Charlotte’s improvement and ATS record cannot just be boiled down to Cardiac Kemba, however, as they are quietly up to 7th league-wide in Net Rating. While net rating isn’t a perfect statistic, if you start counting the best teams in the NBA on your fingers, I highly doubt that Charlotte would come anywhere close to making it in your first ten teams. Again, they exceed expectations and are better than public perception.

My favorite thing about this Charlotte team is that they don’t beat themselves and are trending towards being a team that really plays the right way under the leadership of new head coach James Borrego. They’re 2nd league-wide in AST/TO ratio, and 2nd in the league in TOV% behind only the Spurs. They maximize every possession and, when you play above-average defense (11th in the league), not turning the ball over is usually enough to hang tight against most teams league wide. As such, the Hornets are 8-1 ATS this year as a dog and 3-0 ATS as a home dog. They hang around and let Cardiac Kemba finish teams off.

Again, I’d guess that most people think of Charlotte as a below-average team that should be looking to rebuild around Miles Bridges and Malik Monk, whereas that’s just not the case at all. They bullied the Bucks at home earlier this week and I will look to continue to play on them as a dog, especially at home — just not enough respect forthcoming for a team that’s 11th in defense, has a legit star, and protects the rock.

Sacramento: 10-10 Overall, 12-7-1 ATS

Don’t look now, but the Kangz aren’t the Kangz anymore. This team is just not that bad anymore and those who expect their hot start to fade into another tanking season need to pay more attention. My first impression when I watch this team is just the overwhelming fucking speed with which they can get up and down. DeAaron Fox is just about the fastest dude I’ve ever seen with the basketball in his hands, and his leadership, energy, and play-style are translating to the rest of this young squad.

They play at the 2nd-fastest pace in the league, lead the league in fast-break points per game, and are 5th in the league in points in the paint per game. Defensively, they look to force turnovers and, if not, are ready to run on anything and try to beat you down the floor. Fox is fast enough to that to just about anyone. The pace they play with translates to any venue in the league — their “fuck it lets run” mentality only exacerbates away from home, where their goal is less to beat you and more to outscore you. Sacramento Overs are 10-1 this season when they are on the road.

What is most impressive about this young squad though is, despite their pace, they protect the basketball and are starting to execute in the fourth quarter. They have a grand total of ZERO turnovers in clutch situations this year. Combine that with a league-leading 39% shooting clip from beyond the arc and this team can still score when the going gets tough late in the 4th quarter. As such, they’re 6-2-1 ATS as a home dog this year, outrunning teams for as long as they can and still having the poise to execute when they need to. To me, Fox is the perfect blend of energy and poise. And given his natural leadership skills it was only a matter of time before his team began to fit that mold as well.

The mere word Sacramento is synonymous with disaster in the NBA and a track record of disappointment. But you’ll continue to be disappointed when you fade a team that is just flat-out not that bad anymore and has really changed who they are. In the process, they’ve gotten a lot better and should continue to grow around a nice core of young talent.

Los Angeles Clippers: 14-6 Overall, 13-7 ATS

  • 9-2 ATS as a favorite. In a Western Conference where every game is so important, they’ve been prioritizing taking care of business when they need to.

Dallas: 10-9 Overall, 13-6 ATS

  • 10-2 ATS at home, 4-1 ATS as a home dog. They protect home and play with a ton of confidence as a result of the emergence of Luka Doncic.

Zach is currently a college senior on the East Coast, and loves to write about sports as well as record his NBA podcast. An avid fan and notable consumer of sports content, the descent into the application of the handicapping lens to sports analysis was only inevitable.

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