We’ve finally reached the part of the season where a few teams have reached the 10-game mark, which is usually around when people start drawing real conclusions about an NBA season. That’s a gift and a curse when it comes to wagering.
On one hand, more info is good, and sorting through it makes for more informed decisions. On the other hand, early surprises will no longer come at a discount, and general perception will catch up to reality. Point is, if you feel good that an unheralded team is for real (or that a more ballyhooed team is a fraud), you’re chance to take advantage of those convictions is quickly running out.
With that backdrop, let’s look at whose stock is up and whose stock is down for week two:
(All stats and records prior to Sunday’s games)
Stock Up: Phoenix Suns – 5-3 record, 7-1 against the spread
Here’s what I wrote about the Phoenix Suns in this space over a week ago, back when they were a .500 team and were still (barely) under the radar for casual observers around the league:
The offense, which figured to be their strong suit, is just outside of the top 10, but that should improve. The Suns are currently 28th in the league in corner three conversion rate. They’re taking a healthy number from these spots – 7.4 per 100 possessions through Monday – but simply haven’t hit them. Once those start going down, this team might become a real problem.
Wouldn’t you know it, the Suns have hit 40 percent of their corner three attempts over their last four games. Meanwhile, they’re now the fifth best team in the league by net rating according to Cleaning the Glass, and are one of three squads in the top 10 in both offense and defense.
It may be time to recognize that while other summer free agency additions garnered far more headlines, there may wind up being none more impactful than Ricky Rubio, at least in terms of increase in winning percentage from one year to the next. Think about it: Phoenix’s point differential is currently that of a 59-win team. Even if they barely get to 40 – not absurd at this point by any stretch – they’ll have more than doubled last year’s total.
The secret has been in the passing. The Suns lead the league in assist percentage, and Rubio is second in the NBA in assist ratio (which measures the percentage of his possessions that end in an assist) among 149 players who have seen at least 25 minutes a night, according to NBA.com.
The best part is that Phoenix is still a bit of a betting bargain despite their lofty numbers. They’ve outscored their spread by 8.6 points on average according to TeamRankings.com, which is tops in the league, so they have a little bit of wiggle room.
If you believe, this might be the last time to get in on the ground floor.
Speaking of LeBron, AD & Co…
Stock Up: Los Angeles Lakers – 7-1 record, 6-2 against the spread
Since their opening night hiccup against their crosstown rivals, the Lakers haven’t skipped a beat, ripping off seven straight, including the last game against the previously 6-2 Heat which they won by 15. This is a team that looks more than capable of blasting unprepared or undertalented teams out of the water on most nights.
The malaise of LeBron’s first season is gone. LA is on tilt this year, going for the jugular whenever possible, as shown by back to back wins versus Charlotte and Memphis by an average of 24 points.
This seems like the season to take advantage of any night LA is at home against anything but the best teams in the league. In the next few weeks alone, Golden State, Sacramento, Atlanta and OKC may all provide some nice opportunities.
Stock Sideways: New York Knicks – 2-7 record, 5-4 against the spread
As a Knicks fan, I’ll be the first person to admit it: the early going has reinforced much of what the critics said. New York assembled a clunky roster that’s too light on elite ball handling and shooting to allow their bully-ball acquisitions to make a real difference.
And yet…their record against the spread indicates they’re friskier (if not better) than their win-loss mark shows. New York has held a fourth quarter lead in six of its nine games, and they’ve been tied or led in the last 40 seconds of two of their seven losses.
David Fizdale has not only been tasked with integrating many new faces, but is currently trying to win games without his season opening starting point guard Elfrid Payton, who has led the team to a positive net rating when he’s been on the floor. Frank Ntilikina has looked like a revelation of late though, especially in the team’s win in Dallas – arguably the franchise’s biggest in years.
In all likelihood, they’ll continue to be underdogs moving forward, but with several upcoming winnable games at home (two versus Cleveland, one vs Charlotte, and one against a certain Latvian making his return to MSG – a national television affair the Garden will likely be into, just a bit), it might be a good time to take advantage of the perception that this team can’t get out of its own way.
Houston Rockets: 6-3 Record, 3-6 against the spread
The Rockets are currently the second best offense in the league, but coupled with the 23rd ranked defense, it hasn’t yielded very good results.
Houston seems content doing their best Doug Moe-era Denver Nuggets impersonation, and it’s a formula that will keep opponents in games. They’ve had a perfectly mediocre schedule so far, playing only three of nine games against perceived playoff squads. They’ve covered two in a row against Golden State and Chicago, but the schedule is about to get tougher, and their record will likely dictate some favorable spreads.
Maybe they figure things out, but for right now at least, there seems to be an opportunity to jump on the team while they’re still integrating several key new pieces into the everyday lineup.