Investing in the NBA All-Star Game

Written by Miikka Paakkinen in the ScoreMetrics Lab

The 2020 NBA All-Star Game will be played on the 16th of February. All of the biggest names of the game will be on the floor when Team LeBron and Team Giannis will square off at the United Center in Chicago.

But how is basketball’s biggest exhibition game as an investment? That’s the question that the ScoreMetrics Labs is looking to answer today. 

New format and recent trends

Before we start making any conclusions or investment decisions based on historical data, we should note that the NBA made some drastic changes for the All-Star game this year

Here’s a summary of the new format:

”Team Giannis and Team LeBron will compete to win each of the first three quarters, all of which will start with the score of 0-0 and will be 12 minutes long.  At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the game clock will be turned off and a Final Target Score will be set.

The Final Target Score will be determined by taking the leading team’s total cumulative score through three quarters and adding 24 points – the 24 representing Kobe Bryant’s jersey number for the final 10 seasons of his NBA career.  The teams will then play an untimed fourth quarter and the first team to reach the Final Target Score will win the NBA All-Star Game.”

Sounds a bit complicated and definitely makes it harder for us in terms of evaluating investment opportunities. But let’s give it a go.

Past performance

Here’s a look at recent All-Star game results from an investment perspective. The data that the ScoreMetrics Labs sourced starts from the 2007 All-Star game.

DateScore (H-A)O/UATS Winner
Feb 17, 2019GIANNIS 164 – LEBRON 178O 314.5LeBron
Feb 18, 2018STEPH 145 – LEBRON 148U 334.5LeBron
Feb 19, 2017WST 192 – EST 182O 352.0West
Feb 14, 2016EST 173 – WST 196O 320.0West
Feb 15, 2015EST 158 – WST 163O 299.5West
Feb 16, 2014WST 155 – EST 163O 291.0East
Feb 17, 2013WST 143 – EST 138U 295.0West
Feb 26, 2012EST 149 – WST 152O 283.5West
Feb 20, 2011WST 148 – EST 143O 272.5West
Feb 14, 2010WST 139 – EST 141O 262.0Push
Feb 15, 2009WST 146 – EST 119O 264.0West
Feb 17, 2008WST 128 – EST 134P 262.0East
Feb 18, 2007WST 153 – EST 132O 256.5West

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that out of the last 13 All-Star games, 10 have gone over. That’s a striking trend. 

You can also see that the amount of points scored was on the rise most of the years up until 2018, when the current captain-led format was introduced. 

This year’s changes with the 4th quarter Target Score will surely bring down the total amount of points scored in the game compared to previous years. Here’s a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of scoring from the last two All-Star games:

20191234T
Team LeBron37455046178
Team Giannis53423633164
20181234T
Team LeBron31453339148
Team Stephen42363433145

Let’s apply this new format to last year’s game and see what happens. Team LeBron was up 132-131 against Team Giannis after three quarters. With the target score of 24 applied to the leading team, LeBron’s squad would have won the game when they reached 156 points. That’s 22 points less than what they actually scored in the last quarter in the 2019 All-Star Game. 

Looking back at that table of results, you’ll also notice that the Western Conference All-Stars dominated the games and were ATS winners in 8 of the last eleven occasions when the game was still played in the traditional East vs. West format. After the format changed in 2018, the teams LeBron James has picked and led have won both times. 

How to approach the 2020 NBA All-Star Game?

At the time of writing, bookmakers hadn’t yet put out lines for the upcoming All-Star game. What should we keep our eyes out for when they do? 

Where the Over/Under line is being set is certainly interesting. As we discovered earlier, sportsbooks have historically been poor at estimating the amount of scoring. The All-Star game went over 77% of the time in our sample and last year the difference was 27.5 points. How will the bookies react to this and the new format?

In terms of the winner of the game and the spread, it should be noted that Team LeBron definitely looks stronger on paper. Here are the lineups for the game: 

Team LeBron James*

1. Anthony Davis*, Lakers

2. Kawhi Leonard*, Clippers

3. Luka Doncic*, Mavericks

4. James Harden*, Rockets

5. Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers

6. Ben Simmons, 76ers

7. Nikola Jokic, Nuggets

8. Jayson Tatum, Celtics

9. Chris Paul, Thunder

10. Russell Westbrook, Rockets

11. Domantas Sabonis, Pacers

Team Giannis Antetokounmpo*

1. Joel Embiid*, 76ers

2. Pascal Siakam*, Raptors

3. Kemba Walker*, Celtics

4. Trae Young*, Hawks

5. Khris Middleton, Bucks

6. Bam Adebayo, Heat

7. Rudy Gobert, Jazz

8. Jimmy Butler, Heat

9. Kyle Lowry, Raptors

10. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

11. Donovan Mitchell, Jazz

* Starters

ESPN.com sums the advantage up well:

“Team LeBron will have six of the top 10 scorers in the NBA this season (Harden, Lillard, Doncic, Leonard, Davis and James). To make matters worse for Team Giannis fans, LeBron’s squad has the edge in rebounds, assists, steals and 3-pointers made this season. Team Giannis has the edge in blocks, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and dunks.”

If you want to draw some conclusions from the Western Conference’s historical dominance in the All-Star Game, here’s one thing to consider: nine out of the twelve players in LeBron’s team are from the West, which of course means that nine of the twelve in Team Giannis’ roster are from the East.

If the spread is close, as it usually has been for the All-Star game, Team LeBron might be a good pick.

Now, let’s remember that it’s hard to make well-educated investment decisions for the NBA All-Star game. It’s an exhibition game where hardly any defense is played, and players might not be extremely motivated to compete. 

In short, it’s not a very serious affair. And while we discovered some interesting trends that could lead to better decisions, it might be better to treat this as a fun occasion rather than a place for serious investments.

Now, if you want to learn how to build those serious sports investments, check out John Todora’s new book – “Zero Correlation Investing – The Score Metrics Secret”. It’s currently on sale for a limited time, so do yourself a favor and go take a look right away!

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