When investing in sports, The ScoreMetrics lab often looks for edges that are different than just finding what we think is the best team. Every ScoreMetrics system starts with a theory and today we are today we are going to look into the validity of instead of investing on a team, trend or pattern, we buy stock in a superstar – namely Kawhi Leonard.
The reigning finals MVP is considered to be one of the best players in the league. After bringing a championship to Toronto last season, he now plies his trade in Los Angeles with the Clippers. So far this season, he is putting up 26.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5 assists per game while being ranked the 7th most efficient player in the league with a PER of 25.61. The numbers are great and he is a joy to watch.
But is he a good investment opportunity?
To find out if investing in Kawhi is sensible, we looked at historical data on games he played in, starting from his 2015-2016 season with the San Antonio Spurs, up until today (the 15th of January 2020). This amounts to a total of 292 games played for Kawhi for the Spurs, the Toronto Raptors and his current team the Clippers. Playoff games are included in the sample.
The idea of this exercise is to spot long-term patterns or current trends that provide a good return to support your investment decisions.
Here’s what we found out.
ATS (Against the spread)
Kawhi’s ATS% over the full sample period is 51%. At home games that same number is 54% and away it’s 47%. There’s a slight edge with the home ATS play, but this would have amounted to a return of investment of 2.6% over a five-year period. Not worthy of our time.
While there are no clear long-term edges to be found in Kawhi’s ATS%, his current season with the Clippers provides some interesting trends.
The Clippers have an ATS% of 61% in the 31 games Kawhi has played in. In comparison, their ATS% in all games this season is 52.5%. Investing an equal amount in each of Kawhi’s games’ ATS this season would have resulted in a solid 15.9% return so far.
What’s more, out of the Clippers’ 19 ATS wins while Kawhi plays, 13 have come against teams that have a losing record as of the 15th of January 2020.
While the sample size is small, the ScoreMetrics lab found that investing in Kawhi against the spread this season could prove to be worthwhile, especially against losing teams.
There are no long-term edges to be found in investing in the over or under on Kawhi with his teams going over 48% of the time and under in 52% of the total games he has played in since the 2015-2016 season.
However, there is again an interesting trend to be followed this season. The Clippers have gone under in 58% of the games Kawhi has played in. That would amount to a 10.2% return if you would have invested an equal amount in the under for all of Kawhi’s games so far this season.
There are no clear reasons that explain this under trend. The Clippers have gone under in 18 games so far this season when Kawhi plays. 11 of those have been at home while 8 have been on the road. They are 4/5 against opponents from the East and 9/13 against the West. The teams in this sample range from some of the best in the league to the worst.
There’s no question that Kawhi positively affects winning. His teams have won 73% of the time when he has played since the beginning of the 2015-2016 season. While he has certainly had great teammates, he’s clearly been the number one guy in his team throughout this period of time.
Unfortunately, the bookmakers are well aware of this when setting the moneyline odds for his teams. While investing in Kawhi’s moneyline may intuitively seem like a good play, the odds you’ll receive from bookies will make sure it’s not. Investing in the Clippers’ moneyline in each game this season would have given a slightly negative return despite having a record of 28 wins against 13 losses. Doing the same on his earlier Spurs teams would have returned a negative ROI of over 10%.
The ScoreMetrics lab found that his Raptors team was an exception to this last season though with a positive return of almost 11%. The bookmakers probably undervalued the team and Kawhi’s potential contributions due to him missing almost all of the previous season with a serious calf injury. We can be pretty sure that they won’t be making the same mistake again after a stellar season that resulted in a championship for Toronto.
The case for investing in a player instead of a team is an interesting one. We weren’t able to uncover profitable long-term patterns for Kawhi but that was to be expected due to his high profile in the league. Could there be something to be found in less covered players who are not necessarily the marquee superstars in the league though?
This exercise also serves as a good indicator of trends that can be found within a season and within certain contexts. Will the ATS% and under trends we uncovered last for the whole season? Only time will tell, but the ScoreMetrics lab will definitely look into them as investment opportunities for now.
The ScoreMetrics Lab is the engine that runs the Sports Trading System operation, consisting of a team of researchers and writers who are constantly testing and retesting algorithms. They work hand in hand with our Head Trader and Creator of ScoreMetrics, John Todora to help find new breakthroughs and develop new systems.