Preparing for the unknown – Considerations for the NBA’s return

The NBA season will be back at the end of July, and things are going to be a little different compared to normal. In this article, the ScoreMetrics Lab takes a look at some of the most pressing things you should consider when making investment decisions when basketball returns.

The effects of rest and players returning from long-term injuries

The suspension of play from early March all the way until the end of July is longer than a normal NBA offseason. It will be interesting to see how beneficial this will be to teams that have had players return from long-term injuries during this period of time, and for teams that have heavily relied on certain star players who have now had the time to rest before the playoffs begin.

For the latter category, James Harden and the Houston Rockets come to mind as the most interesting case. The narrative around Harden’s playoffs performances has been about tiring down in the final stretches for years now because he has had to carry his team on his shoulders. This year there will be no excuses for not having had enough rest, and on top of that, Harden’s usage has not been as high as in recent years thanks to Russell Westbrook’s contributions to the Rockets’ offense. Harden has also lost weight during the break in play, which should mean that he’s in prime condition heading into the postseason. 

Of course, everyone has had an equal amount of time off, but can a fully recharged Harden be finally unstoppable? We should find out soon enough. The bookmakers had the Rockets at around +700 to win the West and at +1300 to win it all at the time of writing.  

Another superstar who has reportedly shed off a lot of extra weight; Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. The Serbian has been criticized for being out of shape – now it’s time to see how a leaner version of him will look in action. Denver is the fourth favorite to win the West at +1200.

Another interesting team will be the injury-ravaged Portland Trail Blazers, who will have a bunch of key players returning for the restart of the season. Sitting at the ninth seed (3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies), Portland could have the potential to make an unlikely leap to the playoffs with Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hood coming back to the lineup. At +350 to reach the playoffs, the bookmakers are certainly giving them a fair chance.

Home court advantage is gone

With all games being played at a single site in Orlando, there will be no home court advantage in this year’s playoffs. What kind of an impact could this have for the rest of the season? 

One of the most interesting cases is the potential meeting of the two Los Angeles teams in the West finals. While both teams play their games at the Staples Center, it’s widely considered that the Lakers always have a home court advantage over the Clippers when the two meet there due to the Lake Show’s superior fanbase in the city. Could this year’s format be an advantage to the Clippers? Bookmakers have them as joint favorites to come out of the West at around +150 each.

And how about the teams that have clearly won more games at home than away? Philadelphia have been dreadful away from home this season with a 10-24 record on the road (the Sixers are 29-2 at home). And at 27-5 at home and 14-19 away, Miami are another team that clearly enjoys playing in front of their fans. Will they be negatively affected by playing at a neutral site? The oddsmakers have both at around +900 to win the East.

NBA player futures investments

The MVP and rookie of the year races should be over if we think about them purely from a logical point of view. A majority of the season has been played and only eight more games will be added on top of the approximately 65 games that most teams have played. 

The body of work is there, and there shouldn’t really be any doubt that Giannis Antetokounmpo will lift the MVP trophy and Ja Morant will get the rookie of the year honors. The bookmakers certainly agree, with Antetokounmpo getting around -5000 and Morant -10000 to win the respective trophies.

But do voters vote purely based on logic? They don’t. What if LeBron plays all eight games and dominates, while Giannis rests for a few and his numbers aren’t that awesome? Or if Zion drags the Pelicans to a play-in series with the Grizzlies and New Orleans ends up winning it?

Those factors could be enough to make voters succumb to recency bias and vote for LeBron or Zion for the trophies. The press was already hyping up both of their cases before the pandemic, bored of the status quo and presenting various storylines where they could make a run for the trophy. LeBron’s odds even came down significantly just before the pandemic halted the season.

Is there value in investing in LeBron at +1000 or Zion at +1400? These seem like long shots with returns that are not worth it.

Conclusion

There are a lot of unknowns in the air and that makes investment decisions even trickier than usual for the rest of the NBA season. We will be monitoring the developments closely and be on a constant lookout for good opportunities. 

Stay tuned for more as we get ready for the return of basketball! 

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