NBA: Overachievers and Underachievers

by Power Sports

Today I wanted to take a look at some NBA teams that - objectively speaking - have either overachieved or underachieved this season. The objective metric I’ll focus on is the team’s actual number of straight up wins vs. the number of games in which they’ve been favored. If a team’s actual SU win total greatly exceeds the number of games in which they’ve been favored, I think it’s fair to say they’ve “overachieved.” On the flip side, if a team’s number of actual SU wins falls well short of the number of times they’ve been favored, I think it’s fair to say they’ve “underachieved.” 

Two months ago, I looked at a number of teams that I thought could be potential risers and fallers in the NBA standings. I’m proud to say that much of what I said in that article has played out. 

The benchmark, or differential, I used to determine if a team has truly over or under achieved was 10. Teams with 10 or more actual wins than the number of times they’ve been favored are the overachievers. Similarly, it takes 10 fewer actual wins vs. the number of times favored to be considered an underachiever.

Overachievers

1. Charlotte - Here is a team I do not understand. The Hornets have been favored in only 18 of their first 60 games, yet have a 30-30 SU record. On top of that, mounting injuries “should have” derailed their season. Only four teams in the East have a worse YTD point differential and they are being outscored by 1.6 points per 100 possessions. Even if the Hornets make the play-in round, they won’t last long.

2. New York - Basketball seems to be back in the Big Apple as the Knicks have gone 34-28 SU despite being favored in only 21 games. They are 16-5 SU and 15-6 ATS when favored. Unlike Charlotte, the Knicks seem to be “more legit” as they lead the league in the number of points per game allowed. Even though they just had a 9-game win streak snapped, I expect New York to finish in the top six in the East and avoid the play-in round.

3. Washington - The Wizards just had an 8-game win streak snapped. Even with that, they are still only 10th in the East, just barely in the play-in round. They are a bottom four team in the East in terms of point differential and net efficiency. The defense has gotten better recently, but the Wiz are still 28th in points per game allowed. They do have two All-Stars (Beal and Westbrook), but have only been favored 17 times all season. They should feel fortunate to be 27-34 SU. ‘

Honorable Mention: The league’s bottom feeders aren’t favored often, so almost all of them project as “overachievers” by this metric that I’m using. Maybe that’s a flaw of the metric as I don’t think teams with 21 or fewer wins should really be considered as overachieving. Cleveland has won 21 games despite being favored only seven times. Similar examples would be Minnesota and Oklahoma City, who have won 11 and 18 more games (respectively) than the number of times favored. The Thunder have been favored only twice all season!

Underachievers

1. Boston - The Celtics are 32-29 and should finish in the top six in the East. But they have been favored in 41 of 61 games and probably should be doing a lot better. Injuries have been a problem. But still, oddsmakers have more faith than they probably should. Boston is only 6-11 SU and 5-12 ATS as a road favorite. 

2. Denver - The Nuggets will probably finish fourth in the West, which is lower than either of the previous two seasons (2nd and 3rd). What’s interesting about that is it felt they overachieved both times. This season, they have been favored in 50 of 61 games, but are only 40-21. If they do end up matched with the Lakers in the first round, most people will pick against Denver and I can’t say that I disagree with that.

3. Miami - The Heat were in the NBA Finals last October, but won’t be getting back there in July. First off, they are probably going to be in the play-in round. A big reason for that is a failure to win when favored. Miami has gone off as the favorite in 43 of its 62 games, but they are just 32-30 as of April 27th. Last season saw them go a league best 8-1 SU in overtime games. This season they are 0-4 SU in OT. 

Honorable Mention: Just like bad teams are misleading overachievers by this metric, good teams are misleading underachievers. Milwaukee has been an underdog only four times. Obviously, they aren’t going to go 56-4 SU. But 37-23 feels disappointing. Utah has lost a league-low 17 times, but has only been an underdog in three games. The Clippers have 43 wins while being favored 53 times


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