Last week, I took a look at the five best teams in the NBA with regard to their spread differential — a team’s average point differential relative to the spread — to see which teams are beating the expectations of sportsbooks.
This week we’re going the other way with the five teams that have been the worst in that category.
That number isn’t always indicative of team strength or opportunities to fade, but it does reflect how the market has overestimated what they can do so far in this young season.
Here’s a look at why these teams have been underperforming spread expectations and what the future holds for their market expectations.
The Rockets are unsurprisingly here, given that they’re 1-14. There was talk that this team was going to be fun and exciting, and now everyone’s finding out that when you play a bunch of young guys, that’s not what happens.
The veterans’ on-court performance has been worse, with DJ Augustin and Daniel Theis first and third-worst respectively in on-court net rating. However, the kids aren’t much better, with Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun second and fourth.
However, the market has been hesitant about dinging them. The Rockets are 4-2 ATS this season as a double digit dog, and 1-6 if they are a favored or less than nine-point dogs. They underperform in all spots where they aren’t clearly outmatched.
The Rockets are 5-10 in their first quarter. They have the 30th-ranked starting unit rating. It is not a bad idea to get them out of the box. Expect them to switch to full-on tanking by Christmas.
New York Knicks
After that great start by the Knicks, things seem to have fallen off a mountain. They’re 7-8 ATS overall, but when they don’t cover, boy do they not cover.
The Knicks have been favorites for their last six games. They are currently 2-4 ATS in those matches, failing to cover by 17 point per loss (!).
New York is the league’s third-worst net rating among players starting. Their starters are being annihilated night after night. Tom Thibodeau has been trying to close games with his bench players on extended runs of more than a quarter. (Spoiler alert: you can’t play bench guys 18 minutes straight and win.)
Their defense has plummeted as we expected in preseason; they’re now 21st in adjusted defensive rating and 14th in adjusted offensive rating after starting the season on-fire.
The Knicks are currently 6-9 in the first quarter of ATS this season, which gives them a great opportunity to fade against teams with strong starting units.
New Orleans Pelicans
This isn’t a mystery. The Pelicans seem completely lost and there has never been Zion Williamson.
Now, the problem is that Zion Williamson is no longer needed by the Pels with 12 games under.500. What’s the point with the team this far back in the standings? The new regime seems doomed to failure if the previous one is completely lost.
Still, facts are facts, and from a betting perspective, the Pels have covered just twice in the month of November, once against the Grizzlies (whom we’ll discuss shortly) and the other cover by 1.5 points vs. Brooklyn. Despite Miami missing Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo and Bam Adebayo, they failed to cover Wednesday’s game against the Heat.
It is equally concerning that the Pelicans don’t seem to have an identity under first-year head coach Willie Green. Green was supposed to be the antidote to Stan Van Gundy. However, the Pelicans are currently ranked 24th in offense while 29th in defense.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images Pictured: Zion Williamson #1 from the New Orleans Pelicans.
Williamson would they be able to vault them into the top 10 offense, 14 slots? He certainly wouldn’t jump them into the top 15 defensively.
It’s a matter of time before the market starts to undervalue the Pelicans. However, teams will attempt to counter the market’s undervaluation by taking measures to prevent losses when they turn to tank. Last season, Orlando, Oklahoma City and Houston all finished below.500 ATS.
We’re a few months away from tank season, though. Brandon Ingram is a recent addition to the Pelicans. While early returns have not been great, maybe he just needs time to settle in.
The season began like a buzzsaw for Memphis, but it has fallen back to Earth. They started at 5-3 and covered in six-of-8 games. They are now 2-4 SU and have covered twice within six games. When they’ve failed to cover, they’ve failed to cover by an average of over 20 points.
It’s not the offense, which is 13th and stellar with the starters.
So … it’s the defense.
Memphis is 30th in adjusted defensive rating.
Jaren Jackson, Steven Adams, and Ja Morant have a combined defense rating of 103. This combination has worked well. Jackson helps with the backside defense, while Adams plays a safe drop strategy.
Their problem is the bench. The defense falls off a cliff when Jaren Jackson gets disconnected from the starters. Xavier Tillman’s numbers are catastrophic.
There’s not a stretch or quarter you can point to. The Grizzlies are 6-8 ATS during the first and fourth quarters. However, that is not enough to make them vulnerable.
Their porous defense has been exposed to the market. Even in an age with lower totals, the under is still 6-2 in the eight last games, with Memphis giving up 110 points or more in five of those.
Memphis’ offense drops to 100 points per 100 possessions when they lose. Teams that can stop Memphis’ offense will grind them to dust. The under is 5-2 in games Memphis is an underdog.
Los Angeles Lakers
This one isn’t hard to figure out; LeBron James is out.
The Lakers have outscored their opponents when he’s been on the floor overall his minutes (albeit at a paltry +2.9 per 100 possessions). They’ve lost the minutes without LeBron. It’s pretty much that simple.
The problem is that Russell Westbrook’s acquisition was made with the intention to allow the Big 3 to each have off night, to relieve the burden on James, who had missed significant time in two of his previous three seasons. James is supposed to be able for the Lakers to survive without him. They’re not.
The most concerning aspect is the melting of the identity that has helped them through difficult times, their defense. The Lakers are ranked 15th in defensive rating for this season, and 20th when adjusted by opponent.
That’s deeply concerning because another central tenet of what the Lakers were supposed to be is a team that added worse defensive personnel but would be held together by coaching and scheme, along with Anthony Davis’ supreme defensive ability. That hasn’t translated.
The Lakers rank 27th in opponent points per 100 possessions. The assumption would be that it’s because of Westbrook falling asleep or Carmelo Anthony’s play.
It is actually on the frontcourt of Lakers. I reviewed all their paint points, and while the main takeaway was “Good God, DeAndre Jordan is struggling worse than I expected,”Anthony Davis appears to be interested in many of these possessions.
The Lakers give up the second-most points to losses per game in the league. That’s a frightening stat for a team that prides itself on “no easy stuff.”
This team will struggle until their defense is stable.
LeBron is expected back by the end the week. James is not the answer to all their problems, especially when it comes to the spread. The Lakers’ schedule continues to be incredibly soft through Christmas, but unless their defense improves significantly, they’ll struggle to cover.