We live in the time of analytics, the age of Google, a Renaissance of numbers. Sports bettors these days are drowning in data in greater numbers than financial market analysts. Sports stat tracking has transitioned from a necessity to a hobby to a fan obsession, and mathematicians and stat freaks have created entirely new ways for fans and sports betting fanatics to look at the athletes and performances that make up their contests.
Raw numbers being what they are, the advanced metrics used by today’s stat-crunchers to analyze player and team potential are worth nothing with the ability to interpret them and put them into practice. Thanks to the Internet and the expansion of mobile technology, any fool can look up a metric – the trick is to put it to use in a way that makes your NBA betting more enjoyable, more successful, or more lucrative.
Since such a big part of applying advanced metrics to NBA betting strategy involves simply understanding what the metrics are and how valuable they are to handicapping, it’s important to understand which metrics are useful for the kind of handicapping done by NBA bettors. We’ll also discuss how these metrics are used to predict future performance in a way that the standard way of gauging a player’s value (looking at past performance) simply can’t.
Player Efficiency Rating (PER)
The key word in the name of this metric is “efficiency;” essentially, PER is a way of tracking a player’s overall production on a per-minute basis. This is one of its strengths and is also its main limitation in terms of value to NBA bettors.
PER is a homogenized stat that takes both positive and negative contributions under consideration and presents them so that things like playing time and the pace of different teams and games don’t affect a player’s overall rating. In that sense, it is a very fair way to judge different player’s contributions, even if they’re on very different teams or play very different amounts per-game.
The knock against PER is that it weighs offensive performance a little too heavily, and defensive performance way too lightly. Defensive studs and players that excel on both sides of the court have an unusually low PAR, while guys who score a ton but don’t contribute much in other categories have inflated PAR numbers. For that reason, and because it is intended to break down a player or team’s statistical abilities in terms of time rather than overall performance, PAR is a good in-road to judging overall value, but should not be used as a stand-alone stat when it comes to picking winners.
Useful for sports bettors only in terms of head-to-head analysis between players, the Win Shares metric crunches a bunch of numbers and spits out a stat that indicates how much a player contributes to his team’s wins.
It’s a little complex, but that’s a good thing. Where PER fails to take defensive play under much consideration, Win Shares is actually a combined total of Offensive Win Shares and Defensive Win Shares, which are figured the exact same way with different stats. Offensive Win Shares come from a calculation involving an average of points produced and number of possessions. Defensive Win Shares are the same from a defensive perspective.
Sometimes it happens that a game can be picked based on an analysis of head-to-head competition, and since the season is so long, this will probably happen multiple times every year. In that case, Win Shares is a more effective overall stat than PER if for no other reason than that it consider both sides of the ball as well as the value of a player to a successful lineup, with all parts playing their supporting roles.
The major flaw with the Win Shares stat (at least for sports bettors) is that it doesn’t take injury time into account, so good players can have their Win Shares numbers reduced during a period when they’re simply hurt. It’s also not an accurate measure of talent outside about the 6th man range, since PT is limited. The same is true for good players on teams that don’t get many W’s, specifically the cellar-dweller teams that contain an occasional player or two with heavy deviations from point norms.
True Shooting Percentage (TS%)
For some players (especially at the higher-end of the NBA talent pool), traditional field-goal efficiency is a misleading statistic. For sports bettors concerned with picking winners (and for fantasy players, a big reason this statistic has gained in notoriety), the TS% stat gives a better overall picture of a scorer’s abilities than the old-fashioned percentage calculation techniques.
For starters, field goal percentage doesn’t take free throw shooting under consideration – free-throw shooting is one of the most efficient ways to score in the NBA and is often the difference-maker in straight-up wins and losses. That means field goal percentage totally ignores one of the most valuable statistics in terms of handicapping games.
Another reason TS% is a better indicator of a scorer’s talent – it treats three-point shooting and regular field goal shooting differently in order to give a better single-look indicator of a player’s overall value. True shooting percentage indicates that James Harden is much more valuable than Andre Iguodala, even though Iguodala’s traditional “field goal percentage” numbers were better. TS% is able to indicate when a scorer’s points are distributed in such a way as to make his team more successful.
Since TS% can be looked at on an individual player basis or looking at teams of shooters as a whole, it is a great advanced metric for NBA bettors to become familiar with. Naturally, since it is limited to shooting ability only, it must be combined with some defensive stats for a complete picture of a player or team to form.
Free-Throw Rate (FTR)
This advanced metric is so simple, it can be calculated in a bettor’s head while reading a stat line. A player’s FTR is simply his number of free-throw attempts divided by his number of field-goal attempts. As a measure of a player or team’s efficiency on offense, it can’t be beat by any other advanced metric. Generally speaking, the more free-throws a player or team attempts, the more successful they are. Teams that get to the foul line more win more often.
What’s fun about a metric like Free-Throw Rate is that it can be flipped to indicate how efficient a team’s defense is. Taking a look at the opposing team’s FTR for a given game is a good way of seeing how that defense performed, and these numbers can be drawn out for an entire season, a set number of games, or even a set number of games against a given opponent or opponent’s offensive style.
The FTR metric helps bettors handicap teams who put up big offensive numbers, especially teams that have high field-goal percentages – if a team is a high-octane producer of points, but doesn’t get to the free-throw line that often, their offensive advantage shrinks considerably. Put that team up against a solid defensive team with an average FTR and the pick should be clear to any bettor.
Advanced metrics are tools designed to help fans understand players and teams better, but also to assist fantasy sports players and sports bettors in their pursuit of success. Thousands of oddball statistics exist, but the ones above are those most valuable to bettors looking to quickly pick winners for a given days’ schedule. Incorporating an understanding of these readily-available advanced stats is a step in the direction of advanced basketball wagering strategy.