NBA Home Court Advantage

The value of home court advantage in the NBA has been a topic that has been widely discussed in recent years and hotly debated when thought of as NBA betting strategy. Due to a 2016-17 NBA Season that featured the lowest winning percentage in NBA history for home teams at 57.4% many are wondering if NBA betting sites are overvaluing home-court advantage. ESPN jumped on this trend about halfway through the season.

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NBA Home Court Advantage Statistics

Though the statistics were only from a half-season, there was a stark difference from NBA home-court win percentage, both historically and throw the past several years. The article cited several key points, which included:

  • In 1976-77, the home team won a startling 68.5 percent of games. In 2002-03, it was 62.8 percent. Over the past four seasons, the home team’s win percentage has fallen steadily from 61.2 to an all-time low of 53.7 right now.
  • In two years, home-court advantage has been sliced by nearly a third (28.5 percent), which represents the largest two-year drop in NBA history. From a points perspective, the home team has seen just a 2.2-point advantage this season. We’ve never seen it this small. Last season, it was plus-2.6. The season before that, plus-3.2.

At the time the article was written, home teams were shockingly only winning 53.7% percent of their games on their home floor.

Home Court Advantage In NBA Playoffs

In a beautiful piece, by The Economist, the author wrote about the significant turnaround teams made in the second half of the season and into the first three rounds of playoffs:

“According to data provided by David Corby of Basketball-Reference.com, from 1979 to 2014 NBA teams won 62.2% of their regular-season games at home. From January 28th, the day that the first ESPN piece about the decline of home-court advantage appeared, until the end of the regular season on April 15th, home teams won…62.1% of their games. This whiplash-inducing regression to the mean has continued in the playoffs: through the first three rounds, hosts have won precisely 60% of the time. The deviation that was supposed to occur less than once every 1,000 trials by chance turned out to have absolute zero predictive power whatsoever.”

Geez, that was harsh. The guys at ESPN weren’t entirely wrong, however, and they offered several reasons why the home-court advantage in the Association was diminishing. We’ll get more into those reasons later. Also, to be fair, the notorious tout, (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) Wayne Allyn Root was the first to mention the oddsmakers overrating home-court in 2013-14 NBA Playoffs.

We do feel sorry for the bettors that read the article in January at ESPN and decided to turn this into a betting strategy. We’re still not sure how the betting sites are adjusting to this new “trend”, but it seemed to be a non-issue in the second half of the season, with the home winning percentages nearly identical to 1979 to 2014 data that had home teams winning 62.2% of their games.

Once again, though, even with this second half turnaround that made ESPN look foolish with the timing of their article, there was certainly a downward trend concerning home-court advantage. Once again from The Economist:

“None of this means that the “true” home-court edge is set in stone, or that all deviations from the prior norm will regress back to the established mean. On the contrary, numerous changes in the ratio over the years have stuck: for example, NBA teams won 65% of their regular-season home games from 1975-1992 compared with just 60% since then. And despite home teams’ strong run during the final months of the season, their overall 57.4% win percentage 2014-15 was indeed the lowest in the league’s history. Is there any reason to believe that some portion of this decline may turn out to be permanent as well?”

Is NBA Home Court Advantage Losing Its Value?

ESPN offers up several reasons for the decline in NBA home court advantage. The Economist takes these theories on, debunks them or considers them as possible contributing factors. There’s no doubt that home-court advantage has been shrinking for decades according to winning percentages but have there been league-wide changes in recent years that are contributing to this shift?

NBA Crowds Are Less Intense

NBA crowdsThe argument here is that the NBA has become “corporatized” and the intensity of the hardcore fan has been replaced with corporate big wigs and their clients in luxury boxes. When most owners speak of new stadiums or arenas these days, their talk is mostly surrounding luxury boxes and sponsors. Are the hardcore, working-class fans being priced out of the experience? Do fans, in general, simply care less about the game than they did years ago due to electronic distractions, such as cell phones?

Measuring sound levels or “interest” in a game by the crowd isn’t exactly something that is easily measured. Arenas these days are quite loud, but even that is monitored by the league to prevent things like pumping in crowd noise or increasing the volume of music to distract other teams when they have the ball. The league is also doing extremely well. The salary cap will increase in the 2016-17 Season from $67 million to $90 million. The 2015 NBA Finals between the Warriors and Cavaliers broke all-time rating records for ABC.

The technology factor is one to consider. More people are glued to their phones and are less interested in the game, but again, as we mentioned above – crowd noise is up overall in the past few years. There may be some distinctive advantage based on decibel ratings at each game, but this would be arena and team dependent.

Traveling For NBA Games Is Easier

We’re speaking of traveling when it comes to chartered jets and fancy hotels, not walking with the ball on the court. Though, depending if you’re a star player or not, traveling on the hardwood may be getting easier. But, that’s a topic for another day.

For all the reasons given by ESPN for the rise of away teams, this one offers the least evidence concerning contributing factors. Yes, traveling has gotten better since the earlier days of the league, but that happened nearly 20 years ago. Today’s athlete is much better trained than they were two decades ago as well. If you happened to read how LeBron James recovers after each Finals game, it’s easy to see how far sports medicine, dieting, strengthening and conditioning has come.

Preparation and knowledge of opponents have also come quite a long way from the 1990s. There are no more VCRs or videotapes to worry about grabbing. Everything is done electronically, and videos on opponents or other preparation material can be viewed from just about anywhere. All of this stuff may help the road team level the playing field with home squads, but the change in technology isn’t exactly new. This technology has been available for some years. Each NBA team hires staff whose sole job is to prepare video and game footage for upcoming opponents.

The tech to prepare for opponents on the go, while traveling, didn’t come out of thin air over the last few years. Teams have been utilizing this aspect for quite some time. Even if the technological additions helped road teams level the playing field, these would be tough to quantify in any meaningful fashion.

Three-Point Revolution In NBA Basketball

Here’s an area where, ESPN, The Economist and our team at SafestBettingSites.com all seem to agree. In recent years, the NBA has shifted towards a more perimeter oriented game. Teams are shooting more three-pointers than ever before.

In January 2015, the league saw more three-pointers taken per game than free throws for the first time in history. As ESPN points out: “The average NBA game sees 45 3-pointers compared to 44.7 freebies. Ten seasons ago, those figures were 32.1 and 53.2 in January, respectively. After much headway, teams have finally closed the gap.”

The refocus on shooting from downtown has brought down the number of free throws as players are looking for open shots around the perimeter. This translates into fewer drives to the basket and less foul shots. Less contact equals fewer whistles, which takes the game out of the official’s hands to a certain extent. As we’ve mentioned in our articles regarding referees in relation to betting lines, all sports have some element of referee bias when it comes to the home crowd.

In Conclusion – NBA Home Court Advantage

ESPN dug the grave for the home-court advantage a few months too early, but there’s no doubt that something is going on in terms of road winning percentages, even if the change is gradual. However, it’s tough to know what to do with this data as a bettor. Blindly betting visiting teams on the moneyline or point spread next season could end up being a disaster, especially considering how the second half last season ended for teams on the road.

Home and road splits are a massive aspect of betting the NBA. This adds another factor to consider when evaluating teams on the road. Have the oddsmakers adjusted? Do they not buy into the theory that home-court advantage has diminished over the years? Could there be an edge targeting perimeter oriented teams on the road? These questions remain unanswered. We wouldn’t advise bettors to discount the information on home-court advantages completely. There’s something to monitor here, and the next couple seasons will be a big test to see how advantageous home-court truly is in the league.

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