Betting on basketball is one of the tougher tasks a sports bettor could undertake, and a large part of the problem is figuring out the real value of home court advantage from game to the next.
In actuality, home court advantage in the NBA is not the standard three-points that you would think. According to Jeff Sagarin and his advanced statistics, the average home court advantage in the NBA is right around 2.33 points per game. In comparison, home field advantage in the NFL is worth right around 2.5 points. Sportsbooks are still known for largely awarding three-points to the home team on average.
Interestingly enough, in spite of that fact that it seems to be proven that the road team is the better team to bet on by the slightest of margins, home teams are cashing at a rate of 50.3 percent over the course of the last two seasons.
Road favorites hit 52.04 percent over the course of last season, while road underdogs only hit 49.44 percent. The percentage is remarkably constant throughout the league, but it definitely isn’t an exact science or a 50/50 coin flip as the stats suggest.
The Many Exceptions To Home Court Advantage
The problem with the schedule in the NBA is that home court advantage is often ruined because of travel. Every team in the league has at least eight examples of games on back-to-back nights, and some teams have as many as 18 to 20 depending on the season. All too often, a team that is playing at home had to travel the night before to get back home, while the visiting team was often resting having already traveled thanks to a day off.
In the 2012-13 season, teams playing the second game of a back-to-back went 192-187-6 ATS. However, what was interesting was the fact that teams that played a home game followed by a road game went just 62-75-1 ATS.
In this instance, it is clear that home court advantage is worth significantly more than the average 2.33 points per game, and the truth of the matter is that the home court edge should probably be worth around 4-4.50 points per game when a team is going on the road in the second portion of a back-to-back.
It is interesting though, to realize that when teams were on the road and played back-to-back nights on the road, in the second game, they went 94-78-3 ATS. Translation: The oddsmakers aren’t putting enough stock into playing the second game on the road after playing a home game, though the premise really is exactly the same. Either way, the team has to play a game, then hop on a plane and head to another city for another game.
Another factor to consider when you value home court advantage is exactly where the home court is. There aren’t many arenas across the country that hold a distinct advantage, but the two in which that is the case are Pepsi Arena in Denver and Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City. The Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz are always valued higher at home than the other teams in the league.
Last season, the Nuggets and the Jazz combined to go 68-14 SU and home. Those same two teams went 32-50 SU on the road. Not surprisingly, they were also amongst the best ATS teams in the league at home as well, going 28-13 and 24-17 ATS respectively. The two teams also combined to go hit a whopping 68 percent of their games from an ATS standpoint when they were hosting games against teams that had played the night before.
In truth, if you go back and factor out the legitimate home court advantages for the Jazz and the Nuggets and revisit the number that Sagarin presented, the rest of the NBA would legitimately only be worth giving right around two points of an advantage to on a nightly basis.
However, as we have seen, it really isn’t just a blanket statement that home teams are worth a certain number of points more than road teams. The factors of where the game is being played and what the schedule calls for are clearly major factors in all of this as well, and all of it should be taken into consideration when handicapping the NBA.