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Handicapping NBA with “Resting Starters”

With a long eighty game season that requires teams travel extensively there’s no practical way that even the best NBA team can turn in their best effort night after night.  NBA handicappers have been aware of this concept for decades and have used it to find advantageous betting situations.  It takes a good working knowledge of the individual teams to isolate potential ‘flat spots’ in the NBA schedule.  Once you find them, however, you will likely have the opportunity to use the concept multiple times throughout the season.  Some factors that are considered are travel and scheduling but every team has a unique chemistry and focus.

In recent years, the NBA has made an effort to reduce situations where teams have to play back to back games and too many games in a certain number of days.  Additionally, there has been an effort to plan schedules with a more mindful approach to travel.  ‘Flat spot’ situations as outlined in the previous paragraph still exist but they don’t appear quite as frequently as they did in an earlier era of NBA basketball play.


In the past decade a new trend has emerged that can also provide favorable NBA betting opportunities.  In every sport, there has always been a fear that a team will exert too much intensity during the regular season and not have any left when the playoffs arrive.  The biggest fear is that nagging injuries or fatigue will render a star player less effective.  For that reason, many NBA coaches now ‘manage the workload’ of elite players or players with a history of injuries.  This can take a variety of forms—some coaches just limit the minutes that players play during the regular season in hopes of keeping them ‘fresh’ for the playoffs.  A more extreme approach has become common in recent years where star players will simply ‘take the night off’ at various points throughout the season and sit out a game entirely.  For example, many coaches will let star players ‘sit out’ the second of a back to back situation.  The NBA doesn’t really like this approach but they understand the importance of having the best players playing at the highest level when the playoffs begin.

This new era in managing workload has required serious NBA handicappers to start tracking a team’s performance both straight up and against the spread when one or more top stars is out of the lineup due to ‘rest’.  The kneejerk assumption is that a good team will be less effective without their top stars in the lineup.  This is no doubt true in the longterm but not such a certainty in the short term.  It’s a similar dynamic to teams that experience short term injuries to star players—in many cases, the reserves take advantage of the opportunity to play more minutes.  There’s also the understanding of what a team’s overall goal is in resting players with many players and teams gaining motivation from ‘holding serve’ and winning games with one of their All Stars out of the lineup.


One of the great things about this situation is that the ‘public’ and recreational bettors fail to correctly interpret the situation.  They usually perceive that when a playoff contending team rests their top players it presents an opportunity to bet against them.  The problem with that is a team’s lineup decision is not a big secret to the bookmaker.  When a team rests top players sportsbooks will often ‘shade’ the line in the direction of the other team.  The result is that betting against the team resting players requires paying a premium that isn’t justified in terms of line value.

Usually the right move is to take advantage of the ‘public’s’ tendency to misread this situation.  Not only will you get a team that is frequently more motivated to ‘pick up the slack’ for their out of the lineup stars but one that is getting some line value in the process.  Obviously, this isn’t something that applies to every team in every situation.  That’s why it is essential to pay attention to how teams perform with top stars out of the lineup for rest.  Preferably, you should track not only the SU and ATS record but other performance metrics when stars are resting such as points for and against, offense and defensive FG % and total assists among others. 

One of the best things you can do to find success as a sports bettor is to be a contrarian.  When ‘the crowd’ all goes one way it is seldom a mistake to go the other way.  That is definitely at play here as we go against the public perception that a team without top stars in the lineup is destined to lose when that is assuredly not the case.

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