How Big Of An Edge Is NBA Home-Court Advantage
In betting circles, it’s generally understood that home-court advantage is more valuable in the NBA than it is in a number of other sports. For whatever reason, teams at home seem to really have an edge in the NBA whereas sports like the NHL or MLB, home-court advantage is only really a slight edge. Is the NBA home-court advantage benefit legit or is it more of an old wives’ tale? We’re taking a closer look to see how you can take it into account when you’re handicapping basketball games.
The Naked Eye Test
A really basic way to view the home-court advantage in any sport is to look at the end-of-season standings and hone in on the home-away splits for the best and worst teams. Taking a look back to the 2022-23 regular season, here’s a look at the three best teams in terms of home record:
Memphis Grizzlies 35-6
Denver Nuggets 34-7
Milwaukee Bucks 32-9
Boston Celtics 32-9
Taking a look at the top 12 teams from the 2022-23 season, each of them had a home winning percentage of 65% or higher. Also note that 23 of the league’s 30 teams had winning home records last season.
As for the NHL, setting aside the Boston Bruins – who were a historic outlier – only three other teams had a home winning percentage of 65% or better. Meanwhile, 14 teams finished with a home winning record below .500.
In the NFL, nine teams finished with a winning percentage above 65% last season. However, 14 of the league’s teams had a home recover of .500 or worse. In Major League Baseball, home teams won just .533 percent of the time in 2022. Five teams finished with winning percentages of 65% or better – none above 70%.
This isn’t exactly a foolproof, scientific comparison. However, this does give you a high-level contrast from sport-to-sport to see why home-court is more valuable in the NBA.
Reasons For NBA Home-Court Advantage
There are a number of theories as to why home-court advantage is extra valuable in the NBA versus other sports. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common reasons why the home side gets an edge:
The building tends to be a factor that comes into play. One of the reasons for it is because players get to practice in their own arena throughout the offseason. They have their meetings there, get comfortable there and know the contours of the court. There are also different setups for screens, marketing, music and fans around the building. A lot of those moving parts can impact a player’s accuracy for a shot if they’re not used to it. If they are used to it, their blinders might be on to all of those possible distractions.
Comfort Of Playing At Home (Not Traveling)
The comfort of playing at home can’t be overstated. The fact that players are able to stay at home and sleep in their own bed is a big plus. Then they might be able to see their families and eat at their favorite restaurants. Those types of comforts can’t exactly be quantified.
When traveling on the road, the situation is obviously quite different. To start, there is the traveling aspect of it. Instead of simply driving home after a game, players might have to head to an airport, hop on a flight and prepare themselves for a game the next day. It’s not the ideal rest situation.
Best NBA offense so far*
*adjusting for strength of opponents faced, home court advantage and rest while de-emphasizing garbage time possessions. pic.twitter.com/aNeuO5rnnT
— Todd Whitehead (@CrumpledJumper) November 10, 2023
And then don’t forget about the actual accommodations. NBA teams don’t spare any expenses, so the players are going to be staying at nice hotels. Even so, it’s still not the comfort of home. Hotels have check-ins and noises and bedding that might not be their favorite. It’s probably splitting hairs with a number of these but when you add it all up, you can see how home-court advantage – and staying at home – could be a factor.
For whatever reason, the home crowd in the NBA seems to be more of a factor than it is in other sports. Players tend to be a bit more comfortable playing at home and having the crowd cheer them on rather than going on the road and fighting the fan forces.
Some people feel that this one is a bit of a myth, though. While it logically makes sense, some rudimentary studies of home attendance and home performance found no real correlation. It’s hard to tell whether those studies have a lot of credibility because attendance numbers don’t necessarily mean that the crowd will be more fervent or engaged. Some cities have fan bases that are charged up no matter how many people attend. Other arenas can sellout and still be quiet or boo (see: Madison Square Garden) if they’re not thrilled with the state of the franchise.
NBA Betting: How To Take Advantage Of Home-Court
Now that we’ve covered just how much of an advantage the home court can be, let’s take a look at some important betting strategies to think about when handicapping for it. It’s one thing to understand that there’s an edge; it’s another to put that into effect to get yourself an edge.
Value It Properly
When you’re looking at home-court advantage in the NBA, it’s pretty clear that there is an edge but understanding how much is a key to success here. You can’t simply look at a team playing at home, think that their home-court advantage is worth four points (or a handful of points) and bet the game accordingly.
When you’re looking at the lines, you have to evaluate who the home team is and how they play at home. For example, if a team is 20-20 at home, you might be more inclined to bet against them on the moneyline or spread than a team that is 30-10.
Next you want to drill down deeper into the numbers. Does a team play higher-scoring games at home compared to on the road? Do they play at a faster pace at home versus on the road? Do they play even better when they have more rest versus a back-to-back situation?
Generally speaking, you should assume that home court is worth a few points. Understanding all of the other factors like team performance (when at home), rest, who is in the lineup (load management) and some other variables has to guide you to whether three points is enough or too little.
Evaluate The Player Props
One of the most overlooked aspects of the home-away split situation is when bettors only look at the main lines. Yes, we know that teams win more at home in the NBA but you can do more than correlate that to the moneyline and spread. As a matter of fact, when you do start to evaluate the player props, you can probably find a better edge than on the main
lines. That’s because the sportsbooks already bake that home-court advantage into their prices.
Let’s take someone like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the 2022-23 NBA season. Here’s a look at his splits:
31.9 PPG, 5.8 AST, 5.2 REB, 37.1 3P%
31.0 PPG, 5.2 AST, 4.6 REB, 32.7 3P%
There are probably better examples out there but from a quick glance at his splits, SGA performed a little better in certain categories at home compared to on the road. You can take a look at his over-unders for various player props and see the oddsmakers have picked up on that. Here’s another example, maybe a little more pronounced from former league MVP Nikola Jokic:
24.8 PPG, 13.1 REB, 11.1 AST
24.2 PPG, 10.6 REB, 8.5 AST
The above were his split stats from the 2022-23 season. As you can see, the points are about the same whether he’s at home or on the road. However, the rebounds and assists are significantly lower on the road. That means if you’re looking at his player props, you should expect the oddsmakers to have lower totals for his road props. If not, you can bet into them and get a little bit of an edge.
Look At Referee Bias
A lot of bettors are aware that there are stats on MLB umpires and how they have an impact on the game. What’s less talked about is NBA refs and how they make an impression on the outcome. Let’s take a look at some numbers from the 2022-23 season:
ATS Home Record
Scott Foster 44-30
Marc Davis 41-34
David Guthrie 42-31
This is just a small sample but you can see how these three refs tend to have a bit of a bias. Then you can also drill down a bit further and see which refs tend to oversee games that are higher scoring.
Home Scoring Average
J.D. Ralls 127.0
Jason Goldenberg 120.4
Tom Washington 120.1
Daniel Scott 120.1
There are referees who are at the other end of the spectrum like Eric Dalen. If you bet on games with him as the ref last season, his home teams scored just 111.3 points per outing. If you look at the discrepancies from best to worst, it is, in fact, quite significant.
#NBA Eastern Conference Game 7 Referee Info
**Records for playoff games only**
🏀 Home ATS 6-8
🏀 UNDER 7-7
🏀 Home ATS 6-5
🏀 UNDER 7-5
— Odds and Picks (@OddsandPicks) May 29, 2023
When you’re handicapping for home-court advantage, looking at who the ref for that night is quite critical. Whether you’re betting on the main lines or player props, it’s quite clear that this can have make a sizable difference in the success of your bets.
Home-Court Is Still Valuable, But Not As Much As It Once Was
Home-court advantage is still a valuable edge – especially in the NBA. However, it’s important to note that the trend is that it’s having less and less of an impact. One these is that technology and travel is getting much better. Maybe 30 years ago, traveling from city to city was more of a chore. Nowadays, it’s a little bit easier. Flights are faster and the accommodations are more comfortable. On top of that, technology has improved to the point where recovery is smoother. Whether it’s various tools or nutrition, playing on a back-to-back isn’t as much of a challenge as it was in the past.
As a sharp sports bettor, make sure you take into account the various splits, trends and travel, and you’ll still find some good spots where home-court advantage can help you out.