One of the unfortunate realities of the NBA is that it’s hard to know from night to night which players might or might not play. I’m not talking about the guys at the end of the benches. I’m focused on the main players, the stars. The reasons for missing games can range from injury to paternity leave to load management to many other things.
All of this can make it very difficult for those on both sides of the betting counter. Uninformed bettors can lose simply due to lack of knowledge of a given situation, while the books can take on unnecessary liability if they aren’t on top of player-availability information the minute it breaks. Of course, knowing who is playing and who isn’t — and what it means — can give the person on either side of the counter the edge.
Taking the game logs of the teams’ key players who have missed at least six games in 2019-20 and inputting my Effective Strength numbers into the logs to determine the teams’ key statistics in the games those players have played against those they haven’t.
In general, I found those setting the odds can vary numbers by as much as five points on a team’s power rating for a missing player and up to four points on a total. However, the actual differences can be much different from that:
Mavericks: Dallas has not been better without Luka Doncic, but it hasn’t been as bad as the books have penalized the team for his absence. The markets have shown his loss meaning about 3.5 points to Dallas, but the Mavs are playing only about 2.1 points worse in actuality.
Clippers: Easily the most impactful player missing games has been Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers have been 5.1 points per game worse without Leonard, though books are allowing only 3.5 points on average for his absence. The Clippers score less and allow more without changing their effective pace, meaning they truly are worse without Leonard on the court.
Lakers: This is by far the strangest situation of all. Anthony Davis has missed seven games, yet the Lakers boast an impressive 5-2 SU and ATS record without him. The offense has been distinctly better without him, averaging 8.1 more points per game. Defensively, the Lakers are a little worse, but overall their Effective Strength Rating has been 5.5 points better. Bookmakers are deducting 3.1 ppg when Davis is out, so bettors have enjoyed a huge advantage backing the Lakers when he is out.
Bucks: Bookmakers have given the Bucks the biggest deduction when Giannis Antetokounmpo has been out, basically judging them as 4.3 points worse. Milwaukee has gone 5-1 SU and ATS in the six games he has missed, playing effectively just a point per game worse.
76ers: The 76ers are better with Joel Embiid in the lineup, scoring 2.2 points per game more when he plays compared with when he doesn’t. The defensive numbers are identical, meaning the 76ers are essentially 2.2 points worse without the star center. Bookmakers judge them to be 4.1 points worse, meaning Philadelphia has some value when Embiid is out.