The NBA season is underway in the midst of one of the most exciting times of the year for sports bettors. With sports betting one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, there has been a ton of interest in basketball so far. One of the most interesting trends we’ve been tracking has been the inflated hit rate for unders this season. So far, unders are 74-43 for a 63.2% hit rate, but if you take out overtime games (which tend to push the points total over), that rate is at 65.5%. So what gives? Let’s look at why scoring is down around the league to start the season and how we should approach it as sports bettors.
Shots Just Aren’t Falling
Across the NBA so far this season, shooting is down in every category and it’s resulted in very low scoring output. The following are the shooting results so far this year:
- Field goal percentage is at 44.8%, the lowest it’s been since the 2011-12 season
- 3-point percentage is at 34.3%, the lowest it’s been since the 1998-99 season
- Free-throw percentage is at 76.5%, the lowest it’s been since the 2015-16 season
- Offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is at 107.0, the lowest it’s been since the 2015-16 season
Free Throws Aren’t Free Anymore
One of the NBA’s most significant initiatives this season in terms of officiating is eliminating what the league calls “overt, abrupt, or abnormal non-basketball moves … in an effort to draw fouls”, per the NBA Official Twitter page. This rule change was celebrated by fans everywhere, and it’s already having significant statistical impacts on the game. There have been 19.9 free-throw attempts per game this year, which would be the lowest in NBA history by almost two shots per game. There have only been 19.1 personal fouls called per game, which would also be the fewest in NBA history. With players taking fewer trips to the charity stripe, it’s no wonder scoring is down across the league.
Take Fouls Taking a Toll
On Tuesday, the NBA’s Competition Committee met to discuss the recent uptick in take fouls or Euro fouls, the description of defensive players intentionally fouling their opponent in transition to halt the play and not allow easy scoring opportunities. If the NBA finds a way to eliminate or even decrease the prevalence of take fouls, it would significantly help boost the pace of play and overall scoring. Frank Vogel, head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, said he believes Euro fouls are on the rise and should be cut out as they limit exciting and entertaining basketball plays.
Superstar Adjustment Period
The effects of the new rules in the NBA have been most apparent in the statistical success of superstar players this season. Nets’ guard James Harden, labeled the “poster boy” of the intentional foul movement by Nets’ head coach Steve Nash, is down to just 18.3 points and 4.8 free-throw attempts per game this year. Those numbers are Harden’s lowest career since he played for the Thunder primarily as a guard off the bench. Harden led the NBA in free-throw attempts in the past six seasons, but many fans complained that his foul-drawing antics were not entertaining and made the game worse to watch, creating the impetus for the rule change.
Other superstars have also struggled to adjust to the new rules in the NBA. Hawks’ guard Trae Young is averaging 22.6 points and 5.6 free-throw attempts per game, both his lowest since his rookie season by a decent margin. Mavericks’ guard Luka Doncic is averaging 5.3 free-throw shots per game, his lowest since his rookie season. Devin Booker is averaging 4.3 free-throw attempts per game, his lowest since his rookie season. It’s no surprise to see these superstars scoring fewer points as they aren’t getting as many easy points at the free-throw line.
Over time, we can expect NBA players to adjust their games and overcome the rule change to find better offensive output, but the results so far are staggering. If the NBA can find a way to eliminate take fouls, that would also be a significant step in the right direction for increasing leaguewide scoring. You shouldn’t blindly chase unders just because of these recent trends, as sportsbooks will inevitably begin to change their approach to setting lines. Still, it’s absolutely something to keep in mind as we get deeper into the NBA season and low-scoring games continue to occur.