Attention fans of defenseless exhibitions: the NBA All-Star Game is coming up on Sunday. This will be the fifth consecutive season in which the league separates the best players in a format in which two captains choose the rosters. It’s Team LeBron vs. Team Durant, as LeBron James’ squad takes on Kevin Durant’s picks. James is looking to extend his All-Star winning streak to five games. Judging by the rosters, he’s in a good position to extend that streak.
It takes a certain mindset, especially when the college basketball action heats up, to commit to watching and betting on the spectacle that is the NBA All-Star Game. That said, it’s the only game on the NBA roster on a day every winter, so most bettors are inclined to get in on the action. I warn you that I haven’t watched this game for over five years and I won’t. However, there is no denying the success of the quantitative system I developed that analyzes rosters and projects a point spread and who should win. This has been very successful as my overall system record over the past 11 years has been 8-3 SU and 7-3-1 ATS.
A year ago, Team LeBron (-4.5) beat Team Durant 170-150 out of a total of 319.5. Talk about a well-defined total by bettors. It should be noted that the game over the total has changed the record for this betting option to 13-2 in the last 15 games. This should come as no surprise, and I pity anyone who bets this Under Total exhibit and then chooses to watch it. In terms of teams, the favorites have won seven straight games with a 5-1-1 ATS record.
This year’s game will be played in Cleveland for the first time since 1997, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, where “King James” reigned supreme. Assuming there are no more late injuries, shutouts or positive COVID-19 tests, the only team-elected starter who won’t be available is Durant, for the second straight season. Additionally, the Cavs’ hometown Jarrett Allen was selected to the LeBron team as a replacement for James Harden, who is suffering from hamstring strain.
Usually, soon after the rosters are announced, the odds for the game are released. For some reason that didn’t happen this year, so you’ll have to take my projections and use them against the actual odds when they come out.
James used his first pick to pick Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks), the MVP a year ago for this game and the NBA Finals. The Greek Freak scored 35 points on 16-for-16 shooting in just 19 minutes. The two will be joined in the starting lineup by Stephen Curry (Warriors), Demar DeRozan (Bulls) and Nikola Jokic (Nuggets). Durant’s team fights back with a starting lineup of Joel Embiid (76ers), Ja Morant (Grizzlies), Jayson Tatum (Celtics), Andrew Wiggins (Warriors) and Trae Young (Hawks). You can find the reservations in the table below detailing each of the listings and the process I use. On the surface, it once again looks like the LeBron team’s starting roster is superior, with the league’s last two MVPs. Finding out for sure is where my increasingly popular player rating system comes in.
So who wins this year’s game? Who should you bet on? More often than not, it boils down to these questions: 1. Which list is better? And 2. Which team will play with more cohesion?
While it’s impossible for anyone to know enough about #2 other than pure speculation, it is possible to assess the first question. This can be done both quantitatively and perceptually.
I used this same formula to determine which roster was the most talented in all recent NBA All-Star Games.
The formula involves taking into account the popular Hollinger ratings on ESPN.com used to rate player effectiveness (PER). I then estimate the minutes the starters and reserves will play based on recent games and have offered a theoretical ASSESSMENT of TOTAL TEAM EFFECTIVENESS which I use to justify a points game for the game of Sunday.
According to the results, assuming the distribution of minutes played is fairly close to accuracy (it has always been fairly close), Team LeBron’s composition is slightly better in terms of cumulative player efficiency ratings, by around 3 .1%. However, it should be noted that the younger players were given a bit more game time than usual last year. I have adjusted my projections accordingly.
The projected “total PER” for this year’s game is LeBron 5844.2, Durant 5383.37. In other words, the LeBron team should be about 8.6% better. That’s just short of the projected 2019 and 2020 disparities for his teams (+8.7%, +9.1%), which were the widest my projections have ever been. In other words, this game leans pretty heavily towards Team LeBron. If we see a similar total to last year’s game of 319.5, an 8.6% difference would result in a score of:
Team LeBron 166.3
Team Durant 153.2
Theoretically, a LeBron -13.1 point spread. I’m sure it won’t reach that level, so I’ll be comfortable putting anything up to double digits.
In 2020, I called for not supporting Team Giannis unless an underdog line of +7 or higher. Ironically, this is where the final line settled and Team Giannis covered. Keep in mind, however, that the LeBron team hasn’t played its starters anywhere near typical expectations. The previous year was an easy favorite cover for Team LeBron (-4.5), a game I called drastically underrated.
In last year’s game, my projection favored Team LeBron by 4.7 points, another win, as they closed as 4.5-point favorites. When Mike Conley was substituted late for Devin Booker and Embiid had to miss due to COVID tracing on Durant’s team, the projection went up a lot more for Team LeBron, to 5.5.
This year’s rules of the game are the same as last year and should be considered before finalizing your bets as they may discourage you, especially on the total when considering the “24 point rule”. Here are some of the main highlights of the “competition rule”:
— Each of the first three quarters will start with a score of 0-0 and will last 12 minutes. The winner of each 12-minute quarter (first, second and third) will be the team that scores the most points during that quarter.
— At the start of the fourth quarter, the game clock will be turned off and a final target score will be set. Once the final target score is set, the teams will play an untimed fourth quarter, and the first team to reach (or exceed) the final target score will win the game.
– The final target score will be set by adding 24 points (Kobe Bryant’s old uniform number) to the total of the team leading the three quarters (i.e. if the leading team has 100 points, the target score would be 124). The first team to achieve this goal would win the game.
Good luck with your NBA All-Star betting and enjoy the show. And remember, if you prefer sound and fundamental basketball, there will be college games on TV, or maybe a youth basketball tournament at a gym near you.