Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Monday, April 16, 2018 at 9:00 AM
Whenever the NBA Playoffs roll around, I get asked a lot about the zig-zag theory. Bettors everywhere assume that “the pros” use that to pick winners during the playoffs. I have to admit that it hasn’t been true for a long time. Sure, sometimes sharps will expect a team to bounce back off a bad game…or to come back to earth after a great game. But, they’re not really playing “the zig zag theory” when doing so.
The first problem is that nobody can agree on what the exact definition of “zig zag” is. Do you skip Game One and start betting each loser to bounce back after that? Do you bet the home team in the opener, THEN start using a zig zag? Do you bet the home opener for each side in a series, but otherwise bet the previous loser?
Whenever there’s an obvious bounce back spot, people site the zig zag as a proven winning theory. It’s not even a well-defined theory. And, recent history has been dicey at best because many elite NBA teams know how important it is to get a series over with quickly to rest up for the next round. And, many squares (the public) ditched the zig zag several years back because they got tired of betting ugly dogs “off a loss” against a league superpower. Much more fun to bet for the superpower and hope for a blowout.
Let me tell you what sharps do in the modern era of NBA handicapping.
*Many are either quants themselves, or part of a syndicate that includes quants who use computer modeling to calculate what the line “should be” in every single game. And, those models are based on the sum talents of the individual players and their projected minutes in each game.
*Sharps don’t adjust from game to game unless there’s an injury, or some very important development that changes the math. If Team A is -8 at home over Team B in Game One of a series, the sharps will still have Team A at -8 in Game Two no matter what happened in the opener. If Team A was upset in the opener, it’s still going to grade out at -8 even in the bounce back. If oddsmakers move the Game Two line to -9 because of a bounce back, sharps will often take the dog for value at +9 because they’re grading is eight.
*The deeper we get into a series, THEN we’ll see the best sharps tweak their evaluations based on personnel matchups in a series. Maybe one team has a coaching advantage that wasn’t properly calibrated in the initial projection. Now it’s clear that a smart coach has found a strategy that the opponent doesn’t really have a solution for. Or, there’s no defense against the opponents most dangerous weapon. Sharps will adjust for that once it’s become clear.
This approach helps guard against the growing tendency for the best teams to pace themselves down the stretch of the regular season. If you’re focusing on the skill sets of the players, you’re not worried so much about late season stats in games that didn’t matter. When math first started influencing the market, it was very much team-based calculations based on game stats. Quants couldn’t make that work once smart teams went at half-speed or three-quarter speed in February, March, and April before finding that extra gear once the playoffs started.
I should also mention that sharps make great use of their traditional betting strategies.
*If sharps get a grading to a favorite, they’ll bet that IMMEDIATELY before the public has a chance to get involved.
*If sharps get a grading to an underdog, particularly a powerhouse team that’s on TV all the time, they’ll wait to see if public action will create an extra half-point to a point of value.
*If sharps are VERY confident that the public is going to bet that favorite, and the Wise Guys know they’ll like the dog at a later price…they’ll position themselves on the favorite early, then come back harder over the top on the dog later.
Here’s a quick example of that last point. Say that a public favorite opens at -4.5, and sharps are certain that squares are going to lay the chalk. Sharps will bet 1 unit on the favorite at -4.5. When the line moves to -5.5 or -6, then sharps will bet 2 units on the dog at the higher price. It’s still one unit worth of risk. But, now sharps win two units if the game lands exactly on 4 or 6, and THREE units if it lands in the middle on FIVE. Sharps aren’t trying to “shoot middles” strictly for the sole purpose of rooting for the five. They’ve just increased their profit potential if the game finishes near the market price.
If you’re hoping to think like a sharp and bet like a sharp, then the zig-zag is a relic from a bygone era. Sharps use personnel evaluations to create a point spread expectation. Then, they position themselves to best take advantage of their projection. This reality is sure to come up throughout our NBA Playoff discussions the next two months. I wanted to get it down on paper for you here near the beginning of the postseason.
Even though college basketball is my favorite sport to bet, I do enjoy attacking the NBA and MLB cards in April. You can purchase my daily BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions call the VSM office at 1-888-777-4155. Be sure to ask about long term packages that offer the best value.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back again at the end of the week with another market report direct from Las Vegas.