Home court advantage in NBA
Home court advantage in NBA is simply a benefit that the home team gains over the visiting team due to playing at their home ground. There has been a lot of speculations on which factors contribute to that phenomena, from psychological effects, referees, traveling visiting team has to go through (change of time zone, traveling conditions)..etc. In some sports, like baseball, in particular, the advantage may also be a result of the home teams’ stadium/park differences. The deciding factor is hard or even impossible to identify, but I will try to explain 3 factors that were studied and proved to affect the teams and give you a better insight into the home-court advantage in the NBA.
There is a lot of talk around home court advantage when it comes to betting on sports. Be it on Soccer, NFL, Hockey, Basketball, Baseball… And in almost every case you can spot teams do win more frequently when playing at their home ground, compared to “road games”. There are also teams (or even leagues) specifically known for having a higher win % when playing at home, compared to when they are visiting their opponents. That is enough to know for sports fans, but bettors wanted a more specific answer, and that is; how much is home court advantage valued?
In early 2015, Tom Haberstroh and Steve Ilardi studied that phenomenon in the NBA and noticed home teams do in fact win more when playing at home. But the interesting fact is, that throughout the history that advantage has been slowly decreasing. If we compare the numbers from 1977-78 to 2014-15, we can see a huge difference in winning percentage. In 1977-78 teams that played at home won 70% of the games, whereas that number dropped to 53.7% 37 years later. In other words, home court is valuable, only not as much as it once was. When Mr. Haberstroh and Mr. Ilardi studied home court advantage, they identified 3 possible factors that contribute to the home court advantage and reasons why is it not as high as 40 years ago. Throughout the study they focused not that much on the frequents analysis but more on the fundamental changes in the league.
Support of the fans
It would be hard to imagine sports without the fans cheering inches away from the action. The feeling of stepping on the court and hearing thousands of fans cheering your name is nothing to be compared to and you cannot deny it can give a massive confidence boost to any player. The atmosphere created by some fans is spectacular and the whole arena feels the energy, so not weird that the fans are often called the 6th man. But with time even that changed. Nowadays when you look at the fans at any point of the game, you will spot plenty of people focusing more on their phones instead of the game. For many people getting the high score on Candy Crush is much more important that seeing his team scoring a point. The technological advances, which offer us better televisions with a much better picture than 10 years ago also contributed to the fans rather buying a new TV compared to a season pass to watch their team play live. This lack of enthusiasm of the fans may be one of the factors that affected the home court advantage throughout the years, so playing at home in front of primarily home fans does not have the same effect as it used to do.
There is a definite correlation between improved traveling conditions and fatigue players feel when they need to travel across the USA. The home court advantage has shrunk in the 1990s, which can easily be related to improved travel conditions. That was the time teams transitioned from commercial flights to chartered planes. This was great news for all players, especially tall players who had a hard time sitting in commercial planes. There were not only “upgrades” in planes, but teams also started using 5-star hotels instead of budget ones. Since teams notice how much affect the traveling had on their players, they started to put a lot of money in making players traveling as pleasant as it can get. There were also changes in diets for players, sleep schedules, training regiments etc. In my opinion, this is one of the factors that had the most effect on the reduced advantage home teams had. It’s quite obvious players will be more rested and prepared with high-class airplanes to travel on and hotels that can provide them with anything they desire. Still, the fatigue due to time zone change and traveling is there, but a lot smaller compared to that a few years ago.
Changes in NBA play style
The last of the 3 potential factors Mr. Haberstroh and Mr. Ilardi focused one is the change of play style in NBA. It might stay unnoticed by many, but NBA underwent a fundamental change in play style. The main topic here is referees. Throughout the history, it’s clearly demonstrated home teams have an edge over the visiting teams, who are called for more fouls compared to the home side. Players coming into more physical contact with each other gives referees more opportunities to call fouls and “please” the home fans. This is highly contravention topic to discuss, but we cannot deny it is a factor in all sports, not only in NBA. The play style changed in the other way. We see much less contact and more open games. Players are more spaced out on the floor and teams rely more on long distance shooting, which results in less contact between players. With that, the free throws have become less important, due to being called less often. In addition, the referees are being closely monitored by NBA league office and are given feedback, based on their calls.
Using home court advantage in betting
I have covered 3 of the possible causes of home court advantage and reasons why is it decreasing. Being that measuring the precise effect of any factor is impossible, we will never know which is valued more than the other. But the question is, how do I use home court advantage to get an edge in betting?
When it comes to betting, we must value the advantage in points. That is one of the tougher tasks a sports bettor could undertake, as valuing the home court advantage differentiates from game to game. Many people think the advantage is valued at 3 points, but in actuality, that is not true. Studies showed, that the home court advantage is valued at around 2.33 points. Despite that, bookies are still awarding three points to the home team (on average). Of course, there are exceptions. Let’s go back to the topic of traveling. The back-to-back games proved to have a huge effect on the teams. If we take an example of a team that has played a match at home and has to travel in order to play the next game of a back-to-back, will be much more fatigued compared to the visiting team, who is already there resting, because they had a day off. Looking at the statistics, I would easily give home court advantage a value of 4 points, when a team is going to play a road game in the 2nd part of a back-to-back. Same can be said for a team that is playing 2 back-to-back games on the road.
There are also teams/stadiums especially known for spectacular performances in front of their fans. Those two are Pepsi Arena (Denver) and Energy Solutions Arena (Salt Lake City). For those teams, home court advantage can be valued even higher.
In conclusion, there are many factors that go into deciding the value of home court advantage, so in all fairness, it’s hard deciding the exact value of it. As a sports bettor, you will need a lot of experience to correctly value all the factors that go into deciding who to bet on. As I stated before, it’s one of the hardest tasks for sports bettor, but those who excel at it will get great results.