The NBA had a small slate Monday when the NCAA Championship was on TV, so the rest of the week will be packed with action from the association to make up for it, and Wednesday is no exception. Much of the slate has boring matchups between a potential playoff contender and a future lottery pick-holding team, but we do have one game that stands out for stat nerds and bettors everywhere. The Utah Jazz and the Phoenix Suns will be facing off in the late game on ESPN. Here is why this game is sports porn for bettors and fans of NBA analytics.
The Jazz and Suns are the teams with the best statistical rankings in the most predictive stat categories. NBA teams play at different paces and against different opponents, so the way to measure performance on a relative baseline is by using their production on a per-100-possession basis. Most NBA games feature slightly over 100 possessions per team, so this is a way to normalize outputs despite differences in pace and possessions that could skew averages. A team that plays at a league-average pace should outperform its scoring numbers against a faster-paced team due to having more possessions. The opposite would be true against slower-paced teams.
Therefore, the measure of how good a team is against a baseline NBA average gives you a glimpse into how well they should perform moving forward. Last year, the Miami Heat were a dual qualifier with a top-10 rank both offensively and defensively … and look what they were able to accomplish.
The Suns would be having a year everyone would gush about if not for the Jazz. Phoenix is one of only three teams that qualifies with a top-10 ranking in points scored and fewest points allowed per 100 possessions. Their differential between what they score per 100 and what they allow is +7.7, more than a point ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks in third. This performance has translated into cash for their backers as the Suns own the best against-the-spread win percentage in the NBA at 65.3%. The only team to have a better differential last year was the Bucks, just to give you a point of reference.
As good as the Suns have been statistically, the Jazz are light years better. The Suns are a dual qualifier with a respectable offensive efficiency rank of fifth and defensive rank of seventh. The Jazz qualify with the top-scoring offense per 100 possessions at 119.5 and also the second-lowest points allowed per 100 at 107.7. This gives them a point differential of +11.8, almost two full points ahead of the 56-17 Bucks from last season. The Jazz are second only to the Suns in coverage percentage at 62% ATS this season. They rank first in points per 100 and point differential per 100, as well as second in points allowed and ATS coverage percentage. The Jazz have not just been good this year; they have been statistically great.
The average basketball fan might not understand how good this matchup actually is. These two teams have the best records in the NBA. Both are winning over 70% of their games. The Jazz project to be a four-point favorite on a neutral court, meaning they should end up around a two-point road favorite in Phoenix. These teams are both deep and play well on both ends.
It might be early to say this is a potential Western Conference final preview, especially if some injured players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis have anything to say about it. These teams are standing out from the rest of the league and have the statistics backing them to prove it is no fluke. If the Jazz end up being favored by anything less than -2.5, the value is there to bet on them. If at any point you can get plus money on the Jazz, back up the truck and make that bet as they are better than a coin flip to win this game.