NBA’s Bizarre New All-Star Game Format Means New Calculations For Bettors

With teams trying to win each quarter and playing to a target score in a shortened fourth, bettors can't approach this like past ASGs.
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“Once the Final Target Score is set, the teams will play an untimed fourth quarter and the first team to reach the Final Target Score will win the NBA All-Star Game.”

Yes, that is the actual language in an actual bullet point from the NBA’s press release announcing the new rules for the All-Star Game that’s a little less than two weeks away.

This is not your grandfather’s NBA All-Star Game, and it’s not your father’s NBA All-Star Game, either. But as sports leagues keep experimenting with their all-star formats — whether by dividing players by continent of origin, letting captains pick teams, or, in the case of the NFL, removing tackling from the equation — no all-star tweaks should shock us anymore.

In this case, it appears changes were already in the works, and the untimely death of Kobe Bryant on Jan. 26 inspired some specifics regarding the fourth-quarter rules.

Details of the new format

Starting with the 2018 game, once five starters and seven reserves from each conference had been named, captains picked among the remaining 22 players to create their teams. In 2020, for the second year in a row, it will be “Team LeBron” vs. “Team Giannis.”

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This year, for the first time, each quarter of the game will have a winner, with six-figure sums going to charity for each quarter. So the first quarter is a 12-minute mini game with its own final score; same for the second quarter, and the third.

Heading into the fourth, however, the cumulative scores are added up. In honor of Bryant’s jersey number during the latter half of his career, 24 points will be added to the leading team’s total, and that becomes the “target score” for the game. So, let’s say Team LeBron leads 122-110 after three quarters. That means the game will end when either team reaches 146 points.

There will be no game clock in the fourth quarter. All we can say for sure is that the game will end with a made basket.

Sports betting implications

Much like the NFL and NHL contests, nobody plays much defense in the NBA All-Star Game, except maybe in the closing minutes if the game is close.

Look at the scores from the last five years:

  • Team LeBron 178, Team Giannis 164
  • Team LeBron 148, Team Stephen 145
  • West 192, East 182
  • West 196, East 173
  • West 163, East 158

The average total per team is 169.9 points. So the average total per team per quarter is just under 42.5 points. That means the team with the lead is being asked to score just 56.5% as many points in the fourth quarter as it would normally be expected to score. So the expected length of the fourth quarter is 6 minutes, 47 seconds.

This seems inadequately thought through on the part of the NBA. How hard would it have been to pay tribute to Kobe by adding his two uniform numbers —24 and 8 — together to get a slightly more reasonable target score?

The legal U.S. sportsbooks in such states as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Iowa haven’t released All-Star Game lines yet — no surprise given that the rosters haven’t even been selected. But we have to assume the point total will be much lower than in past years. Based on the last five All-Star Games, an over/under line of 340 points would have been logical. For this year’s game, expect something like 303 (340 x .75 + 48).

Player prop projections

In general, if the totals and player props are the same as in past years, sharp bettors will hammer the unders.

And another reason to bet unders: Teams might actually play defense in the closing moments of each quarter. Since there’s motivation to win each quarter, matadors stepping aside to allow free paths to the basket figure not to be as prevalent in the last minute or two of each period.

It will be interesting to see how coaches manage their lineups. Will we see each team’s best five on the floor in the finals minutes of every quarter, and maybe for the entire abbreviated fourth quarter? If so, bettors will especially want to load up on unders for the lesser players on each roster?

Then there’s the MVP award. Not that it’s ever wise to expect a non-starter to be named the MVP of the All-Star Game, but in this case, it’s a near certainty that the biggest stars in the game will play most of the important minutes, rack up stats, and have a shot at scoring the clinching bucket. 

The new fourth quarter format should give almost everyone on the floor that famous “Mamba mentality.” Focus on those players who aren’t shy about hoisting shots and looking to be the hero, and you’ll improve your chances of finding the MVP.

Photo by USA Today Sports

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