Navigating the NBA Playoffs: Strategies, Surprises, and Speculations

April 20, 2024

Navigating the NBA Playoffs: Strategies, Surprises, and Speculations

With the NBA regular season officially over with the start of the play-in series before the actual NBA playoffs, we’re going to take a moment to appreciate the historic greatness of the regular season. Whether it was the Lakers winning the first-ever in-season NBA tournament, the rookie exploits of stars like Victor Wembanyama, Chet Holmgren, and Brandon Miller, or shocking moments like Draymond Green choking out Rudy Gobert in MMA fashion, this season had it all. 

But now that we move onto the playoffs, we’re talking about a whole new ballgame. Lineups are about to get smaller – don’t expect to see ten or eleven guys play anymore. Come playoff time, the minutes get bigger for the stars, and the teams tend to shrink to eight-or-nine man lineups (at most). We’ve already had four play-in games, where we saw the Lakers and 76ers advance to take on the Nuggets and Knicks, respectively. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat will play the Chicago Bulls for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Sacramento Kings will take on the New Orleans Pelicans for the 8th seed in the West. Both of those games have big injury updates, so let’s get right into it.

The Pelicans, believe it or not, actually dominated the Kings this season. The Kings played brilliant team basketball on Tuesday, and now face a Pelicans team missing Zion Williamson, who looked like the best player on the court in a game also featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, the Pelicans won all five games against the Kings this year, including one where Zion didn’t play. 

That game without Zion? The Pelicans beat the Kings by 33 points (albeit in January). What was the biggest issue for Sacramento? Matchups. The Pelicans have the defensive personnel to make life hellacious for Sacramento’s top players like De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Keegan Murray. The Pelicans have a variety of long-limbed menaces on defense they can throw at the Kings, starting with Herb Jones (6’7”), Dyson Daniels (6’7”) and Trey Murphy (6’8”). Meanwhile, Sabonis will be tasked with scoring on (and stopping) fellow Lithuanian big Jonas Valanciunas. 

On the other side, the Heat have a similar conundrum when facing off against the Bulls. Much like the Kings, the Bulls are a red-hot team that knocked off a betting favorite in the Atlanta Hawks. Bulls guard Coby White (my runaway pick for Most Improved Player) dropped a career-high 42 points with 9 rebounds and 6 assists, but the Bulls had three (almost four) players with 20+ points. 

Meanwhile, the Heat dropped a heartbreaker to the Sixers, and now might be missing their best player (Jimmy Butler) for this matchup with a knee (MCL) injury. Bam Adebayo might be able to step up and deliver in his absence, but Tyler Herro was putrid against Philly (9/27 shooting), and I’m not sure I’d count on players like Caleb Martin, Jaime Jaquez or Haywood Highsmith to step up to the plate. 

But before we delve into the rest of the playoffs (something I might save for the next article), I wanted to regroup with Huddle Trader Aaron Thompson and get his thoughts on all things Huddle in regards to these playoffs.

Jake: When you look at the NBA Playoffs versus the regular season, how do you navigate the challenge of pricing before the game, and what factors influence your decision? Does anything change from the regular season to the postseason?

Aaron: The game changes in a few ways from the regular season - offensive efficiency and pace both drop so we see lower totals AND rotations shrink so from a player level standpoint we have to adjust for starters playing more minutes. One of the biggest challenges of pricing before the game is adjusting for players that are attempting to play through injuries - Joel Embiid doesn’t have the same impact on the game when he is hobbled like he was on Wednesday night.

Jake: We’ve spoken in the past about your strategies for trading, but are there any unique features or tools you utilize to enhance the trading experience? 

Aaron: We’ve built several tools that provide real-time baselines for traders to use in adjusting for injuries and/or foul trouble.

Jake: How does Huddle cater to each operator’s unique trading strategies or demands? Is there one operator (you don’t have to mention by name) that stands out?

Aaron: We aim to work seamlessly with our clients and listen to their concerns/demands along the way. We’ve built world-class systems that allow us to tailor our approach with each client across an expansive menu of betting content. For example, our ability to provide SGP technology from both a pregame and live perspective on teams and players that might be of particular interest to a specific client is a great tool to have.

Jake: In a dynamic and rapidly changing market, how do you stay ahead of competitors and adapt your trading strategies accordingly?

Aaron: I think the best way to stay ahead of the market is to have sound projections processes. We need to constantly monitor the news cycle and have ways of quickly adjusting markets based on our projections.

Jake: Let’s close with something fun. Who do you have winning it all, who do you think will surprise people during these playoffs (could be a player or a team), and who will be the Finals MVP?

Aaron: I think the Celtic’s path to the Finals has gotten considerably easier so I’ll take them to win it all and that means Jayson Tatum is likely the Finals MVP. As far as a surprise team goes, I think the Mavs could find their way to the West Conference Finals and they would have a very real chance of upsetting the Nuggets.