The NBA Finals are won and lost on the court, but bettors need to take officiating into consideration, too. NBA officials have a more direct impact on the outcome of a game than in any other sport, with foul calls, violations and even ejections all changing the way teams strategize.
And just like players have their own set of statistics, so, too, do referees.
The postseason begins with the top 36 regular-season officials earning spots. These officials were the highest rated from the regular season on the NBA’s graded rankings, play calling accuracy and team rankings.
The NBA Referee Operations management team chooses its 12-man referee pool prior to the start of the NBA Finals from that 36-person pool. These officials are selected based on their performance and grades in each of the first three rounds of the postseason.
Officials are evaluated after each round and advance from there until ultimately the top-12 are remaining for the final postseason round of the year.
This, in theory, means the 12 best officials from the postseason. But even the best officials show trends over the course of a season. “Best” never means officiating straight down the line, with even foul calls and even home/away records.
So how can NBA betting fans take advantage?
Spreads and point totals are revealed the morning after the previous night’s game. Crews are announced the morning of each game, usually around 9 a.m. ET. No set of officials is ever going to significantly swing a line, if at all, but waiting for the set of officials to be announced can make for a better-informed decision if you’re on the fence.
Here’s what you should be looking for:
Point Totals Vary Greatly
Over the last 10 years, the difference in fouls called per game and, thus, final point totals has varied greatly. If we use 40 games officiated as a minimum for this data, here’s what we come up with:
- From 2012 to 2019, a span of eight seasons, the 10 officials with the regular-season highest point totals (80 officials) combined to average 209.4 points. The 10 officials with the lowest point totals (80 officials) combined to average 201.5 points in their games. That’s a difference of nearly 8 points, which obviously could swing an over or under from hitting.
- The difference between the highest official and lowest official in those eight seasons was an average of 12.3 points; the biggest discrepancy came in 2012, when Kevin Scott’s games averaged 201.4 points, while Brent Barnaky’s games averaged 185.7 points (15.7-point difference).
Again, all these statistics are readily available for when the NBA announces its referee team for a Finals game. While the three officials may have different statistics, you should be able to identify a trend that helps you make your over-under pick.
Highest Scoring Referees
- Kevin Cutler
- Jacyn Goble
- Karl Lane
- Derek Richardson
- Jason Phillips
Lowest Scoring NBA Referees
- Brent Barnaky
- Elio Roe
- Tony Brothers
- Courtney Kirkland
- Leroy Richardson
It’s possible to look into how much officials favor home teams, which matters more in the Finals than in any other playoff round. Some officials simply tend to favor home teams, and the numbers prove that. It can also vary greatly, showing just how important it is to investigate which officials are calling which games.
We took the five officials with the highest AND lowest home team win percentages from 2012 to 2019, and here’s what we found:
- In that eight-year span, the highest home win percentage officials combined to see the hosts win at a .700 clip (16-26-695) with the home team averaging a 5.1-point advantage in those games.
- Contrarily, some officials saw a massive shift toward the road team. The lowest home win percentage totals combined to see the home team win at just a .472 clip with a -1.0-point advantage in those games.
It’s not an exact science, but some officials simply favor the home or away team and it can mean the difference between a .700 win percentage (a 57-win NBA season) and a .472 win percentage (a 39-win NBA season).
In the Finals, home-court advantage matters greatly. Identifying officials who tend to favor that side could mean the difference between a win and loss, or a cover and a non-cover.
’Better’ Home NBA Referees
- James Capers Jr.
- Brett Nansel
- Gary Zielinski
- Eric Dalen
- Sean Wright
‘Better’ Road NBA Referees
- David Guthrie
- Gediminas Petraitis
- Derek Richardson
- Josh Tiven
- Derrick Stafford