Handicapping NBA Home Court Advantage

The NBA regular season is currently 82 games long. There are many supporters out there who believe the regular season should be shortened. These supporters believe that the season is too long, and as a result, we get too many games that aren’t very meaningful. Players have a tendency to take nights off, or they simply get too tired during some tough stretches to play at peak performance.

The biggest reason teams have motivation during the regular season is to try and make the playoffs. They are also motivated to get home-court advantage at least in the first round, if not throughout the entire playoffs if they win their conference. While home court is valuable, it’s proving to be not nearly as valuable in recent years as it once was.

Indeed, the hushed home crowd is becoming a thing of regularity during the 2014-15 season. Home teams have won just 54.4% of their games this year. That is the lowest such rate in modern NBA history, and it’s not really even close. Take a look below to find the home winning percentages of all teams each season since 1995.

Home Team Records Since 1995

Season Games SU Record SU Win % SU Margin
2014 728 396-332 54.40% 2.25
2013 1319 764-555 57.90% 2.61
2012 1314 806-508 61.30% 3.28
2011 1074 637-437 59.30% 2.97
2010 1311 797-514 60.80% 3.2
2009 1312 786-526 59.90% 2.84
2008 1315 805-510 61.20% 3.31
2007 1316 803-513 61.00% 3.71
2006 1309 779-530 59.50% 3.09
2005 1319 802-517 60.80% 3.46
2004 1314 791-523 60.20% 3.19
2003 1271 789-482 62.10% 3.8
2002 1276 800-476 62.70% 3.86
2001 1189 703-486 59.10% 3.39
2000 1189 711-478 59.80% 2.92
1999 1189 726-463 61.10% 3.54
1998 725 452-273 62.30% 3.44
1997 1189 708-481 59.50% 2.95
1996 1189 684-505 57.50% 2.56
1995 1189 718-471 60.40% 3.23

As you can see from the table, the home-court advantage has been in steady decline over the last few decades. Home-court advantage typically hovers around 60 percent, but the two-year drop has been enormous. As stated before, teams are winning just 54.4% of their home games this season. That’s down from 57.9 percent last season and 61.3 percent the year before. Since 1975, the advantage has averaged 61.2 percent. The peak year was in 1988-89 at 67.9 percent.

A common statistic that is thrown around is that home-court advantage is worth 3.5 points per 100 possessions in the NBA. And that has been true up until the last few years, especially this season. This season, the home-court advantage is only plus-2.3. Last season, it was plus-2.6. Two years ago it was plus-3.3. Adjusting for pace, the two-year decline sits at roughly 36 percent. This is the biggest two-year decline we’ve ever seen for NBA home-court advantage.

How Many Teams Are Worse at Home?

Roughly one-fourth of the league has been worse at home. As of this writing, there are currently seven teams who have fared better on the road than at home. They are the Bucks, Bulls, Heat, Magic, Mavericks, Nets, and Pistons. Only the Washington Wizards finished last season with a worse or equal record at home compared to on the road. Here is a table that illustrates how many teams had no home-court advantage throughout the course of the season.

Teams With No Home-Court Advantage Full Season

Season No HCA
1996-97 2
1997-98 0
1998-99 0
1999-00 0
2000-01 0
2001-02 2
2004-05 3
2005-06 1
2006-07 2
2007-08 1
2008-09 1
2009-10 2
2010-11 1
2011-12 2
2012-13 0
2013-14 1
2014-15 7

In the previous eight seasons combined, there were only 10 teams that had better road records than at home. From the 1997-98 to the 2000-01 seasons, there were zero teams that had no home-court advantage, a span of four seasons. Well, could this just be an aberration since we’re barely past the halfway point of the season? Take a look at the table below to see how many teams had better road records than home records through the 50-game mark.

Teams With No Home-Court Advantage 50-Game Mark

Season No HCA
1996-97 2
1997-98 1
2000-01 4
2001-02 3
2002-03 1
2003-04 1
2004-05 1
2005-06 3
2006-07 3
2007-08 4
2008-09 4
2009-10 2
2011-12 2
2012-13 1
2013-14 3
2014-15 10

Through the first 50 games since 1997, there have never been five teams fail to do better at home than on the road in a single season. Through the 50-game mark in 2014-15, there were a whopping 10 teams that were better or equal on the road as they were at home. Along with the same seven teams mentioned above in the Bucks, Bulls, Heat, Magic, Mavericks Nets, and Pistons, the Rockets, Timberwolves and 76ers were all better on the road at the 50-game mark.

What is unique about these 10 teams you ask? Well, it was hard to find much. The only thing that stood out was their geographic location. Most of the 10 teams are in the middle of the country. There’s no West Coast teams on the list. There are three good teams that made the list in Houston, Dallas and Chicago, and three bad teams that made it as well in Minnesota, Orlando and Philadelphia. Really, there’s nothing that has any substance about why it’s these 10 teams specifically that were better on the road at the 50-game mark.

NBA Home-Court Advantage in Postseason

Let’s just take a look at how home teams have fared in the postseason, and if we’re seeing the same kind of trend as the regular season in recent years. Well, home-court advantage all but disappeared in the playoffs last postseason. Home teams went 50-39 for a 56.2 winning percentage in 2014 playoff games. While that’s a decent edge, it’s nothing when you consider that home teams have won 65.1 percent of the time in the playoffs since 1997.

Home-court advantage does typically get stronger in the postseason, but last year that was not the case. Home-court advantage hit an all-time low in last year’s playoffs. In the 2008 playoffs, home squads won 74.4 percent of their games. Adjusting for pace, 2008 home teams had a 9.3-point advantage on average. Last season, playoff home teams had just a 3-point edge.

Has Las Vegas Adjusted?

The simple answer is no. Oddsmakers have failed to adjust for the lack of home-court advantage in the NBA this season. In fact, NBA road teams are 387-328-13 (54.1%) ATS during the 2014-15 campaign. Good teams have fared even better on the road. That’s evidenced by the fact that NBA road favorites are 129-105-3 (55.1%) ATS this season.

Is this because more bad teams have played more home games than good teams? That would help explain this trend if that was the case, but it’s actually been the complete opposite. The Warriors (38-8), Hawks (40-9), Clippers (33-16), Cavaliers (29-20), Grizzlies (36-12), Raptors (33-16), Spurs (30-18), Trail Blazers (33-16) and Wizards (31-18) have all played more home games than road games. Those are nine of the best teams in the NBA, and they’ve all played home-heavy schedules.

What May Be Causing This Home-Court Disadvantage?

While it’s hard to say for certain, there are three things that really stand out to me that could all be playing a role as to why home teams are struggling in 2014-15. This is a trend that is likely going to continue over the next several seasons if the last two years are any indication. Let’s take a look at my three reasons that may be causing this home-court disadvantage.

#1 – The Rise of the 3-Point Shot

Without question, the NBA has underdone a massive fundamental shift in recent years. For the first time in NBA history, there were more 3-point attempts than free throw attempts in the month of January. The average NBA game now sees 45 3-pointers per game compared to 44.7 free throws. Ten years ago, those numbers were 32.1 and 53.2 in January, respectively.

Obviously, 3 points is worth more than 2, so teams are trying to stack their rosters with entire lineups that can shoot the 3-pointer. This has led to fewer foul calls and fewer free throws. Why is this significant? Because numerous studies have shown that referees are influenced by the home crowd. So, fewer drives to the basket mean fewer chances for the referees to make a call that favors the home team.

Also, new NBA commissioner Adam Silver has installed a replay center that reviews referees’ performances game-by-game. Every whistled call is reviewed and graded “correct” or “incorrect”. The referees are then given feedback. They know they’ll be under scrutiny from their bosses if they make a bad call, which is much more important than trying to avoid pissing off the home crowd.

#2 – Technology Makes Travel More Efficient

The NBA has invested a lot of resources into sports science and injury prevention companies. Teams are more cautious than they have ever been about reducing the wear-and tear on their players’ bodies. With Boimetrics taking over the NBA, players are starting to treat their bodies like machines.

The advance of video technology has been huge, too. For example, Synergy Sports Technology has allowed big men to watch 500 pick-and-rolls by the upcoming point guard to try and spot subtle tendencies. This was not possible 10 years ago. These days, players are watching game film on their charter flights and making better use of their time. Gone are the days of VCRs, which was back when only home teams had full scouting powers.

#3 – Lack of Support from Home Crowds

If you scan the home crowd at any point during an NBA game, chances are that you’ll find numerous people staring at their phones instead of watching the game. These people have decided that being on Facebook and posting selfies is more important than cheering loudly to try and distract the opposing team’s free throw shooter.

Also, there has been a huge growth in corporate boxes that have taken away some of the most rabid fans. Plus, the HD television experience is better than it ever was. Even the most hard-core fans would rather stay home and watch League Pass rather than forking over the cash for a ticket to the game.

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