Basketball Five-Game Rolling Average

When placing a bet on sports with long seasons like basketball, the first thing many people do is compare team records. While this can be useful, a team’s overall record is just part of the story.

More important than the record itself is how the team has recently performed. This is particularly true in the second half of the NBA season or in January and February of the college basketball season. After multiple months of competition, identifying a team’s recent performance trends helps you make informed wagers.

Stats from a team’s past five games better characterize how a team is currently performing than its overall season record. Enter the Five-Game rolling average.

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Table of Contents

  1. Five-Game Rolling Average Defined
  2. How it works
  3. Five-Game Rolling Average Example
  4. When to Use
  5. Case Study
  6. Conclusion

What is a Five-Game Rolling Average?

A five-game rolling average is a statistical value from the past five games. It’s like looking at standings and stats for the team’s previous five games instead of the entire season.

For the NBA, stats are available that show a team’s key statistics over a five-game span. You can also look at a team’s schedule to determine whether they may have overperformed against weaker teams or underperformed on a long road trip. Or, if they are simply in the middle of a hot or cold streak. 

It works the same way in college basketball. Because so many teams in power conferences play weaker opponents for the first two months of the season, their records oftentimes do not tell the full story. Examining the team’s recent form is a much better indicator of its expected performance than looking at its season stats.

How Does a Five-Game Rolling Average Strategy Work?

The five-game rolling average statistics are invaluable for handicapping a matchup. This strategy works best after both teams have played at least five games. However, you’ll have the best data available after two months of the season. For the NBA, this gives you a bit more than 25% of the season in the books. For NCAABB, this gets you through the entire non-conference schedule and a few games in conference play. The five-game rolling average is even more helpful for the latter part of the season as the playoffs and tournaments approach.

Time needed: 5 minutes

How to use five-game rolling average statistics

  1. Compare five-game rolling stats to season standing.

    Use an advanced stats page to find each team’s five-game rolling stats. Compare them to each team’s season standing.

  2. Watch for inconsistencies.

    Note any inconsistencies between standings. Think critically about why the numbers don’t match.

  3. Use multiple stats.

    Comparing each team’s win-loss record to their five-game rolling win-loss record isn’t enough. Also review each team’s net rating.

  4. Handicap yourself before looking at the sportsbook’s numbers.

    Determine your own point spread, or likely money line winner, before looking at the sportsbook’s numbers. Use your results as a basis for comparison.

  5. Place a bet when you have an edge.

    If the sportsbook’s numbers don’t match what you’d expect following your research, you’ve found an edge. Use your analysis to place an informed wager.

The key to this strategy is a little detective work. Look at both teams’ records in the past five games. Also look at their offensive and defensive ratings. Ask yourself why they might be winning or losing more compared to their season standing. Identifying the discrepancy between these stats can help you better handicap the matchup.

Why the Five-Game Rolling Average Doesn’t Match the Season Standing

Common reasons for teams underperforming or overachieving compared to their overall record include: 

  • Injuries to key player(s).
  • Key player(s) returning from injury.
  • A long road trip.
  • Strength of opponents.
  • Team on a hot or cold streak.
  • Inexperience or fatigue becoming a factor later in the season.
  • Teams performing with major roster changes (after a trade in the NBA, for example).

You want to look for games where each team is showing a trend in one direction or the other. Consider all the variables that would explain a team’s recent win-loss record and their offensive and defensive performance. 

For example, a team that’s 5-0 or 0-5 in their last five games will make this metric more important than for a team that’s 3-2 or 2-3 in their last five. The former case shows a definitive trend, while the latter is less predictive of what they’ll do in their next game.

Also, look for trends that go in the opposite direction than what the season standing suggests. For example, consider a league-leading team with a winning record but is recently on a 1-4 stretch in their last five games.

Look for Contradictory Trends

It’s typically easier to pinpoint why a top team is suddenly underperforming than why last-place team is also 1-4 in the five-game rolling average. We would expect the league’s worst team to have a recent losing record. In this case, the five-game rolling average doesn’t give us much to go on. 

But the 1-4 five-game rolling average for the struggling top team is a big clue. Are they coming off a big road trip? Did their star player get hurt? Did they run up against stronger competition after a weaker schedule?

If you can find out what’s happening, you can better predict how they’ll perform in their next outing.

Five-Game Rolling Average Example

On January 28, 2023, the Washington Wizards visited the New Orleans Pelicans

Washington Wizards vs New Orleans Pelicans Betting Odds

On the season, Washington was 23-26 with an away record of 11-16. New Orleans was 26-24 and 17-9 at home.

The spread for this game was New Orleans -5.5. On the surface, this spread makes sense based on the above records.

Review the Trends

Now let’s look at each team’s five-game rolling average. 

Washington: 4-1 (23-26)
New Orleans: 0-5 (26-24)

As we noted above, Washington is playing above its season-long trend, whereas it’s the opposite for New Orleans. Now, we’re going to see if there is anything that could’ve caused those disparities.

The NBA is a star-driven league, and that argument applies to both teams here. Washington got star guard Bradley Beal back after a two-week absence on Jan. 18. Once he returned, the Wizards beat the New York Knicks on the road by 11, won at home against Orlando by 20, upset the Mavericks in Dallas by one point, and won by five in Houston. Beal provided a spark for the Wizards.

The Pelicans, on the other hand, had actually lost six in a row before this game and were 3-9 once Zion Williamson went out with an injury at the beginning of January. New Orleans had played well at home, but four of their nine losses came in this 3-9 stretch.

Combine with the Net Rating Metric

We can also use the NBA net rating metric to determine how a team is playing independent of its record. 

First, find each team’s five-game rolling offensive rating and defensive rating. Look at the NBA’s advanced statistics page. A higher offensive rating is better, while a lower defensive rating is better. 

Next, subtract the defensive rating from the offensive rating. The difference is the Net Rating. A higher five-gaming rolling net rating is better than a lower one.

In the five-game rolling average before this game, Washington’s net rating was 4.5, which was ranked 8th in the NBA. The Pelicans, meanwhile, had a rating of -10.7, which was second to last in the league.

Compare the Spread vs. the Five-Game Rolling Average Stats

So why was New Orleans favored by 5.5 points in this game? 

Casual bettors will typically favor the home team with the better record, and the Pelicans spent a considerable amount of time atop the Western Conference standings in November and December 2022. If people don’t do their research, New Orleans laying 5.5 sounds like a reasonable spread.

But in looking at the research above, you might think that Washington had a good chance of covering if not outright winning this game. And you would be right. 

The Wizards raced out to a 59-50 lead at halftime and won the game outright, 113-103. If you took the Wizards on the moneyline, you would’ve been a winner at +175. You would have also won against the spread, as the Wizards handily covered the +5.5 line.

When To Use the Five-Game Rolling Average

Use the five-game rolling average as a handicapping tool. 

Using the example above, the five-game rolling average alerts you that there’s a disparity between the teams’ overall records and their recent play. That means you need to investigate further. 

Knowing what we learned above, you might give a slight edge to New Orleans in the game since they were playing at home. Or, you could even predict that Washington would win on the road.

If you predicted a Wizards win or a close Pelicans victory, you would then be happy to see the point spread sitting at -5.5 in favor of New Orleans. The five-game rolling average helps show you that the underdog is playing well against a struggling favorite. 

When you identify a disparity using the five-game rolling average, you can make an informed wager that’s much more likely to win.

Five-Game Rolling Average Case Study

In our example, we discussed teams whose five-game rolling average were different from their overall record. 

For this case study, we’ll look at the opposite situation: teams with distinctly different five-game rolling average records that are also in line with their overall record.

Detroit Pistons at Cleveland Cavaliers

Detroit Pistons vs Cleveland Cavaliers Betting Odds

Date: February 8, 2023
Line: Cleveland -8.5

Coming into the game, Detroit was 1-4 in their last five games, 2-8 in their last 10, and 14-40 overall. If anything, they have been remarkably consistent, which is good for bettors. 

Cleveland came in at 34-22 overall and 4-1 in their last five. Using the NBA net rating metric, the game appeared to be even more of a mismatch. In the five-game rolling average, the Cavaliers ranked first in net rating with 14.9; Detroit was 27th at -10.1. 

Handicap Before Looking at the Spread

Other supporting data favored Cleveland as well. The Cavs were 15-5 straight-up in their last 20 home games while Detroit had only covered in four of their previous 14 games overall. 

With Cleveland playing well, Detroit playing poorly, and a 25-point differential in net rating, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to handicap a double-digit win by the Cavs. 

Remember to handicap before you look at the spread, so you’re not influenced by the number set by the oddsmakers. If you study this data and determine the Cavs will win by 12 or 13 points, you will be very happy to see a spread of 8.5 in favor of Cleveland. 

How the Case Study Worked Out

Since we handicapped a victory by Cleveland that was around 4-5 points more than the set line, we bet Cleveland -8.5.

In the game itself, the Pistons’ struggles on offense and defense immediately were apparent. Cleveland was already ahead by 18 points (32-14) after the first quarter. 

The Pistons cut the gap to eight points by the end of the third quarter, but Cleveland took over again in the fourth with a 37-17 period to win the game, 113-85. 

What to Learn from the Case Study

Our five-game rolling averages of each team’s records and net ratings, supplemented by their recent history straight-up and against the spread, led us to backing the Cavaliers. In the end, our hard work was rewarded.

The Cavs played as well as they have all season, and Detroit had been struggling of late like they have most of the year. Those trends continued to play out in this game. 

In this case, researching the five-game rolling averages confirmed existing trends. A trend confirmation combined with other supporting data was good enough to place a winning bet on the Cavaliers.

Conclusion

In sports betting, you always want to use the tools available to you to dissect data and make informed decisions. By using the five-game rolling average, you’re getting more of a true snapshot of how a team is playing coming into a particular game than by taking the larger sample size of the entire season into account. 

Of course, there’s no such thing as a sure bet. But, the five-game rolling average statistics give us a more accurate picture of a team’s performance as they enter a matchup. Combined with other useful handicapping tools, you can make the most informed decision possible before risking your money on a basketball wager.

Basketball Five-Game Rolling Average FAQs

What is a five-game rolling average for sports handicapping?

A five-game rolling average is a statistical value from the past five games. It’s like looking at standings and stats for the team’s previous five games instead of the entire season.

What is the key to the five-game rolling average betting strategy?

The key to this strategy is a little detective work. Look at both teams’ records in the past five games. Also look at their offensive and defensive ratings. Ask yourself why they might be winning or losing more compared to their season standing.

Why are the season standing and five-game rolling average standing inconsistent?

These numbers might be inconsistent for a number of reasons. The most common include: injuries to key player(s), key player(s) returning from injury, or a team coming off a long road trip.

What is the NBA Net Rating Metric?

Subtract a team’s defensive rating from its offensive rating. A higher offensive rating is better, while a lower defensive rating is better. 
The difference is the net rating metric.

When to use the five-gaming rolling average for sports handicapping?

Use the five-game rolling average as a handicapping tool.  The five-game rolling average alerts you that there’s a disparity between the teams’ overall records and their recent play.

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