Not everyone thrives under pressure. In fact, in the NBA, there are plenty of teams and players who wheel through success during the regular season only to crumble when it matters most. As bettors, we like that — not because we want to see players suffer (I hope) but because it gives us the edge on who to fade.
I dug into the data. Here are our biggest NBA playoff choke artists.
NBA Playoff Choke Artists: The Denver Nuggets
The numbers are glossy — heck, they even have the reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic — but the Nuggets continuously let everyone down in the postseason. And Denver’s failures date way back.
|Teams||Regular-Season Wins Since 2018-19||Postseason Record Since 2018-19|
|Milwaukee Bucks||271||38-22 (.633)|
|Denver Nuggets||248||21-27 (.438)|
|Philadelphia 76ers||248||20-20 (.500)|
|Boston Celtics||241||30-25 (.545)|
Since the 1976 ABA-NBA merger, the Nuggets have never even reached the NBA Finals. That’s sad. The closest they’ve come is the Western Conference final, most recently in 2019-20. Other than that, it’s been mostly early exits.
And Jokic-era fans are lucky because older generations of Nuggets fans had it worse. From 2003 to 2013, Denver made the playoffs every season but was eliminated in the first round all but one time. That seems impossibly bad.
Profit Off The Nuggets’ Playoff Failures
Given Denver’s propensity for retched play early in the postseason, there’s definitely some value in taking Minnesota to win their upcoming playoff series, assuming the Timberwolves get past Oklahoma City in tonight’s final play-in game. Minnesota should have Rudy Gobert back in the lineup, which will make things tougher on Jokic in the paint.
If Oklahoma City wins and knocks out Minny, there’s still a case to be made the Nuggets blow it. The Thunder were the second-most profitable underdog squad all season. A sprinkle bet on OKC at that point is a good call.
If you wait until the Nugs advance to the Western semis, they will face the winner of the Suns vs Clippers. In that situation, it seems very likely they’ll match up with Phoenix and Kevin Durant. At that point, all the value in fading Denver will have evaporated.
NBA Playoff Choke Artists: Russell Westbrook
I hate to always pick on the guy, but the numbers don’t lie. When Westbrook joined the Clippers, I was skeptical. After diving into his playoff numbers, I’m convinced Los Angeles is doomed.
Since 2016-17, Westbrook’s teams are 8-21 SU in the playoffs. Granted, he played for the post-KD Thunder, the Rockets and the Wizards, but his failures were magnified at an individual level, too. Unsurprisingly, during that span, his turnover numbers increased (4.7 per game) above his career mark, while his shooting efficiency dwindled (.386 FG%, .292 3P%) and he produced negative win shares in his last two postseasons.
I get it, it’s harder to score in the postseason, but this failing trend has existed for a while with Westbrook.
Profit Off Westbrook’s Playoff Failures
Beyond fading the Clippers in the first round – bet on a Suns sweep for deep value (+325) – I’d look for a few OVERs to cash in that series. Since Westbrook joined LA in late February, the Clippers went 13-8 OVER, a rarity for a club that was a consistent UNDER team before his arrival.
On a player props level, I’d hammer Westbrook’s turnovers in each game. It looks like the total will be set at 3.5, and with what we know about his giveaway averages in the playoffs, I’ll recommend fading him on a nightly basis.
NBA Playoff Choke Artists: Trae Young
Young is a star player with a bright future ahead. However, his brutal performance in last year’s postseason alone earns him a spot on our list of playoff choke artists.
Genuinely, Trae forgot how to shoot in the first round of the 2021-22 postseason vs the Heat. In Game 1, he went 1-for-12. He recovered a bit in Games 2 and 3 but fell off the wagon with 3-for-11 and 2-for-12 performances in Games 4 and 5, respectively. All told, he shot .319 in five games, and thanks to that miserable stretch, his playoff shooting percentage plummeted to .418 and his three-point shooting is now at .286.
It was one very, very bad series, but I have concerns that if Young isn’t up to snuff vs the Celtics on Saturday, the Hawks might not even win a game. Last postseason, Young averaged 15.8 points per game. During the 2022-23 regular season, the Hawks went 5-9 SU when Young scored less than 20 points and 1-4 SU when he scored less than 16.
Profit Off Young’s Playoff Failures
Use the same strategy as the Suns vs Clippers series. Bet on Boston to win in four games (+240) and five games (+140). Truly, that’s awesome value for what will unfold. After that, smash the UNDER on Young’s three-pointers prop, but only if it rests at 2.5. He’s averaged just 1.4 made threes per game over his last 10.
We can give Young the Westbrook treatment and fade him on turnovers, too. Somehow, Young averaged 6.2 turnovers per game in his last playoff series. Even if he’s not that bad during this series vs Boston, I like him to consistently hit the OVER 3.5 giveaways (he’s averaging 4.4 per game in his last 10).