Mike Barner is an NBA Specialist for CBS Sportsline. In 2018, he was nominated for Basketball Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. When the 2019-20 NBA season was halted, he had an ATS record of 113-84, for over 20 units gained, and a very respectable 57% winning clip.
Our followers at The Winning Side know that the NBA is one of our bread-and-butter sports and Mike Barner is an analyst we follow and very much respect. In our effort to begin interviewing some of the top handicapping minds in America, we are thrilled that Mr. Barner took time out of his busy schedule to speak to us.
He has been in the fantasy sports industry for 13 years, so he called it a “natural transition” when he made the move to handicapping a couple years back.
Despite dabbling in other sports, including KBO Baseball recently, Barner assures us that the NBA is still his forte. “The NBA is my best sport,” he explained. “I think it’s because it’s my favorite of all the sports. I can’t get enough basketball. Pouring over stats is obviously important, but watching as many games as I do also gives you a good feel for teams.”
That statement is actually not as common as you’d think in this industry. Not every handicapper insists on watching the teams he’s wagering on. Some will only cap from a numbers-standpoint and don’t put as much credence into the ‘eye test’.
Barner does both. Like most of us, Barner is thrilled that the NBA is returning, even in a unique format. “I’m fine with it,” he says. “Honestly, as long as there is basketball, it’s a win in my book. It might not be pretty, early on, with how long teams have been off, but I think by the time we get towards the later rounds of the playoffs most of the players will be back in the swing of things.” He believes the odd, proposed format is going to present some unique challenges from a handicapping perspective. “I’m not sure I’m as concerned about the other challenges as much as I am about not being able to rely on home and road splits. I use those a lot. One of my favorite plays all season has been rolling with the Thunder, against the spread on the road, since they had dominated, in covering, away from OKC. Another example is how awful the Sixers have played on the road. With these games being played at a neutral site, l’ll be looking more specifically at matchups, such as which type of players or schemes give teams trouble.”
Barner believes that the playoff contenders could remain status quo, but there is one Western Conference team he suggests you keep an eye on. “Don’t be surprised if the current top eight seeds in each conference are the last 16 teams standing. One team that could sneak their way in is the Blazers, especially if they get Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back from injury.”
The plan for Barner, when the teams do hit the hardwood in Orlando, is to continue to cap games and players from a DFS-perspective. “I believe that my background in season-long fantasy sports and DFS gives me a unique edge in terms of handicapping,” he commented. “I have to know every player on every team in the league. I generally write over 20 fantasy/DFS articles a week, so I do a lot of research that helps me determine which players might be able to exploit certain matchups. This, in turn, could help a team win, or at least cover the spread.” Barner is top-notch at a sport that some cappers consider to be thee toughest sport to win at, consistently.
Personally, Barner feels the toughest sledding comes on the diamond. “I think MLB is the most difficult (to handicap) because it revolves so much around starting pitchers. Even ace starting pitchers are bound to have bad nights, so heavy favorites aren’t always easy plays. Even the worst teams in the league are going to win around 60 games a season, but they aren’t going to be the favorites in a lot of those wins.”
As a professional capper, cold streaks are something everyone has to, inevitably, deal with. Barner’s blueprint to handling them is more of an old school, keep doing what you’re doing approach. “I generally stay the course,” he says of dealing with frigid stretches. “Crazy things are going to happen in sports on a nightly basis. The key is to stick to your process that you trust and has been successful in the past.”
Professional handicappers are also known to deal with hot streaks in their own, unique ways. Some become even more cautious because they are afraid to lose and don’t want the heater to end. Or they become way too aggressive, believing they can’t lose so they play even more games, for more money.
Barner deals with hot streaks the same way he plays out cold streaks. “Overall, I’d say I’m a fairly cautious handicapper. I do wish that I could resist the number of parlays that I like sometimes, but I generally don’t have a problem staying away from games or sports that I don’t have a good feel for. I generally stick to my usual process. I will ride certain team’s hot streaks or trends, but I normally don’t do anything different if I’m on a heater myself.”
Everyone eventually cools down when they experience something like the heater Barner was on this NBA season. “The one that I was on this season was right up there with my best heaters. I had a few weeks in which I only had one or two wrong picks out of 10, or so. I even had a stretch of over 130 picks in which I hit around 62% of them. I had a stretch last season in which I hit around two-thirds of my picks for a few weeks in a row, too.”
We all love Scott Van Pelt’s ‘Bad Beats’ segment on ESPN and I always enjoy hearing from other handicappers about their worst beats. I asked Barner about his and it just so happened to be from this past season. “Man, I have to relive this?,” he reluctantly responded. “I had a three-team NBA parlay earlier this season that I would have hit big on. Two games were on the East Coast and the third was a Mavericks game being played in Dallas. I thought the Mavericks covering was a lock, but I was in trouble with both East Coast games early. Amazingly, both came back to cover, which included an overtime win by the Bulls, after they were down big in the fourth quarter. I believe I took the Mavericks to cover at +4 and they were winning by double-digits at the half, then still had a lead after three quarters. They tanked in the fourth and missed covering by two points. I didn’t sleep much that night.”
We would like to thank Mike Barner for his time and hope to speak to him again in the future. You can follow Barner’s picks at sportsline.com and follow him on Twitter @rotomikebarner.