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Betting on the NBA has become increasingly popular in recent years for several reasons. Firstly, the NBA is, by a wide margin, the highest scoring sport. With well over 210 points being scored in an average game, it is not only one of the most exciting sports, there are simply more opportunities for in-game and prop betting on the NBA.
Additionally, with only fifteen players per team, it is much easier to track player movement and to be familiar with every relevant player, which is a far tougher task following football or baseball. There are more players on a college football team than there are in an entire NBA division, so a serious NBA fan can truly have an opinion on every player.
Before you start betting on the NBA, you should become an NBA expert. The NBA is arguably the most stat-friendly sport, with easy-to-follow basic statistics, like points score and field goal percentage, in addition to a growing universe of advanced metrics. You should familiarize yourself with newer stats like PER, true shooting percentage, usage rate, stats per 100 possessions, and on/off stats.
Some team statistics you should be looking into when considering which teams to bet on include traditional stats like shooting percentage and rebounding numbers, plus advanced stats such as offensive and defensive rating, pace, and rebound rates.
To explain a few of the newer statistics:
Rebound rate: The percentage of available rebounds that a team averages grabbing in a given game. A top team might have a 54% rebound rate while the worst rebounding team might be closer to 46%.
Pace: The average number of possessions a team has in a game, often hovers around 100 per game
Turnover Rate: The % of possessions that end with a turnover
Offensive Efficiency: The number of points a team averages per 100 possessions
True Shooting Percentage: A more accurate shooting percentage that factors in three point shooting and free throw
One unique, and crucial aspect of NBA betting is knowing which players are playing every night. In football, players play if they are healthy enough to play, and sit if they are injured. In baseball, very few players play all 162 games, and it is difficult to predict the occasions when a key player will be out of the lineup. The NBA is sort of a mix of the two. A number of players will play 82 games in a season, assuming they are healthy, but some players, particularly veterans, might sit out a game if they are injured. A key part of betting on the NBA is knowing when a player might sit out. Certain players, like Kawhi Leonard, who has never played more than 74 games in a season, are known for occasionally sitting out half of a tough back-to-back, particularly if there is a minor injury concern.
A relatively new rule states that NBA teams must announce their starting lineups thirty minutes before tipoff which does help NBA bettors, but that also means that if a key player is questionable you might need to wait until close to game time before placing your bets. The betting odds also might change, possibly not in your favor, once it is official whether the player in question is suiting up or not.
One piece of advice is to follow the beat writers of any NBA team you are considering betting on Twitter. National reporters would likely break the story of whether Lebron James or Kevin Durant planned to sit out a game, but if your betting concern is the Orlando Magic shooting guard, your best bet would be to follow an Orlando Magic beat writer.
A large part of becoming a serious NBA bettor is learning the league’s scheduling quirks, and figuring out how to use them to your gambling advantage. NBA teams often complain about having back-to-backs, which is two games on consecutive nights, often on the road. Even worse, is the dreaded three games in four nights. There are other well known scheduling quirks, such as west coast teams playing early games on the east coast, or teams playing early games on Christmas Day or MLK Day and playing a sluggish game or getting off to a slow start, but the numbers are less conclusive about those trends.
In recent years, teams complained enough about the difficulties of back-to-backs and playing three games in four nights so loudly that the league actually extended the season by starting play earlier most years, in order to lessen the number of “schedule losses” that occur when teams are playing too frequently.
While it is true statistically that teams suffer when they are playing a second game in two nights and their opponent is not, it is imperative to know that those facts are already baked into the NBA betting odds. If you know that teams struggle when playing their third game in four nights, trust that the people who get paid to set basketball betting odds are also familiar with those statistics.
One thing that separates the good NBA bettors from the great NBA bettors is analyzing outside factors and using them to your advantage. Every bettor has access to the same comprehensive statistical information, and every sportsbook is well aware that a team has failed to cover five games in a row, or has hit the over in eight of their last nine games.
But, what about the things that don’t show up in the box score? Is a player facing his old team that traded him after a bitter dispute? Maybe Kawhi Leonard left one team (the Toronto Raptors) on good terms and another team (the San Antonio Spurs) on bad terms. It’s also not just if a player doesn’t like a certain team, the opposite works too, where a team might dislike a player who forced their way out of town and they are extra motivated to beat them.
Are the two teams rivals or did a number of skirmishes break out the last time these teams played? Perhaps a certain player always struggles in a certain city because he enjoys the nightlife or has family in town. Certain players play well in a specific city or are significantly better shooters at home than they are on the road.
A serious NBA betting expert should be familiar with this data, even if not all of it is actionable when it comes to betting on a specific game. This information might not affect the spread, but you might want to bet specific player props when a player plays against a hated rival or a team that traded him.
No sport has a more pronounced home court advantage than the NBA. While many other sports see home teams winning at a clip of 52-53 percent, in the NBA that number traditionally is in the high 50’s, often between 56 and 58 percent league-wide. In the playoffs that number is significantly more pronounced with teams winning close to two-thirds of all home games. NBA playoffs or even Finals betting odds can swing on which team has home court advantage in the series. Winning a road playoff game is called “stealing a game” for a reason.
It is not uncommon to see elite teams going 39-2 or 40-1 or at home during the regular season, it has actually happened multiple times in recent years. Of course, in the era of COVID-19 preventing large crowds at games, and the entire league playing a full postseason in one city, home court advantage has been lessened significantly. This would indicate that, to no one’s surprise, the fans were a more crucial factor in home court advantage than the travel factor.
Modern NBA teams fly on comfortable private planes and stay in the world’s nicest hotels. While every player would presumably prefer to be at home, the rigors of the travel of the 1970’s are long gone. Instead, a massive part of home court advantage appears to have been raucous crowds impacting the decisions of referees and forcing them to subconsciously give more calls to the home team. Many studies had indicated that was the case, and now it appears like there is proof. It remains to be seen if home court advantage will go back to its highest levels after the COVID-era, or if the league will implement measures to affect home court advantage.
If you are a new bettor, you have some research to do. It is a tired aphorism that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it” but it is also extremely true when it comes to NBA betting. There are certain things that are true about the NBA but don’t exist in other sports.
For instance, the best team usually does win in the NBA. Not only that, but the team with the best player usually wins in the playoffs. If you look at the historical list of NBA champions, it is very rare that a team without a top five or so player can win the title.
In the age of the so-called superteam, this is extremely important to keep in mind. Teams that make blockbuster moves to add superstars can see their betting odds change dramatically overnight. So any savvy bettor looking to stay ahead of the curve should keep an eye out for trades, free agent additions, and other team moves that can affect the roster.
It’s not just knowing the history, though. One of the great parts of following the NBA is that a serious fan can know the names of every key player in the league. With thirty teams and fifteen players per team, often only ten or so of which play regularly, it is realistic for a new fan to gain comprehensive knowledge of the NBA in one short season.
Before you place a bet, you don’t just need to know the odds, you should know why one team is favored and one team is the underdog. To take a randomly selected game as an example, the Golden State Warriors are 8 point home favorites against the Cleveland Cavaliers on a Monday night in February. Why have the oddsmakers set the number at 8? Well the Warriors are 14-13 and the Cavaliers are 10-18. Golden State is also the home team which is worth about six points. When the teams had played two weeks earlier, Cleveland was the home team, so the Warriors were only two point favorites.
The goal of the oddsmaker is to set a line where about half the public will bet on one side and the other half will take the second team. That way, the bookie minimizes their risk and uses the money wagered on the losing side to pay the winning side, thus ensuring a profit. So, for this particular game, if seventy five percent of the money was bet on the Cavaliers, the oddsmakers might move the number to 7.5 to entice people to bet on the Warriors.
Obviously, an informed bettor will study the trends and know the reasons why the Warriors are such large favorites, for example, the Cavaliers entered this particular game on a seven game losing streak.
The most important thing is to watch games and read everything you can about the league. It’s okay to lose a bet because your team didn’t win, it’s not okay to lose a bet because you were under informed.
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