Betting on the NBA, especially during the regular season, is one of the more difficult prospects in all of sports gambling. With seemingly endless variables to consider on a night-to-night basis, it can feel more like you’re guessing than making an educated decision when it comes to making your picks.
Luckily, you can still throw some action on the league without having to pick teams on the point spread or the moneyline.
Everyone knows NBA outcomes are all about the players, and betting should be as well. In this article, I’ll lay out some tips for betting on the players in the NBA.
Find the Right Bet
I suppose you could consider betting on an individual basis as making “prop bets,” but I don’t think that gives it the credit and legitimacy this type of betting strategy deserves.
My argument would be that if you put the same time, effort, and research into learning about how to make money betting on players individually, why wouldn’t that be as credible as the traditional betting strategies? With that being said, it is still important to find the right way to do it. That means you should decide if you’re going to pick a lane (or two) and stick with them, or spread out your money over several types of bets.
When it comes to the bet offerings themselves, there are a number of ways to stay player-focused. Here are a few of the most popular.
Individual Game Performances
Personally, I like these the best because you don’t have to wait long for your results. Simply find the stats you want to bet on, which typically means points, rebounds, or assists (and in many cases, the total of all three combined) and go with that.
Scoring title, assist leader, MVP, Most Improved, Defensive Player of the Year—the list goes on and on. Though futures bets require you to wait several months to know if you’ve won or lost (unless the award becomes a foregone conclusion due to an overwhelming body of work on the court), they’re a good option for one reason: value.
Now, I’ll get into the type of props I like to play on occasion. Keep in mind that I wouldn’t recommend making these plays the bulk of your strategy, but they’re fun nonetheless.
Some examples of props I always find entertaining have to do with head-to-head performance within a single game.
Now that I’ve explained what your options are in most cases, I’ll explain how you can make the right picks.
In Futures Bets, It’s About Value
One of the most popular ways to bet on the performance of individual players is through futures bets. This type of bet requires some patience. But in exchange for that patience, you can find some unrivaled value.
The best way to be profitable making futures bets is by finding the right “package” of bets that give you the most chances to win while still being profitable. I’ll explain what I mean by packaging bets since that term is not necessarily part of standard gambling vernacular.
Nearly all the typical NBA futures bet for individual awards, meaning MVP, DPOY, Most Improved, Sixth Man of the Year, etc., will give you plus-money odds unless you’re betting toward the end of the season (when the results are looking more certain). If you’re betting on these outcomes before the season starts, or even early in the year, then you’ll notice that even the favorite will probably be +200 or more.
Prior to the 2020-2021 season, the top two favorites, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, were +400 and +450 respectively. Following them in the odds were Steph Curry at +800 and Anthony Davis at +900.
In the case I laid out above, if you split your bankroll up among the top 4 and any one of them wins, you’d break even. If you allocated slightly more money toward Luka and Giannis, you’d be in great shape because even a smaller bet will have a huge payout if Steph or Anthony Davis takes home the award. Sounds easy enough, right?
Now, here comes the rub. At the time of writing, LeBron James—who started the season in the #5 spot at +1000—is now the favorite at +175, and we’re not even at the halfway point in the season. The takeaway should be that when it comes to futures, there’s obviously more risk in getting your bet in early, but your value proposition is significantly reduced the longer you wait.
When it comes to making the most out of your futures bet options, value and timing are the two most important words to keep in mind.
Individual Games Require Your Attention
Whereas you can study the offseason transactions and follow the news during the offseason leading up to placing futures bets, when it comes to betting on players on an individual-game basis, you’ll need to do a little more work throughout the season.
If you’re an NBA fan who isn’t only in it for the money, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, simply being a fan is not enough to build a profitable betting game plan.
When it comes to betting the over/under on how many points a player will score in a game, the first place you should look is the previous game. It’s no secret that even the best players in the world go through hot and cold streaks, but don’t forget: The sportsbooks are well aware of the latest performances, too.
So, with that in mind, it’s important to remember that you’re not really going against the sportsbook; they’re an impartial third-party. You need to determine whether or not the public is going to make an educated decision. Spoiler alert: The sports betting public, generally speaking, almost never makes educated decisions.
When players are on hot streaks in terms of scoring, sportsbooks will inflate their over/under number because they know the public likes to bet on points being scored, especially by stars. When it feels like the overwhelming sentiment is to bet the over, that’s the best time to go under.
Another thing to keep in mind is the impact that a team’s second-best player can have on the top-player’s scoring output and vice versa. For example, if a team’s number-one option has scored 30+ points in four out of the last five games, that means a good defensive team will put a higher emphasis on stopping him. That can have a big effect on opening up the floor for a team’s number two scorer.
In all cases, the most important thing to keep in mind when betting on individual games is the matchups. For some teams, that means matching up with a star big man (yes, a few still exist) and this can mean a much higher-than-average scoring night is in play.
Be Careful With the Odds
Smart gamblers know that it’s not just about winning or losing a bet, but it’s also about the odds attached to it in the first place. One of the downsides of individual player bets is that sportsbooks place rather unfavorable lines on these offerings.
If you’re betting on whether or not LeBron is going to score more or less than 26.5 points and the over is at -120 while the under is at -125, you’re risking at least 20% more than you stand to gain regardless of which side you choose.
In my opinion, any time you’re faced with a betting option and neither side has better than -110 odds, it’s in your best interest to simply move on. If you’re able to find alternative lines, you could mitigate some of the risk but you’d also be making the bets harder to win.
The main takeaway is that if you’re betting on the NBA on a nightly basis (or close to it), those -120s and -115s are going to add up. It might not like seem like it at the time, but trust me, they get expensive quickly.
The NBA has long been a “players league.” Isn’t it about time bettors started treating it as such? The next time you want to get some action in on a game, look at your individual player offerings before just going with the same old spread plays.