The NBA is where the very highest level of basketball is executed on a night-in and night-out basis. The league consists of thirty teams, each of which plays eighty-two regular-season games before the four-round playoffs begin in April. That means there are 2,460 individual games available to either bet on or collect data from, making this league particularly suitable for gambling.
Basketball is a fast-paced, fluid game with lots of moving pieces and numerous variables responsible for the outcome of any given play. For handicappers, this means that identifying the most meaningful stats with the most reliable correlations to winning basketball is vital to making successful wagers. Beyond studying which actions lead to wins on the court, the product is also influenced by off-the-court factors such as travel, fatigue, and motivation.
This article explores some of the primary attributes to consider when betting on NBA games. The style teams employ, the strength of their roster, and the current situation the squad is in all play roles in the result of each contest. Here are some basic NBA betting tips to get you examining the most significant statistics and approaching your basketball gambling like a winning handicapper.
It’s a Superstar’s League
With only five players on the court at any given time, the NBA product is more driven by superstars than any other major sports leagues. Not only are the twelve-active-man rosters the smallest in all major sports, but the five starters get the bulk of the minutes, with rotations usually only going eight to nine players deep. Between the production they’re responsible for on the court and the percentage of the available minutes they play, the top 5%-10% of players in the NBA are incredibly valuable.
The first thing you’ll want to look at when betting on a team is who their best player is and whether or not they’ll be available to play in the upcoming contest. Depending on how far along it is in the season, some teams may choose to start resting key players sporadically in order to keep them fresh for the more critical playoff games. Injuries are another reason they may be absent.
If the squad is going to have their star player or players, you may want to see where they rank in relation to the other top players in the NBA. So often in basketball, the team with the best player wins, even though it’s a team sport. Roster depth and good role players are instrumental to long-term success, but having a superstar talent eating up 38 minutes a game is an invaluable commodity.
When the playoffs begin, having the best overall player in a series becomes even more vital. In the post-season, the games slow down and focus more on isolation plays and creating mismatches. Furthermore, officials tend to give the biggest-named players more calls, leading to more trips to the free throw line.
Betting on the playoffs is a different world, so you need to switch gears if you have any hopes of coming away with any profits. This is why we’ve dedicated an article specifically for NBA playoff betting tips, to help give you an edge before diving into unfamiliar territory.
Research Home and Away Records
It’s a well-known fact that teams play better at home than they do on the road. When they play in their own stadium, the athletes get to sleep in their own bed, see their family, and go through their familiar routine before game time. Meanwhile, the visiting team is forced to live out of hotels, away from their family, and may have been traveling for up to a week before the game, depending on where it falls in that particular road trip.
Additionally, some home crowds are especially loud and rowdy, which can give a boost to performance for their players. When a big shot or a block on the other end is made, the crowd erupts in excitement, which creates a kind of psychological momentum for the home squad.
Furthermore, crowd noise impacts officiating. Referees are human, and just like anyone else, they’d prefer to be loudly cheered than heckled and booed off the court. Studies have shown that officials are subconsciously affected by loud home crowds, causing some bias in favor of the home team.
When handicapping a game, check out each team’s home and away records. Some organizations stay reasonably consistent everywhere, but others may show trends that you can bank on. Look at their offensive and defensive numbers to see which side of the ball is influenced by the location of the game the most. In handicapping, a familiar adage is that home court is worth about three points, but it really depends on the franchise.
The schedule a team is given also plays an important role in wins and losses. NBA teams go on long road trips and are often forced to play several games in a short span of time. What’s worse, they are even forced to play back-to-backs, which frequently lead to losses versus inferior teams simply due to exhaustion.
The worst of all back-to-backs is when teams play in Utah and Denver two days in a row. Both of these cities are located at high elevations and have reputations for fatiguing visiting players quickly. When the league schedules these two matchups consecutively, visiting franchises rarely escape the second game with a win.
Even when there is a day of rest in between games, the longer teams travel on the road, the more it wears on the players. The league recently did away with teams playing four games in five nights, an almost impossible gauntlet of games that had team officials and teammates griping for quite some time.
Before wagering on a game, check out the last five games or so that each squad played. Check how long they’ve been on the road, or if they just returned home from a lengthy trip. The NBA season is a marathon; there will be times that the schedule defeats a team before the contest is even played.
An excellent way to profit from these unfair travel schedules is to identify instances when a top-ranked team in the league is playing an inferior opponent on the road. If you can catch a team like the Rockets or Warriors in Utah or Denver on the second night of a back-to-back, you can count on public money coming in on the favorite, while you can play the altitude and fatigue to get a hefty payout.
Pace Is Crucial
These days, many teams in the NBA are playing at a blinding-fast speed. Gone are the days that teams would patiently bring the ball up the court, work it into the post, and use up the entire shot clock looking for the best shot. The current winning formula in the NBA is all about pace and space. Quickly get the ball up the court and either shoot a three or get a layup before the defense is able to get set.
This creates more possessions per team, increasing the opportunities for points, steals, rebounds, and every other meaningful statistic. From a gambling perspective, the pace is a crucial element of determining how to bet on totals. You’ll want to look at each team’s possessions per game before making a decision on which side to wager.
When a fast team plays an opponent that likes to work at a slower pace, the typically slower side’s statistics will all go up some. The team playing at a quick pace will force their competitors into more possessions than usual simply by getting down the court and shooting a lot, which then gives them the ball.
You may want to examine the personnel on the slower squad to find opportunities to bet the moneyline or point spread as well.
Teams that still utilize big lineups and plodding post players often struggle with the speedy opposition. Before their big men can even get down the court on defense, the other team is pushing the ball up the court to get a fast break. These plays add up over the course of the game and tire the larger lineups. When a higher-paced team can force a slower one to play at their speed, it’s a significant advantage.
No player or team of players can stay one-hundred-percent engaged at all times. There will be lulls in their concentration and effort throughout the season. It’s only natural with such an extended schedule, especially towards the end of the year, when some teams no longer have anything to play for.
Franchises that have already clinched a spot in the playoffs may approach the final stretch of the season as a rest period. Even when they play their full roster, the object of those games is to stay warm but not get hurt, rather than going all out for a win. When they’re facing teams battling for final playoff spots, it’s not uncommon for them to lose. The two teams are playing for entirely different stakes.
This is when teams without any hopes of making the playoffs purposely lose as many games as possible in an effort to get the best potential draft pick in the following draft. These teams are actively trying to lose, so should you identify one of them, do not bet them on the moneyline under any circumstance!
Furthermore, you may want to consider any individual awards at stake. Last season, when Russell Westbrook was desperately trying to win the MVP by averaging a triple-double, he was playing his hardest in late-season games, even when they were meaningless. Players will also do this if the scoring title or some other record is on the line. Before you place a bet, just know what each side is playing for and how badly they need the win if they want to win at all.
Layups, Three-Pointers, and Free Throws Are King
Free throws, three-pointers, and shots at the rim, whether they be a layup or dunk, are the most efficient shots in the game. In the NBA, teams have begun all but eliminating the midrange game from their strategies, as it’s inefficient. A franchise is better off shooting 30% from beyond the arc than they are 50% from midrange, so many teams are getting up as many long-range shots as possible and counting on the math to win games.
The most extreme example of this approach is the analytics-driven Houston Rockets. They’ve almost entirely avoided long two-pointers, opting instead to run a series of pick and rolls to either get their superstar leader James Harden a drive to the basket or a kick-out to the three-point line. It has apparently worked, as they won the most games of any team this season.
The idea is to play at a fast pace and launch roughly fifty three-point shots a game. They only need to hit fifteen or so to win the game, as long as their free throws and finishes at the basket are there. The team keeps four or five shooters on the floor at all times and makes efforts to get shots up at the beginning of the shot clock to increase the number of possessions they have so that they may hit enough threes to win the contest.
When you’re handicapping a contest, look into how many attempts of each shot type both sides take. Then research how successful they are at capitalizing on those tries. Teams that shoot the highest number of free throws per game and hit the most threes will be victorious the majority of the time. A high instance of midrange shots is a red flag that should be avoided when betting, in most situations.
Another statistic worth looking into before putting any money down on an NBA team is turnovers. Squads with poor assists-to-turnovers ratios generally perform worse than clubs that protect the ball. Turnovers not only cost a team the possession of the ball without getting anything in return, but they also typically give the ball up in positions that are easy for the opponent to score.
Passes that are intercepted in the passing lanes frequently become fast break points. By the time the offense can react to the steal, the defender is already streaking down the court towards the basket with a significant head start.
Winning basketball is all about maximizing possessions and getting good, open shots. A team cannot afford to limit their own chances while giving free possessions to their opponents and hope to win.
NBA games are often decided by only a few pivotal plays down the stretch. Every single point earned off of a turnover is potentially the difference-maker in the final score. Teams that are careless with the ball should be targeted and bet against, as they’ll be generating lots of opportunities for their opponents.
Rebounding Wins Games
Similarly, rebounding can generate the additional possessions that can swing a game in either direction. Offensive rebounds give the attacking team a new shot clock and another chance at increasing their score. Defensive rebounds end the offensive possession without any points and create opportunities for outlet passes and fast breaks.
Again, basketball is all about giving your team the maximum amount of chances to score possible. Players may only shoot 30%-35% from the three-point line, but if they get a few extra shots per contest, those points add up quickly.
Also, in the case of offensive rebounds, they have a way of disheartening the defense and wearing them down. It’s an arduous task in today’s NBA to get a stop on defense. Most of the rules benefit the attacking player, and the skill level is so high that they’re almost impossible to prevent from scoring regardless. When a stop is made, only to immediately have to resume playing defense, the chances of stopping another score drastically goes down.
When gambling on basketball, take time to study how each side rebounds. The teams that control possession of the ball and get extra opportunities are most likely to win. When an underdog happens to be the better rebounding team, identify them as a potential upset pick, if other factors are relatively even.
Shop for Lines
Making money through sports gambling is just as much about timing and finding the right odds as it is about picking the correct side of the bet. Once you’ve handicapped a matchup and feel relatively confident in the outcome, shop around several online sportsbooks to find the most favorable odds. Most books will have similar odds, but even slight differences in the point spread or moneyline odds can make a huge difference.
The top sports handicappers that gamble for a living make a science out of timing their bets for maximum impact. They’ll open accounts on all of the best betting sites and continuously monitor the odds, waiting to pounce as soon as the lines hit a specific number.
Gambling is all about finding value, and if you hope to profit, you can’t leave money on the table in the form of extra points or a better payout.
As a novice, it’s not necessary to open accounts on every online sportsbook or to have sophisticated algorithms to help you determine the correct price at which to buy. But you would be wise to open accounts at two or three locations and pick the best line available for those options. You’d be shocked at how often a half-point is the difference between winning or losing totals or point spread picks. Similarly, the slightest movement in moneyline odds can be the difference between positive and negative value.
NBA basketball is an excellent sport for gambling. The long season and influential players provide numerous opportunities throughout the year to find positive value wagers; the trick is merely knowing which factors to consider. Variables such as the travel schedule, pace of play, and motivation are all part of the equation; the handicapper must then decide how much to prioritize each one.
If you’re hoping to start betting on NBA basketball, begin by researching the tips we’ve provided in this article. Finding teams cursed with the dreaded Utah-Denver back-to-back is a good start, especially when you may see great units that the public enjoys betting falling into the trap. Also identify the best rebounding teams, as well as those that have trouble with turnovers, as they’ll be likely targets for bets as well.
Remember, the teams that earn themselves the most possessions and use those chances to take efficient shots are going to be the most successful.
With limited minutes and few roster spots, these critical pieces of the team will impact the outcome of games more than anything else. As always, once you’ve done your handicapping, always go line shopping to ensure the best bang for your buck; over time, you will be happy you did.