After pro and college football, the NBA is the most popular sport with the betting public. And similar to the NFL and CFB, the NBA is predominantly a spread and total sport. But unlike football, the NBA is an every day sweat. Instead of playing once per week, the NBA offers a handful of games every single night. And instead of a 17-game schedule, the NBA season spans 82-regular season games. As a result, NBA bettors have far more opportunities to maximize their edge and turn a profit.
Over the past five seasons, NBA favorites have gone 3,936-1,893 (68%) straight up. At first glance, this win rate seems impressive. However, despite winning two-thirds of the time, NBA favorites have been a huge losing bet due to the fact that you are laying big minus numbers on the moneyline. Betting every NBA favorite straight up would have lost bettors nearly $17,000 over the past five seasons.
When it comes to the spread, favorites hold a slight edge at 50.2% ATS while dogs sit at 49.8% ATS. However, due to paying the juice both sides are a losing bet. The same can be said for totals. Over the past five seasons, overs have cashed 50.3% of the time compared to 49.7% for unders. Once again, both are losing bets due to the juice.
Without any overarching edges in terms of dogs, favorites, overs and unders, bettors should instead focus on individual matchups, including line movement, situational spots, injuries and more.
If you're new to betting the NBA, here are a handful of tips to help you turn a profit this season.
1. Focus on Betting Data: One of the best ways to make a smart NBA bet is by focusing on the betting market. This means monitoring line movement, knowing which side the public is on and being aware of which side is taking in sharp action. At VSiN, we provide real, accurate betting percentages from DraftKings. To find out where the public is, focus on the "% bets" column. If a team is getting more than 50%, that means they are a public play. Contrarian bettors will look for the most lopsided games of the day and then go the other way. For example, if a team is getting 75% or more bets, contrarians will look to take the team getting 25% or less bets. Bettors also want to be on the side taking in sharp action. To discover smart money, compare the "% bets" column to the "% handle" column. Look for teams getting low bets but higher dollars, indicating a larger share of big respected wagers in their favor. For example, if a team is getting 40% bets but 65% handle, that would indicate a 25% sharp money discrepancy. Lastly, be aware of line movement, especially reverse line movement (RLM). This is when the betting line moves in the opposite direction of the betting percentages. For example, if a team is getting 80% of bets but falls from -7 to -6, that would signal RLM on the opponent, which means the dog is taking in respected money.
2. Go Contrarian in Primetime Games: Unlike the NFL, not every NBA game is nationally televised. This means that there is oftentimes a wide gap between NBA games in terms of their popularity with the betting public. For instance, a 7 p.m. ET game between the Hornets and Pistons won't get nearly the betting attention and handle as an 8 p.m. ET game between the Celtics and Warriors. In order to bet against the public, focus on the primetime nationally televised games. If a game is on ESPN or TNT, it's sure to be the most heavily bet game of the night. These are the games the public flocks to. If 75% of more bets are hammering one side in a primetime game, this creates even more value to take the team getting 25% or less because it offers heavy public bias to go against.
3. Pay Attention to Schedule Spots: Before deciding who to bet on, make sure to be aware of the schedule spot for both teams. With so many games over the course of a long 82-game season, there are sure to be unique schedule spots each night. For instance, one team might be on the second leg of a back-to-back while the other is rested and just had the last two days off. Of course, the schedule is baked into the cake and built into the betting line. But still, bettors should be aware of the schedule and look to take advantage of mismatches. Lean on rested teams over tired teams. Also, pay attention to teams on the final game of a long road trip or teams playing their first home game after a long trip. Both of these spots have been a "bet against" historically.
4. Lean on Pace when Betting Totals: After spreads, totals are the most popular NBA bet type. When betting over/unders, be sure to consult pace statistics. Pace is how quickly each team gets up and the court and how many possessions they average per game. Teams with a fast pace have more possessions, which leads to more scoring opportunities and more overs. Conversely, teams with a slow pace feature fewer possessions per game, leading to less scoring and more unders. If you can combine pace with sharp action, that's an even stronger edge. For example, last season when the over got steamed at least three points (think 220 to 223), the over went 152-122 (56%). Non-conference overs went 245-200 (55%) last season, due to the lack of familiarity benefiting the offense over the defense. Also pay attention to specific teams and their style of play. Last season, the Timberwolves were the top "over" team, going 50-32 (61%) to the over. Meanwhile, the Mavericks were the top "under" team, going 51-31 (52%) to the under. Also pay attention to referees. They are announced by the NBA every morning. If you see several refs that are all profitable to the over, that's another edge to the over.
5. Stay Glued to Twitter: One of the reasons why betting the NBA can be so frustrating is the fact that players can be ruled out seemingly out of nowhere. Over the past few seasons we've seen an exponential rise in "load management." This means that teams will sit their star players at a moment's notice if they have a nagging injury or need a night off. This makes it difficult on bettors because you can spend all morning and afternoon handicapping a game, then an hour before tip-off you find out that LeBron James or Stephen Curry is ruled out for load management. Once this takes place, the line will skyrocket one way or the other. Now, all the that hard work you put in is ripped to shreds. While no one has a crystal ball to predict who will play and who won't, the next best thing is to be glued to Twitter. Before the season starts, compile a list of Twitter follows for injuries, not just the Adrian Wojnarowskis and Shams Charanias of the world but also the local and team beat reporters. Twitter is where you will find out who's playing and who isn't first. As bettors, you then have roughly a 30-second window to get down before the books adjust the numbers. For example, let's take the Lakers are -7 against the Pelicans. You see a tweet that LeBron is out. Within a minute or so, the Lakers fall from -7 to -4. If you could have jumped on the Pelicans +7 as soon as the news broke, you would be sitting pretty with several points of closing line value.