If football is the undisputed king of sports betting, basketball is next in line to the throne. The NBA has always been popular with casual fans. But the success of daily fantasy sports and the sweeping legalization of sports betting in America has taken NBA betting to another level in recent years. Adam Silver, in 2014, was the first pro sports league commissioner to come out in favor of legalized betting.
Like football, basketball is a predominantly spread and Over/Under (or total) sport. Bettors must also pay the juice (aka “vig”) on all spread and Over/Under bets. The juice is typically 10 cents, known as “-110.” Assuming standard juice of -110, this means bettors must win 52.38 percent of their NBA bets in order to break even and overcome the tax.
Anything above that means you’re turning a profit. Bettors should strive to win 53-55 percent of their plays. The sharpest bettors win at roughly a 60-percent clip.
With the NBA season just underway, let’s break down a few helpful tips bettors should be aware of entering the 2020-21 season.
Home-court advantage is overvalued: Oddsmakers typically will award three points for home-court advantage. Public bettors love betting home teams, which leads to sportsbooks shading lines further toward home teams, forcing casual bettors to take overpriced numbers. This creates added value to buy low on road teams. This edge may be heightened even more this season as many teams will play with limited or no fans in the stands.
Road underdogs: The public also likes to bet on favorites. On the surface, this makes sense. If you’re going to bet on a team, you might as well back the “better” team, which is expected to win. However, this bias also creates shaded lines toward favorites, creating added value to back underdogs. Road ’dogs often have value as the public flocks to home favorites. Another key is focusing on road ’dogs with a rest advantage. Bettors should always consider these factors when placing a bet, especially when one team has tired legs and the other is rested.
Look for “severe” line moves: In the NBA, it’s common to see a line move a half point or a full point one way or the other. But when you see a “severe” move — 1.5-points or more — it likely was caused by some big smart money from professional bettors. Pros aren’t perfect, but they have the respect of the books and win more often than they lose. You always want to be on the side of respected action, ideally at the number the pros got. Home ’dogs receiving at least 1.5 points of line movement in their direction (think +8 to +6.5), have been a sneaky sharp spot historically.
Go contrarian: Because the NBA market is flooded with recreational money from Average Joe bettors, going contrarian or “betting against the public” is a smart move. More often than not, the public loses. They bet with gut instinct and bias. Inevitably, the house wins. So going against the crowd and bucking the herd mentality is a profitable long-term strategy. The easiest spots to bet against the public are the nationally televised, prime-time games on TNT and ESPN. If it’s on TV, the public is betting on it.
Capitalize on inflated lines: One of the best ways to go contrarian is to look for inflated lines in which the public is extremely lopsided on one team, forcing the books to move the number further toward that popular team. By being savvy and betting on the unpopular underdog, you just got an extra point or more of value simply because of the public artificially inflating the number.
Divisional Unders that drop: Unders are a smart bet in general because, just like favorites and home teams, the public is biased toward Overs. Average bettors want to see a fun, exciting, high-scoring game and root for points. The sportsbooks know this and will shade numbers toward Overs, creating added value to bet Unders. This doesn’t mean you want to bet every Under. The key is betting Unders with sharp money in which the total drops at least a half-point. But there’s real value in divisional Unders that drop. Teams in the same division play each other several times every season. This leads to familiarity, which makes it easier to game-plan and benefits defenses, because they know what to expect. When two divisional teams face off and the total falls at least one point (signaling sharp action), the Under has excellent value.
Track line movements: Knowing the opening line, how it moved and why is incredibly important when it comes to figuring out where the public is and where the sharps are. One of the easiest ways to locate sharp action is to look for line movements that make no sense, also known as “fishy” lines. If everyone is betting the Warriors, yet they fall from -4 to -3 at the Hawks, that is a good indication that respected money grabbed Atlanta plus the points. I also love playing the “dog to favorite” system. For example, maybe the Spurs are an unpopular bet, but move from +2 to -1.5, signaling a sharp reverse line movement. Also keep an eye out for late moves in the 30 minutes to an hour before tip-off. Late moves are most meaningful, because that’s when limits are highest and big bettors and syndicates come in.