The NBA is one of the most popular sports to wager on but it can be difficult for newcomers.
You never want to blindly bet on a game, so familiarizing yourself with the best strategies and stats for NBA betting is a good way to dip your toes into the water.
That's what we'll do here to help you avoid making rookie mistakes before placing your next basketball bet.
NBA betting strategies
There are many different markets to choose from when betting on the NBA. In a league that consists of 30 teams and hundreds of players, there's an endless amount of possible betting combinations any day there's action.
For an in-depth analysis of how these markets operate, check out our NBA betting guide.
In this piece, we'll be looking at betting strategies for NBA point spreads, moneylines, totals and props.
Moneyline and ATS betting
Ride the hot hand
Bet on teams that are playing well. The NBA is a league of streaks. This can be driven by individual player performance and injuries, but as a whole, teams can go cold or catch fire at any given moment.
Sometimes it takes operators a while to catch up to hot teams, and you can often find advantageous lines as a result.
Take a look at how teams are performing in their last five games — both offensively and defensively —before you make any bets.
Health is wealth
Teams need their star players to compete. When a key player goes down with an injury the wheels can completely fall off any squad.
Let’s use LeBron James as an example. In the 27 games played without James last season, the Los Angeles Lakers had a record of 12-15. When LeBron did play that year, the Lakers went 30-15.
When an entire offence revolves around a player and that player gets hurt, that team will always face a substantial drop-off in production.
Even teams without bonafide superstars rely on healthy rosters for success. The Toronto Raptors had 15 different players miss games last season due to COVID and injuries. A lack of consistency deeply impacted their success and led to a 27-45 record.
These statistics demonstrate why our next point — patience — is so important.
Patience is a virtue
One of the biggest problems plaguing the NBA from a viewership standpoint is load management. Players are often listed as questionable throughout the day and only hours before tip-off is their status revealed.
This can drastically swing betting lines and is an important factor to consider when placing bets.
Be patient and don't rush to bet on games before you are aware of who will, or won’t, be playing.
While star players missing games can be frustrating for the viewer, it can be used to a bettor’s advantage. Keep a close eye on beat reporters and insiders to see how players are being rested and how injuries are progressing.
Let’s assume the Milwaukee Bucks are 4.5-point favourites at home against the Denver Nuggets. You already like the line to begin with and are leaning toward betting the Bucks.
If Nikola Jokic is listed as a game-time decision and you see his status change to out, the line of -4.5 becomes far more valuable. Of course, the books will try to rectify this as quickly as possible, but there are windows of opportunity to sneak a bet in.
When the line re-opens it could have the Bucks listed as an 8.5-point favourite or higher, which is still a solid play as the Nuggets would now be without the 2020-21 MVP.
Rest versus rust
This adage is typically reserved for playoff matchups but holds a lot of water when applied to regular-season betting.
When betting on a game, look to see if one of the teams is playing on the second night of a back-to-back. Certain squads are better at this than others.
For example, from 2020-21, the Bucks were 5-9 ATS on the second leg of a back-to-back. The Los Angeles Clippers, meanwhile, had an impressive 10-2-1 ATS record on no rest. If L.A. and Milwaukee were playing and both were on a back-to-back, it would have been advantageous to back the Clippers in this position.
We should note that this season's version of the Clippers is completely different without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the lineup.
Good teams don't always cover
While it’s important to bet on streaking teams in the NBA, there can be outliers when it comes to covering the spread. Just because a team is winning lots of games doesn’t necessarily mean it will cover the spread.
It's a common mistake to see a team with a good record and assume it will cover. Make sure to take a closer look at ATS stats before placing a wager.
The Washington Wizards were a fantastic 44-34-1 ATS from 2020-21 but had a record of 36-43.
As the famous saying goes: Good teams win, great teams cover. The Phoenix Suns won 69% of their games over that span, while also covering 59% of the time — that's a great team.
NBA betting strategies for totals
Push the pace (efficiently)
Two of my favourite stats for betting totals revolves around pace factor and offensive efficiency — the number of possessions a team uses per game and the number of points scored per 100 possessions. More possessions generally lead to more points scored, which is why this stat lends itself so strongly to totals.
The 2020-21 Lakers had the seventh-worst offensive efficiency to go along with a bottom-third pace factor and only covered overs at a 39.5% clip.
Betting on the under isn’t necessarily fun but can certainly be profitable. If you see a team trending like Los Angeles, start taking the under.
When betting totals in the NBA, it's generally true that both teams must play well for the over to hit. That's why there are situations where betting a team total is a better play than the game total.
Let’s say the Utah Jazz are playing the Portland Trail Blazers and the over is set at 219.5 points. If the Jazz blowout the Trail Blazers 123-90 then the over is a loser.
Betting on just Utah (which had the second-best offensive efficiency last season) to cover a team total of 115.5 points would have won.
Some teams are buoys while others are cinderblocks when it comes to totals — try to find out which teams belong to which category. Many sites track a team's over/under record and that's something you should pay attention to.
NBA betting strategies for props
Expose uneven matchups in props
Prop betting can be one of the most fun and profitable ways to bet on the NBA. Look for uneven matchups when placing prop bets.
Clint Capela led the NBA in rebounds per game during the 2020-21 season. The Miami Heat averaged 48.9 rebounds per game that season, the fewest in the league. If Capela was lined up against the Heat, this would be a good opportunity to bet him to go over his rebounding total.
If you want to bet a player's points prop, look for matchups against teams with bottom-tier defensive efficiencies.
The same applies to other prop bets, like 3-pointers made. If a good 3-point shooter is facing a team that struggles to contain the long ball, it presents a good opportunity to bet the over on his prop. The same logic applies to under bets as well.
Don't be afraid to bet the under if all the evidence points to a tough matchup.
Player prop ladders
Let's say there's a prop you really like. It could be advantageous to layer bets on alternate lines. This is known as a prop ladder. If a player averaged four assists per game but went on a hot streak averaging 9.5 assists over their last three contests, their assist prop could lag behind at an over/under of 4.5.
If you were confident the player was going to continue this streak, start by safely betting the line at over 4.5 (-115) then incrementally lower your stake while taking him to make six, seven, or eight assists. It could look like this:
Over 4.5 assists (-115), over 5.5 assists (+175), over 6.5 assists (+290), over 7.5 assists (+430), over 8.5 assists (+740).
Similarly, players like Klay Thompson or Jayson Tatum can turn into total flamethrowers. Both usually have their 3-point prop line set at 3.5. If you think they're going to go off, it could be smart to layer their 3-pointers made prop at over 3.5 (-120), over 4.5 (+190) and over 5.5 (+350).
Layering props can be very effective when injuries come into play. If Steph Curry was out, Thompson has a better chance of hitting more 3-pointers. If Giannis Antetokounmpo is out, there will be more rebounds available for Khris Middleton.