Welcome to our free, weekly "Hunting The NBA: Basketball Betting Strategy 101" weekly series, where we identify different ways to make the average bettor both more knowledgeable and profitable over the long term. Each week we will highlight a different angle, approach, trend, or technique to add to your handicap to ensure you avoid the vig and beat the sportsbook. Regardless of the sport, there are certain facts about sports betting that need to be understood and accepted here before we get into the nuances of the NBA:
It is not easy: Less than 3% of all sports bettors make money in the long run. If you want to be part of the extreme minority, you at minimum need to follow the rest of the steps in this article as if it is a religion.
Have multiple outs: The more outs - or simply put, different places you have to bet - means the higher your chances become of being one of the aforementioned 3%. If you only have access to one or two sportsbooks, you are making it exponentially harder on yourself to get the best numbers/odds.
Shop around: When you are looking to place a bet, look for the best line possible at ALL of your sportsbooks. Although this is a time consuming endeavor, the difference between a half a point or extra vigorish can be the difference between profitability and bankruptcy over the long run. By leveraging your sportsbooks as a whole, you will ensure that you get the best line available and increase your EV.
Consistent bet sizes: Although many advanced bettors use the Kelly Criterion to determine bet size on a particular play, we strongly recommend maintaining a consistent bet amount on your plays at roughly 2%-3% of your bankroll. Putting a large percentage of your budget or multiplying your typical bet size on a whale play is a quick way to go broke. When you are just starting out, bet the same amount on all your plays at 2%-3% of your bankroll to account for variance. Remember, this is about winning long term.
Don’t bet over your head: Bet what you are willing to lose and not what you want to make. Most novice sports bettors focus on what they potentially could make instead of their potential losses. Never put yourself in a position where a losing week will impact your life substantially, no matter the sport.
It is a process: Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, once said: “nobody wants to get rich slow" - Most novice bettors want to risk a little to make a lot, and they want it now. They bet longshots and underdogs with huge payouts. They bet pools, parlays and teasers, instead of two-sided action. And they do this because of impatience, sometimes ignorance, and simply because nobody wants to get rich slow. Grind it out and your winnings will compound over time. Patience is the key here, one bet at a time.
Betting 101: NBA Status Updates - Obtain breaking news first AND beat the books to the window
Just because winning at sports betting is difficult doesn’t mean it always has to be complicated either.
Sure, there are opportunities for actionable handicaps gleaned from hours looking at data, trends, and weighing situational factors. But there are also other situations that can be just as - if not more -profitable. When I first started betting, I heard about an edge for NFL first quarter bets: identify who wins the toss, find the sportsbooks that still have a first quarter line posted, and bet accordingly. The value is extremely obvious, yet many times the opportunity is still +EV (obviously there are other factors to take into account to truly determine if it is actionable, but the process is simple and it makes sense overall).
Although the NBA does not have a coin toss to take advantage of, what it does have is a league filled with stars that have significant impact to the betting lines. There isn’t a single NFL player on a team's given roster - other than the quarterback - that impacts the line by more than two points. In the NBA, however, there are several of these players. To truly magnify the impact that one player can have on an NBA team, take the 2009-2010 Cleveland Cavaliers and Lebron James for example. The Cavaliers, led by King James himself, finished the regular season with the best record in the league at 61-21. The following season, after Lebron took his talents to South Beach, the Cavs finished the year 19-63. Lebron’s participation in a game greatly influences the outcome and the betting market. If a bettor can anticipate or merely react quicker than the sportsbook to a late scratch/injury update, they could find themselves with an actionable bet and, most likely, closing line value. Following these updates close to tipoff is an essential strategy.
Gaining this intelligence once news breaks may seem like a fruitless conquest, sure, but it is actually quite easy to get this information just as quickly as the sportsbook. @FantasyLabsNBA on Twitter tweets injury updates and lineup information for all NBA games every day, and turning on notification alerts for this account will result in you receiving up-to-date player statuses right through tipoff. If Luka Doncic is announced that he is doubtful with an ankle injury, or if Joel Embiid is sitting for rest, or if Rudy Gobert is out due of COVID-19 protocols (I had to say it), then the betting markets will inevitably shift at each sports book accordingly. BUT, if you are quick enough to the line, the total, or the player prop market, then you can take advantage of these situations before the books have a chance to correct it or take the lines down.
While this is certainly a profitable angle over time, there are certain pitfalls that can still lead a typical sports bettor astray. For example, if Luka Doncic’s injury kept him out of the previous game, then posted line may already be anticipating his absence. His doubtful or out designation may not have any impact on the line at all in this case. Conversely, betting when a player is ruled out due to rest or COVID protocols creates a positive expected value in the betting market because of the unexpected news. This is what we strictly want to focus on, and if we're tuned in and focused to the injury feed and odds boards between 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST on most nights, then we can grind out the tweets and beat the books to the board.
Time sensitivity is another major hurdle. Sportsbooks have individuals monitoring and gathering information about these games, as well, and they themselves also have Twitter Alerts set up for FantasyLabsNBA. Once the news breaks, it's simply a race to the window between the bettor and the sports book, and the bettor needs to react faster than the books can. This time crunch can squander many plays, and it illustrates another reason why having multiple outs can prove beneficial. Shop for the line that is still posted and pounce. Over the course of time, you may realize which book is slowest to respond.
Some sportsbooks will pull the game off the board entirely, while others adjust the odds on the fly. A bettor may think they are betting a game where the number hasn’t moved yet, when in all actuality, the sportsbook already reacted to the news. Knowing what the line is before the news breaks is vital.
When utilizing this novel information technique, it is up to the bettor to figure out how best to apply it.
For example, if Trae Young is ruled out unexpectedly, it may be better to bet the under than it would be to fade the Hawks. Atlanta has performed above expectation when Young is out of the lineup and their defense is certainly more staunch when he is off the floor. It may also be prudent to bet Bogdan Bogdanovic points over, because he gets more opportunities when the second-year, ball-dominant guard is off the floor. And lastly, when a bet is made before the sportsbooks move the odds, the bettor would need to determine whether to look for middle opportunities, arbitrage, or let the original bet ride. If you have enough outs, then you might be able to middle a large discrepancies between two books on the game total, the side, or a specific prop. The more books/odds you have open, the better (bettor) you'll be.