The ability to consistently pick winners during the length of an NBA season does not come easily. Professional sports bettors would be ecstatic to pick the correct winner 60% of the time. Considering the cost of wagers, breaking even isn’t even a matter of picking the winning team 51% of the time – mathematically speaking, a bettor who can pick the winning team 52.4% of the time is literally at the break-even point. Not only is picking winners tough, it requires being right more than half the time.
As many tactics for handicapping an individual NBA contest exist as do bettors themselves – this is a statistically-rich sport featuring hundreds of the world’s top athletes, and there are many rational (and many irrational) existing tactics used by bettors and fans to pick who will win an upcoming game. There is no magic bullet, no hidden stat, no formula to help bettors determine the outcome of a game, but there are a few tips and tricks that make picking the winning team a little easier.
Take Advantage of the Early Season
Smart bettors know that context is as important as anything else when it comes to a straight-up pick – that goes for any sport. In the NBA, the early season (the first 20 games in particular) is the best time to place wagers in terms of advantage gambling. Bettors have an edge against most bet shops, bookmakers, online sportsbooks, and mobile sports betting apps early on in the year for a number of reasons:
– Small changes to the staff have a bigger impact on the performance of individual players; early in the season, this impact isn’t understood well enough for the oddsmakers to make a smart pick
– Early in the NBA season, American pro and college football is just starting to heat up, and those sports are big money for Western sportsbooks. In Europe and Asia, big money is being spent on Premier League football and other forms of pro and amateur soccer. Take advantage of the fact that oddsmakers are busy handicapping a number of other sports and definitely writing uninformed lines from time to time.
– Roster changes are more frequent early in the NBA season than any other team; so frequent, oddsmakers are incapable of writing a really solid line, especially on teams that have had or are having a lot of roster shakeups.
The best games to wager on early in the season, for advantage gamblers looking to chip away at the bookmaker’s handicapping ability, are games between two teams with a lot of unknowns. Maybe one team has a new coach or a new star big man and the other is going through a variety of looks on offense. Sometimes a change as insignificant as a new owner or a rumor about a starting player counts, as the small team rosters make emotions run high.
Considering that the league’s best teams often perform well right out of the gate, while the cellar-dwellers are having a tough time putting together a decent starting roster, the early season is also a time when most teams will play to type – the trick here is to do enough research or gain enough basketball knowledge to understand what that type is, identify an opportunity based on what looks like a soft line at a bookmaker, and place a confident early-season wager.
Use All the Tools Available
It is a great time to be a sports bettor, just as it is a great time to be a fan of sports. Mobile sports streaming is now common – how many of us remember tuning a radio or old-fashioned TV set into a game or having to wait for the paper for the stats the next day?
These days, sports bettors have all sorts of tools at their disposal. When Apple added some functions to its beloved Siri personal assistant program a few years ago, it was discovered that the program now understood sports betting-related questions. Now, iOS gadgets can respond to questions like “Who will win tonight’s game between the Rockets and the Lakers?” with cognizant answers based on actual research.
Siri is just one of hundreds of sports betting-specific tools now available that can help bettors pick winners based on sound intelligence. The fact that most of them are available in a mobile format that’s user-friendly and easy on the eyes is just a bonus. Here are a few examples:
– Bettors have always been able to purchase the advice of a “professional handicapper.” These services connect individuals to information provided by a personality who dedicates himself to handicapping, and for the price of a tuxedo rental he’ll ostensibly help you make winning picks all season long. These days, the same kind of info is available by text message, email, social media post, etc. Some people have trouble justifying the cost, and for these people, other methods are available.
– Most of today’s bookmaker apps and websites have their own convenient analysis tools or tip forums made available from the home page or in a customized window. These tip sheets or (in some very few cases) actual pieces of recorded audio analysis are part of the membership package at certain sportsbooks, so not using them is sort of like getting less out of your membership. These services are available for free for the most part, so anything of value learned from them is like adding money to your bankroll.
– More modern tools are being developed and released even as of this writing. These days, a bettor can look at a tool such as the online game prediction charts at teamrankings.com. This list presents games, picks, and even a confidence rating that tells readers how strong the pick is in terms of statistical analysis. Other sites have similar systems that essentially point bettors in the direction of the most statistically-likely winners.
Consider the Context of Every Game
In general, placing bets based entirely on any one factor is a bad idea. That’s certainly true in the NBA, as true as it is for any other sport, but there is one aspect of pro basketball betting that can have an almost singular influence on the outcome of a game – its context, its position in a team’s season, and its position between home and away games as well as difficult or fluff games. Because every team plays 82 games in a relatively short amount of time, the impact of a game’s context can sometimes be the unknown that bettors can see coming.
An example of a team that’s vulnerable because of the context of a game – look for a team with a playoff berth who’s just been beaten by a much-worse team the night before. This is the classic “team with a chip on its shoulder” that is likely to do whatever it can to win after that embarrassing performance. The opposite may be true – take the same playoff-bound team but put it at the end of a three-day road stand after two consecutive easy wins, and fatigue combined with the low-value of the third road game could be a clear sign of an upset.
The increased value of what we’re calling a game’s “context” is one of the more exciting factors in NBA betting. The NBA retains some of the high-drama and emotion of the college game, which is an element often lacking in the transition from college football to the NFL. Respecting the context of a game is not just a smart thing for a bettor to do strategically, it reflects an understanding of what is required for long-term (think season-long) success.
Compare Individual Matchups
This may sound a bit simple, but what is really meant here is this – think like a fantasy owner. As a sports bettor, one has to respect the depth of statistical knowledge that fantasy players possess, and although it’s weird that they don’t generally care about the real NBA playoffs, they get a few things right. The ability of a successful fantasy basketball owner to identify the minutiae of statistical production across the span of four or five months is something every NBA bettor should attempt to emulate.
The most obvious way a bettor can use one-on-one matchups to handicap a game is to consider the matchups versus the spread. Aberrations from player averages are most common at the beginning and end of every NBA season, so it is especially important to pay attention to how each team lines up position-to-position during the doldrums of the regular season. This is another reason why it’s vital to understand a player’s up-to-date statistics, and not just have general knowledge about how a guy is performing for his team. The lack of parity at some positions in the pro league make one-on-one comparison vital to any successful pro basketball betting strategy.
Pay Close Attention to Team-wide Defensive Performances
NBA bettors and fans give team and player offensive performances too much credit. That isn’t to say that offense isn’t important; only that long-term success in a league with so many games across such a large amount of calendar time requires a certain amount of defensive play. A quick high-percentage offense is sexy for television but without a solid performance on the other side of the ball, it is not a team that will produce wins long-term.
The rule here is to consider defensive performance more important than offensive in the first half of an NBA season. A powerful defense is most likely to overpower the league’s top offenses during the first 40 or so games of the season. For whatever reason – fatigue, looking ahead to the playoffs – NBA teams known for strong defensive play (but who don’t have a high-octane run and gun offensive style) are more vulnerable.
For bettors, let’s put this more plainly – small point spreads favor a team with a better defense more than a high-powered offense. The modern league is guard-heavy and PF/C-light. Obviously, the big men that provide defensive numbers and can also score are very few and very far between. That means just a few teams are likely to beat the spread based solely on their defensive ability. That makes identifying them very easy.
The NBA is all about balance. Good pro teams build rosters with the kind of statistical balance that insures against streaking. The same goes for sheer size, always an important factor in team defense. But historically, the biggest teams in the modern league are not successful. In the 2013-2014 season, the tallest and heaviest overall team also turned in the league’s worst record. For the Philadelphia 76ers, size did not equal ticks in the win column. Finding teams that strike a balance between big bullies and quick shooters is critical to picking NBA winners – it’s that balance that allows a team to put up wins night after night over the course of an entire season.