NBA Betting Strategy Guide 2019: Beginner Tips Included

NBA Betting Strategy Course 101

Secret to Betting the NBA?

Everyone wants to know The Secret to profitably bet the NBA, the greatest & most exciting basketball league in the world. Well, I have it. Are you ready?

Drumroll, please. The secret to betting the NBA is that there is no secret. If there were one statistic, trend, or system that a bettor could employ to guarantee a successful wager, then there wouldn’t be all those tall, shiny buildings in the middle of the Mojave desert. Gambling is hard. 97% of folks that bet sports lose money in the long run.

The good news is that there are a thousand little secrets – and with a solid strategy and bankroll management, anyone can be part of that 3%. (All you gotta do is buy my picks for $99.99! J/K.) There are, in fact, tried and true tricks, tools, rules, strategies & approaches which, although they don’t individually guarantee anything on any single bet, can each a yield small 1-2% advantage and that when combined can help a player consistently beat the bookies over the long run. The professionals use these basic strategies as benchmarks in their study of the league and make timely & wise wagers based on their best guesses.

The goal of a professional bettor is not to know what’s going to happen. There are no psychics. The goal is to be able to guess what’s going to happen 55% of the time. That’s right: If you can use your analysis to pick the correct side of a wager 11/20 times, you can quit your job tomorrow.

That said,the best piece single piece of advice on your path to sports betting like a professional bettor comes from the legendary Vegas bookmaker, Jimmy Vaccaro:

Recreational bettors bet Teams; Professional bettors bet Numbers.

The majority of bettors find teams that they like and bet them to win – regardless of the price, i.e., the odds. Professional bettors consider all 30 teams viable options to select for a wager on any given day – if and only if the price – i.e., the odds – are in their favor. The worst team in the league is a good bet if it is being underpriced by the market. The best team in the league is a bad bet if they are being overpriced by the market on any particular game.

Types of Bets

First things first: Let’s recap the most common types of bets – and then we will move on to the basic strategies pros employ on how to bet them.

Standard Wagers

The most basic types of bets found at every sportsbook and online sportsbook.
nba game odds


A moneyline bet is the most straight forward type of wager. A player picks the team they think is going to win and bets against the moneyline odds. A favorite will have negative or “minus-money” odds, meaning you will have to bet more than you will get in return if the favorite wins. Moneyline odds will be positive or “plus-money” for an underdog, meaning your return if your team wins will be greater than the amount of your initial wager.

For example:

Team A is -200 to win
Team B is +180 to win

In this case, team A is a considerable favorite (about a 5-point favorite on the spread – more on that later). Team B is the underdog. The negative -200 number for Team A indicates that you would need to bet $200 to receive a $100 return. The positive +180 number indicates the amount you would receive for every $100 wagered. In this case, a $100 bet on Team B would yield a $180 return.


When you bet the spread, you are betting on the margin of victory. Either you will need a team to win by a certain number of points or more or will need a team to win or only lose by a certain number of points.

For example:

Team A -7.5
Team B +7.5

In this case, if you want to play the favorite, Team A, you would “lay” 7.5 points, meaning you will need Team A to win by 8 or more to cash your ticket. If you want to bet the underdog, you “take” the 7.5 points, meaning if Team B wins OR if they lose by less than 8, you win your bet.

The standard moneyline odds for a spread bet on a spread bet is -110, meaning for either side of the wager, you will need to bet $110 to win $100.


A totals bet is a wager on the “total” amount points scored by both teams in a given game. When betting on totals, you are 100% agnostic as to who will win the game; you are only trying to ascertain if it will be a high scoring game or a low scoring one. The average total has gone up sharply the past few years, as scoring in the NBA has increased around 10% since the 2014-2015 season. If you think this trend implies that one should automatically bet the Over, you have a lot to learn about the betting market. Bookies – and your fellow bettors – are keenly aware of these trends and set their numbers accordingly. Whereas four years ago, it would not be uncommon to see a total of 192 or 200. Nowadays the typical total is between 208 and 230. Yeah, it’s been that big of a leap for offense recently. Like a spread bet, a total is usually set with -110 moneyline odds, ~ a $110 bet wins $100.

There are a number of variations on the Totals bet. The most common is betting on each team total. The more advanced include 1st QTR, 1st Half, 2nd Half In-Game totals.

nba team totals

Spreads, Moneyline & Totals can also be bet in other varieties besides for the entire game. For example, you can bet on whether the total points scored in the 1st quarter will be over or under a certain number. (Usually, the 1st quarter total will be about 1/4th of the total for the game, but not always). Similarly, you can bet if an underdog will be within a certain number of points as the favorite at halftime. (Usually, the 1st half spread will be about ½ the full game spread, but not always).

In-game wagering takes this same type of derivative bet to another level, but the same basic rules apply. A new total and a new spread are generated after each play. Often in-game bets have more expensive moneyline odds, usually -115 (~$115 wins $100). So they are more implicitly difficult – but with the right preparation and understanding of the teams, they can be very profitable investments. They can also be used as hedges against pregame wagers.


nba parlay

nba parlay odds
A parlay bet is when two or more bets are combined. It is the equivalent of making a wager on a game, winning, and then taking the entirety of those winnings and your original investment and putting it all on another wager. In gambling terms, you are “letting the money ride”. If ALL of the sides on your parlay bet win, you can get a major plus-money payout. However, if ANY of the teams lose, your parlay bet lost, and you lose the entirety of your wager.

Player Props

nba player props
A player proposition is a wager on a statistic of a specific player or players. For example, you can bet Player A will score OVER 22.5 points. In this case, if he scores 23 or more, you cash your ticket. Other player proposition may include statistics such as rebounds, assists, free throws, and more or a combination thereof. Professional bettors will often play players props in games where they do not see a value in the Spread or Total.

Game Props

nba game props

A game prop is a wager relating to specific events that may unfold during a game. For example, you can bet which team will be the first to score 10 points. You can also bet whether there will be Over or Under X amount of 3-point shots made combined between the two teams.


Now that you know your menu of options as an NBA bettor let’s discuss what elements to look for when selecting your entree.

Multiple “Outs”

The single easiest and most effective way to improve your performance as a gambler is to increase your number of “outs”, or in other words, the number of sportsbooks that you have access to. The reason for this is that having more Outs greatly increases your chance of getting the best number.

For example, You live in LA, and you feel that the Lakers are underrated by the market, and you think they will keep it close against the Celtics on a given night. You check your local sportsbook, and you see the spread is 8 points in favor of the Celtics. You think, okay, great, the Lakers will probably win or be within 8 by the end of the game, so you bet $110 on Lakers +8 (-110). Meanwhile, your friend in New Jersey – where there are more Celtics supporters – goes to his local sportsbook and sees that the Celtics are favored by 8.5. He goes ahead and bets $110 on Lakers +8.5 (-110).

The game happens and lo’ and behold the Celtics win by exactly 8 points. Your wager pushes, meaning that you don’t win or lose any money but instead simply get your $110 wager returned. Your friend, however, comes out a big winner, receiving the full $100 profit – the same amount he would have won if the Lakers lost by 7 or won by 30. That extra half point made all the difference.

Although it may seem like a longshot that a game will end exactly on the spread number, it happens more than you think. If you have access to more books and can “shop” for better numbers, you will greatly increase your chance of long term success in sports betting.

Remember a bettor that wins 55% of the time can make a living on his bets while a bettor that wins 52% of the time will lose money over the long run. That 3% is everything! So every possible benefit you can put on your side of the ledger greatly increases your chance to come closer to that 55% goal.

As you progress as a bettor, you will notice tendencies between different sportsbooks – what types of bettors they serve – and will be able to use that information to quickly find the best number for any given game.

Where to Bet

fanduel sportsbookIf you live in Nevada you will have multiple outs available to you with relative ease. There are a litany of unique sports books where you can shop for the best spread or total number. The largest of the Nevada books include: The Westgate Superbook, CG Technology (found at The Cosmopolitan, The Palms & elsewhere), Stations Casinos, William Hill Sportsbooks, & the South Point. If you’re in New Jersey, FanDuel Sportsbook, DraftKings Sportsbook, Pointsbet Sportsbook and Sugarhouse Sportsbook are four of the more than ten legal online sportsbooks operating. You will find that some books cater to professional or sharp bettors, and some books cater more to recreational bettors or square bettors – you can use this information to find the best number for any given wager.

At time of writing this guide, there are seven other states that have legalized sports betting – and this number is poised to increase quickly in the near future. These states are New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Rhode Island & New Mexico. Although there may be one or two physical Sportsbooks established so far in these states, it is always a benefit to have a local option that might have a better number on some games than online options. In established states such as New Jersey, there are over 10 online sportsbooks to shop odds and spread your bankroll around.

The majority of people at the moment do not have access to local sportsbooks, but anybody with an internet connection has access to online or offshore sportsbooks. Some of the most common ones are Bovada (largest), 5dimes, & BetDSI. What some may not know is that all the offshore sportsbooks are illegal in the US. The issue is until all states legalize online sports betting, people are left with few options and turn to illegal online sportsbooks. What many find is that, along with being illegal, you can lose your money. It can take several weeks to get a payout if and when you request a withdrawal. Because of US law, it is often impossible for them to simply directly deposit funds into your account. More often than not, these websites will need to mail you a check. Make sure to read our in-depth article on whether it’s legal to bet on Bovada from the US.

Going from having 1 out to having 2 outs, or 1 sportsbook option to 2 sportsbook options, is a gigantic advantage because usually one of your two options will have the best number available. Going from 2 to 3 outs is also hugely valuable. After that, however, having 3,4,5 outs while still valuable makes less of a difference than going from 1 to 2. covers odds for the US legal books, and you can quickly see which books are offering which numbers, both for Vegas books & NJ books.

How Odds are Created

Every spread is determined primarily by three general factors: 1.) The Power Rankings of the two teams, 2.) The home-court advantage of the home team, & 3.) Situational factors coming into the game.

Power Rankings

In order to quickly produce lines on daily games, almost all sportsbooks & bettors employ Power Rankings. A Power Ranking is a listing of teams, 1-30 based on overall strength. These rankings will illustrate how teams would fare against an average team. On, you can find the Lineups NBA Power Rankings to reference as an example. We update the rankings on a regular basis.

For example, at the moment of this article, the highest-rated team in my NBA power ranking is the Golden State Warriors, who are a +8.5, meaning I think they are 8.5 points better than an average team. The second team in my power rankings is the Milwaukee Bucks, who I have as a +6.5, or 6.5 points better than the average team.

Everyone who is serious about betting the NBA should keep their own Power Rankings, updating them regularly based on the play of the teams as well as injuries that might affect the future performance of the teams.

Home Court Advantage

Home Court Advantage in the NBA is typically around 3 points. Meaning if two even-strength teams face each other, the home team will typically be favored by 3 points – which accounts for the comfort of sleeping in your own home, the encouragement of the home fans, and arguably the preferred treatment of the referees toward the home team. Some teams & arenas historically provide a higher or lower advantage for their teams – for example, the Utah Jazz most years have around 3.5 or 4 point home-court advantage, while the New Orleans Pelicans have seldom boasted a significant home-court advantage.

So let’s scratch together a fair spread for a game played in Oakland between the Golden State Warriors & the Milwaukee Bucks:

Golden State Warriors= 8.5
Milwaukee Bucks = 6.5

Let’s say the Warriors, in this case, have a standard 3-point home-court advantage.

So to put together a handicap, you calculate: 2 point PR advantage, + a 3-point Home Court advantage = 5.5 point edge for Golden State.

In this case, I would make the Warriors a 5.5 point favorite against the Bucks @ Oracle Arena.

How to Bet Based on Power Rankings & Home Court Advantage

If you think a spread is correct, then there is no way to profitably make money betting on the game. If the spread is correct: that implies that 50% of the time, the favorite will beat the spread, and 50% of the underdog will beat the spread. In this instance, there’s no use betting the game at -110 odds because, at -110, you will have to win 11/21 times just to break even. If you only win 1/2 times, the -110 price will quickly drain your bankroll.

A good rule of thumb is to not bet any game unless you think the spread is at least 2 points off. 2 points of advantage will generally lead to a 55% proposition that you will win the bet.

Difference Between Bookmakers Line & “Correct” Line
Odds that the “Correct” line wins
Expected Return on -110 Bet on “Correct Side” Over the Long Run

Difference Between Bookmakers Line & “Correct” LineOdds that the “Correct” line winsExpected Return on -110 Bet on “Correct Side” Over the Long Run

The reason to shoot for a 2-point edge is that it provides a margin of error. Even if you are 1 point off, you are still going to break even or have a slight gain over the long run.

In the above example, we have accessed that the correct line for Bucks @ Warriors should be Warriors -5.5.

Given a 2-point edge rule, I will only bet the Warriors if I can get Warriors -3.5 or less. Conversely, I will only bet the Bucks if I can get Bucks +7.5 or more.

Given that we are correct and the right line is 5.5 here is the expected outcome table:

GSW vs. MIL Line (GSW is favorite)Odds that GSW CoversOdds that MIL Covers

GSW vs. MIL Line (GSW is favorite)

Bookmakers, however dastardly, are good at what they do. The vast majority of spreads will be correct or only off by a ½ point or so. A .5 edge is not enough to bet a game because it implies that you only have a 51-52% advantage, and you will still lose to the bookmaker over the long run because you are paying a -110 moneyline.

Factoring in Situational Factors

Power Rankings are assessments of a team’s overall strength without regard to specific situational factors. Important factors to consider when handicapping a game are fatigue – is the team on a long road trip – motivation – does one team need the game more than the other – and matchups – does one team’s style of playwork especially well against another.

Here are a few of the most common situations considered by professional bettors:

Flat Spot: A game where a team is not particularly motivated – either because they don’t respect the opponent or because they have recently played a number of high-intensity games. Often teams in the middle of a stretch against high-quality teams will not play as hard when faced with a lesser opponent. Teams in a flat spot will often play significantly below their typical power rankings.

Look Ahead Game: An example of a Flat Spot Game is a game that is just before a very important or challenging game for the team. The team focusing on the next game will often overlook their current opponent and play below their typical power ranking.

Home Run Spot/Revenge Game: A game where a team has higher motivation than their opponent and play above their typical power ranking.

Home Team Down 0-2 in a Playoffs series: – An example of a home-run spot. Historically teams at home that are down 0-2 in the playoffs play as their lives depended on it, especially at home where their fans feel the desperation and the need to encourage their team. The motivation for them to win – and save their season – is much higher than their opponents, and these teams typically play above their general power ranking.

Gameday Injuries

Late coming information about NBA injuries happens ALL-THE-TIME, and will invariably happen occasionally after you’ve already bet. Ensure when you place your bet that you have the most up-to-date information possible.

Because of this phenomenon, some bettors advise that you make your bet as close to the tip as possible. Others point out that a game-changing injury announcement is as likely to go against the opponent as it does against the team your betting on. So as long as you know the latest – you are not necessarily at a disadvantage as news unfolds.

When you do hear about a game-changing injury – often, that is your time to pounce. Markets are not hyper-efficient and might take hours to adjust to the news.

Rule of thumb: Recreational bettors generally underrate injuries for non-star players missing individual games & overrate injuries to star players missing individual games.

Example 1: Denver Nuggets announced midday on 02/04/2019 that starters Paul Milsap, Garry Harris & Jamal Murray are all out with injury.

Public: Didn’t know or didn’t care about these injuries to non-star players – 73% of bets came in on the Nuggets.

Sharp/professional bettors, conversely, bet the Pistons heavily. The line dropped from -3 to -2 before tip-off. Even though 73% of the tickets came in on the road-favorite Nuggets, 52% of the total cash bet was on the Pistons. In other words, most people that bet the game bet the Nuggets – a surging team with a young star that is #1 in their conference. But the people who bet A LOT (i.e., sharp money) bet the Pistons, the home team, who has been slumping and had been falling out of the playoff picture.

Reading the Market

A high % of “tickets” typically indicates public money. A higher % of cash typically indicates sharp money. Websites such as offer free information about these betting trends.

Reverse line movement: The line is going the opposite direction that the public is betting. The side of the public money (as seen through the % of tickets) is actually getting better odds. Often a sign that the public is not taking into consideration important information or misreading a matchup.

To win at sports betting, you have to be two things: 1. Contrary, 2. Right. If you are right about a team – but everybody else agrees – you will not get value on your bet. If you are contrary but incorrect about the true merit of a team, you will also be on the wrong side of the wager.

Bankroll Management

The sharpest bettor in the world will not be profitable without proper bankroll management. Instead of betting with your “gut”, you need to have a disciplined plan about the amount of money you will bet on any one game. This discipline will save you from “chasing” – risking more than it is advisable to try to make up for previous losses.

The best advice I have received on this topic is to bet a specific percentage of your bankroll on each bet, namely 2% of your bankroll.
Using this strategy, you will automatically risk less and less if you go on a losing streak, mitigating the hit to your bankroll. Conversely, if you get on a hot streak & bet 2% of your bankroll, you will be taking advantage of your winning ways by betting slightly more on each of your wagers throughout your hot streak.

Basic Strategy: 55% is the goal. Bet 2% of your bankroll per bet.


Now that you know the basic elements of betting the NBA, I’m sure you’re wondering where I can get a definitive list of those thousand little secrets I mentioned that lead to being a profitable sports gambler? Good question – we will be diving into these trends and approaches here on as the season progresses. To start, however, you should organize your own power rankings so that you have a feel of which teams might be valuable bets down the road. It is often helpful to use another Power Ranking list to get started and then analyze which teams you think are overvalued or undervalued.

The best teacher is trial and error. Ask yourself after each game – win or lose – what happened that I expected? And what happened that surprised me? The important thing is to find angles and trends that make sense to you – and then incorporate them with your evaluation of the teams in the leagues to find the best spots to put your money down. Best of luck! And till next time!

SpreadEstimated Moneyline OddsAssumed Winning % for Favorite
0, "PK"-11050
Born in Chicago, born for Las Vegas, Mackenzie is a graduate of Yale University with a BA in English & Creative Writting. Mackenzie runs, which seeks to by-pass the minutiae of commonly cited sports statistics and expose the heart of what drives athletic success. After several successful years investing in Las Vegas real estate, Mackenzie is excited to transition in 2019 into betting on sports full time, as well as documenting his thought process as he further learns the craft.

Hot Betting Strategy Stories

Featured NFL Articles