Betting Basics

NBA Betting Guide and Strategy

Elevate your NBA betting game. Discover the basics of NBA betting, beneficial strategies, and common pitfalls to avoid with our guide.

January 25, 2024

The NBA is a fast-paced league with amazing players doing amazing things on a nightly basis. The game has evolved so much and keeps evolving, with players becoming increasingly versatile, and no longer pigeonholed into one position or another.

With this ever-changing sport’s dynamic action, you’ve really got to be on your betting game to keep up and nail some serious payouts. With this NBA betting guide, we give you some tips and tricks and strategies to use to score big on your next NBA wager.

Understanding NBA Betting

NBA Betting Basics

The simplest and most traditional NBA bets – just like the NFL – are these three: moneyline, point spread and over/under.

On moneyline bets, you bet on one of the two teams to win. But with spread bets, you wager that the winner will win by at least a certain amount of points or that the loser will not be outscored by a certain amount. With the over/under, you’re betting that the game will exceed a certain number of points or will be less than that amount.

Let’s check out a recent example from Tipico, with the Denver Nuggets playing the New York Knicks:

In this game, the defending NBA champion Nuggets are favored by 2.5 points, as indicated by the minus symbol in front of the number (Nuggets -2.5). This is the spread. If you bet on the Nuggets, you want them to win by 3 or more points. If you bet the Knicks, you want them to lose by less than three points, or win outright.

The over/under is 223.5 points. If you bet the over, you want the combined score of both teams to be 224 or more. If you bet the under, you want the combined score to be 223 or less.

The moneyline odds are in the column at right. The Nuggets are -130 moneyline favorites, meaning that you have to bet $130 to win $100 if you are betting on Denver to win. If you believe the Knicks will win, you will win $110 if you bet $100.

The same principle applies with the spread and over/under bets. The Nuggets’ spread of -2.5 has odds of -105, accounting for the book’s vigorish, or “vig.” So, if you bet on the Nuggets to “cover” the spread – i.e. winning by 3 or more points – you will win $100 if you bet $105. The Knicks’ odds are -115, so if you bet on them to lose by 2 points or less (or win) then you win $100 for every $115 you wager.

For the over/under, if you bet on the teams to score 224 points or more, you will win $100 for every $112 you bet. If you bet on the teams to score 223 or less, you will win $100 for every $108 you wager, according to the vig shown above.

Other Kinds of Bets

Tipico also offers a variety of player props. With these, you bet on players to accomplish certain things or NOT accomplish certain things. For instance, will Joel Embiid score more than 36.5 points or less? Will Karl-Anthony Towns get a double-double? Will Pascal Siakam get more or less than 0.5 blocks in a game? You can bet on these and many, many more player props.

There are also futures bets, with which you can bet on which team will win the NBA title, win their division, win their conference, reach the playoffs, and many others. You can also place futures bets on MVP, Rookie of the Year and other awards.

If you really want to win big, put together a winning parlay. With this type of bet, you combine several bets – or legs – into a parlay to greatly hike up the odds for a potentially big payout. You can even combine outcomes from multiple games in some cases. For instance, you can bet on the Nuggets to win, Embiid to score more than 36 points, Mikal Bridges to make more than 2.5 three-pointers, and so on.

NBA Betting Strategies

Let’s take a look at strategies you should employ to make some great NBA bets.

Recent games – Ignore the overall NBA standings. NBA teams go on winning and losing streaks all the time and some of their players can have a great week or great month.

Matchups – If you’re looking at Team A vs Team B, see how they’ve done against each other earlier in the season. NBA teams play each other a few times each season, so you can gather a sample size. Some teams rely more on ball movement and quick transitions and do better against slower teams. Conversely, those same smaller teams sometimes don’t do well against teams with “longer” and bigger players, who dominate rebounds and inside scoring.

Injuries and off nights – Check out the injury report and which stars are taking the night off. Older stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry sometimes will not play the second of two back-to-back games.

This also can help inform player props. If, for instance, LeBron is taking the night off, that puts more pressure on teammate Anthony Davis to produce more. You might consider the over on him for rebounds and points.

Watch the lines – Keep checking the odds to see if they are moving up or down and figure out when is the best time to place your bet. The moneyline, spread and O/U can change at any time. You might consider waiting for the most optimal odds before wagering, or you might consider placing a live bet during the game.

Team schedules – A team on the tail end of a long road trip might not have a ton of gas in the tank and might underperform. A team might be more intense playing a strong opponent on national TV. A team might overlook a weaker team just ahead of a big matchup against a stronger team, sometimes referred to as a “trap game.” Sometimes even the best teams just can’t totally be motivated playing one of the worst teams in the league.

Stats on Stats

They are the betting geek’s best friend. In this era of analytics, next-gen stats and insider numbers, there are ton of statistical metrics aside from the usual points per game or team scoring averages to pour over. Here are some great categories to look at when informing your betting:

Average Scoring Margin – The average number of points a team has won or lost by during the season. For example, the Boston Celtics currently are +9.7, meaning they have scored 9.7 more points per game than their opponents this season.

Possessions Per Game – How many times a team has the ball on offense each game. Teams that play at a faster pace will often will cover the over on point totals.

Points Scored In Paint Per Game vs. Points Allowed – Teams that better control the area near the basket will usually be able to control the pace of game and frustrate the other teams’ offense and defense, all of which is better for covering spreads and winning moneyline bets.

Turnovers Per Offensive Play – Teams that tend to turn the ball over a lot not only ruin their own possessions but also give up a lot of points on fast breaks. For instance, in their post-dynasty years, the Golden State Warriors have become extremely prone to turnovers.

Steals Per Defensive Play – Swiping the ball from the opponent leads to fast-break scores and thwarts the opponents’ game plan, and the great teams also get steals in the crucial moments of games to hold leads or turn the game in their momentum.

Offensive Rebounds Per Game – Getting second- or third-chance shots is a massive factor in winning a basketball game.

Effective Field Goal Percentage – The NBA has become a 3-point league, with a huge number of points being scored from beyond the arc. With eFG%, 3-pointers are worth 1.5 more than 2-pointers. How it’s calculated: Each 2-point basket gets 1 points, and each 3-point basket gets 1.5. You add those numbers together, divide by the number of field goals attempted and multiply by 100 to get a percentage.

Opponent Effective Field Goal Percentage – What is the eFG% that teams allow on average?

Opponent Three-Point Percentage – Self-explanatory.

Personal Fouls Per Game – One of the biggest ways to lose a game is to let your opponent get a bunch of free throws, which basically are uncontested 1-point 15-footers – never a good thing.

Effective Possession Ratio – This more obscure metric measures how effective a team is at generating a scoring opportunity for each possession.

Go Beyond the Arc with Tipico!

For more NBA information, be sure to read our guide on how the NBA playoffs work! Also, check out our lineup of NBA betting products — moneylines, spreads, O/U, player props, same game parlays, futures and more! First, check our NBA section to see our latest content and offers. Then, if you are in one of our four service states — Ohio, New Jersey, Iowa, Colorado — log in or register here to get started and place some bets.

Alex Valdes
Alex Valdes is Web Content Manager at Tipico North America. He has written, edited and performed user and site analysis at MoneyTalksNews, NBC Sports, MSN, Bing, MSNBC, as well as newspapers and magazines.