The first step in becoming good at something is learning how to not suck at it. That’s it.
The downside when it comes to sports betting, obviously, is you can lose money doing it when you still suck at it.
Instead of jumping in to NBA betting and trying to predict games like a computer-generated predictability algorithm, scale your expectations — and your methodology — way back.
Start with just not sucking at it. Once you stop sucking, scale up as you improve (and profit).
NBA = New Bettor Arcadia
With fast-paced game action, high scoring and a new generation of superstars in competitive divisions and conferences, it’s no surprise the NBA is second only to football in annual betting volumes.
The NBA is also the perfect environment for a new sports bettor for several reasons:
- This is obvious, but the game of basketball is very straightforward. It’s as simple as putting a ball in a peach basket. Scoring is either 3 points for a long-range shot, 2 points for all other baskets and 1 point for each foul shot made.
- There are only 10 players on the basketball court. It has the fewest number of players on the smallest playing area of any of the major team sports. This lets you, the bettor, really get to know individual players and teams.
- The betting options for basketball are simple and limitless. In addition to point spreads and total points, there are also dozens of opportunities for individual player and team prop bets. Every NBA player generates offensive and defensive statistics and there are betting lines posted for each of these totals.
The 4 (or 8) factors of NBA success
Becoming a good sports bettor in any sport starts with simple numbers. Just a solid, practical understanding of the data that tells you what to (mostly) expect as games play out on the court.
As a fast-paced, up-and-down game with a 24-second shot clock, the NBA generates endless opportunities for stats. The good news for the bettor is that there are multiple online sources to access that endless supply of data and stats entirely free.
The NBA.com stats hub is a great place to begin your research and data exploration. But each individual sportsbook also has its own stats and research available within its online book or app to help you make sense of it all.
Where should you begin your research? Generally, start with figuring out what makes for a good basketball team. This is easier to figure out than you might think and a basic starting point that bettors consistently overlook.
Back in 2004, Dean Oliver (the Bill James of basketball and author of Basketball on Paper) offered a straightforward analysis of how to measure the relative quality of basketball teams. He identified four (4) factors:
- Shooting the ball
- Avoiding turnovers
- Offensive rebounding
- Getting to the foul line
He attributed a certain weight to each to try to pin down an exact formula to build a good NBA team. Not to bet on an NBA team, per se, but to prove the fundamental signs of good teams/players.
While the Oliver metrics dig into the advanced measurements to consider “turnovers per possession,” “offensive rebounding efficiency” and “effective shooting percentage,” the concept at the core of the model is relatively simple.
A deeper dive into the Oliver metrics by Justin Jacobs in 2017 revisited the metrics and broke down how effective they were to predict NBA success. Jacobs realized it’s more like eight metrics (or seven, really, including key defensive metrics) that matter. And even then, those metrics don’t predict success within the statistical mean all of the time.
Long story short, though, simple stats still tell a very compelling story about which teams are (and will be) good and which won’t. As Jacobs concluded, those are teams that:
- Score when they can
- Rebound the ball when they can’t
- Don’t turn the ball over
The NBA is Not the Matrix
The lesson in all this?
While NBA betting may seem like a high-wire, Cirque du Soleil aerobatics show requiring beeping computers pumping predictions out of the matrix, basketball at its core is still a relatively simple game dominated by a few core statistics.
As a new NBA bettor, it’s good to remember that. Go to the NBA.com team stats page, pick out some key stats that matter and go from there. On their own they’re not the perfect pieces of information to guarantee a game’s outcome but they’re an essential building block for your basic NBA bets.
Next Up: Find Your Fortune in NBA Futures