NBA Handicapping: Expert Tips on How to Handicap NBA Basketball Odds

by Big Al Staff

Handicapping is something that's not set out for everyone.  It's what separates the recreational bettors from the professionals.  With the NBA, you’ll have certain bettors who only surface during the Playoffs to make a couple of wagers, and then you’ll have those who follow every single move an NBA team makes.  In many ways, the novice bettors feed the sportsbooks, while the professional handicappers feed their bankroll.  Sports wagering is a fun practice which can deliver a strong rush of adrenaline, but it does require a good bit of work to develop a winning strategy. 

Although it’s been decades since we were rookie bettors, we still remember and understand what that was like.  Thus, we would like to share our experience and knowledge base with anyone who's still uncovering his way as a handicapper.  The path to becoming a professional is no doubt difficult, but it’s also quite possible if you’re willing to put in the work. 

<h2>Five tips to develop a professional NBA betting strategy</h2>
Don't get us wrong, here.  By following our tips, you won't become a professional NBA handicapper right away.  You'll still need to go through the process of watching NBA games in the regular season and playoffs, and possibly even watch some college basketball, to understand the game thoroughly.  We'll start with some betting tips to prevent you from making some common mistakes.  There are no shortcuts to mastering the art of sports betting, but at least these betting tips can help speed up your process.  We've deliberately constructed a list of five sports betting tips that will guide you towards your personal handicapping strategy.
1. Start right:  pick the best sportsbooks
The first thing you’ll need to do when you start as a sports bettor is choose your sportsbooks.  And note that sportsbooks is plural, and not singular.  The reason for that is that the point spreads and odds vary with each sportsbook.  If you only have one sportsbook, then you’re at its mercy with respect to the odds.  But if you have multiple sportsbooks (say, four or five), then you’ll stand an excellent chance to get the best number, and your win rate will naturally increase about two percent.  You might think that any sportsbook is fine, but there are often big differences among them.  We've used dozens of sportsbooks over the years, and have compiled a ranking based on a list of factors.  The value of our effort is that you can skip the research and start using a proper sportsbook straightaway.  However, for transparency, we do want to give you an overview of the criteria we use when evaluating a bookmaker:

  • When did the sportsbook start?
  • Does the sportsbook offer competitive odds?
  • Are the sportsbook’s odds unique (which is necessary for line-shopping), or does it merely copy the odds of industry leaders?
  • Does the sportsbook offer a wide range of banking methods?
  • What are its wagering limits?
  • How modern is the sportsbook’s website and user interface?
  • Is its customer service available 24/7, and responsive when you run into any issues? 
  • What are its sign-up bonuses and promotions?  Most online sportsbooks will either offer free bets, reduced juice, or welcome bonuses when you sign up.

2. Understand the importance of the number
There are over 1,300 games in a single NBA season, so there are endless betting opportunities.  It's okay to skip the Bucks facing the Celtics at 1 pm, if you see better value on the Rockets/Lakers game that evening.  As an old bookie of mine used to say, ‘why eat hamburger when there’s steak at the end of the table?’  But precisely what constitutes value?  Well, that’s what handicapping is all about.  It’s to calculate the differential between the two teams, and then assess the relative value conferred by the odds.  The moment you start digging in, you will notice that different sportsbooks offer different point spreads on the same matchup.  For example,  BetOnline might have the Lakers favored by 6.5 over the Rockets, while Bovada might deal the line at minus 7.  That half-point difference can be the  reason why you win a bet, rather than push.  And that's when you will fully realize the value of a half-point.  In a nutshell, if you get an extra half-point, you will increase your win percentage by about 1.7%.  So, if you’re betting on sports to make money (as opposed to having fun), then it’s incumbent upon you to have accounts at multiple sportsbooks.  And not just any sportsbook.  But you must have accounts at books that have unique numbers.  That is, they publish their own lines, and don’t just copy the numbers of other leading sportsbooks.  By having four to five accounts at sportsbooks that have unique numbers, you’ll be able to get the best number an overwhelming majority of the time.  Some of the best books with unique odds include our #1-rated book, BetAnySports, our #2-rated book, BetNow, our #3-rated book, Bovada, our #4-rated book, BetOnline, and our #5-rated book, BookMaker.

Line movement
Every single sportsbook has the goal of making money.  You're wagering for the same reason.  The moment the sportsbook lists the bet, you'll have sports bettors diving in and making their bets.  From that point forward, the odds are always in flux.  If action comes in heavily on one side, the sportsbook can choose to move the lines to thereby better attract action on the other side.  Or, sometimes, a line moves because the status of a player changes due to injury.  This line movement is often where professional bettors find their edge.  When a line moves, value can be eroded, or it can be increased.

Competitive odds
With any bet, no matter if it's a point spread bet, or a total, you're dealing with betting odds. When you're selecting a sportsbook, it’s important to determine whether their odds are competitive, in comparison to others. Most sportsbooks offer standard -110 odds.  But some sportsbooks offer reduced juice, which is a big advantage for the bettor.  For example, GTBets offers -109 pricing on football and basketball games rather than -110 odds, while BetAnySports goes even further by offering -105 pricing.  And WagerWeb offers a variant on reduced juice.  What WagerWeb gives is 1% cash back on volume.  The net effect of that offer is that its clientele lay -108 rather than -110.  So, if WagerWeb installs the Bucks as a 4.5-point favorite over the Heat, while Intertops also has the number at -4.5, you’ll play at WagerWeb because the odds are just -108.  So, when you choose which sportsbooks to join, you should definitely take into account the odds.

3. Knowledge is power
When you're betting on the Raptors, you have to know how well Kyle Lowry has been performing lately.  The same goes for Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers, and with a bunch of other NBA players.  Of course, the performance of an individual player won’t necessarily dictate the outcome of a game.  But when you know a player has a sore knee before the sportsbook does, you can take advantage of the odds before they change. 

On top of that, professional handicappers analyze minute details about every game.  Does a team enjoy a strong home-court advantage?  With how many days of rest is each team playing?  What is the respective motivation of each team?  What are the previous results for both teams?  How have the two teams performed against each other in the past?  And so forth.

4. Keep your hand on your pocket:  money management
When you bet on sports, you'll need to decide how much money you're willing to put on the line.  If you want to walk away with a large profit, then you’ll have to risk a lot, too.  You can go in without a plan and choose your bet size based on how you’re feeling on that day.  Or you take the better course of action, and make a plan.  With proper planning and money management, you'll be among the professional handicappers who limit their risk.  You can set a couple of rules for yourself, such as:

  • What's my initial bankroll?
  • How much do I wager per bet?
  • What are the maximum odds I'll take on?
  • How many bets do I make each day?
  • How many bets do I make each week?
  • What happens when I'm on a losing streak?

These questions are here to give you a basic framework to keep yourself in check -- especially emotionally.  We're playing for the long run here, not just for a quick buck.  That means you'll have to think about a couple of scenarios before you start.  The stricter your rules, the less your emotions will invade your decision-making, and the better your performance will be. 

5. Learn from the experts:  understand what professional NBA handicappers value
Similar to NFL handicappers, NBA handicappers love to share their research and results.  Any professional with a proper track record will publish his analysis along with his selections.  As a newbie NBA handicapper, you can learn a lot from the established handicappers in the industry.  Some handicappers have developed a robust system from decades of experience that allows them to wager on multiple games a week.  We advise you to create your system, of course, but it's always a wise move to understand what others are doing.  When a professional handicapper shares good analysis on the Golden State Warriors, then test that knowledge against your own system to see if you need to make adjustments on the data you value.

The other way you could approach this is to pay a handicapper for his expertise.  Often NBA handicappers share some free picks as a preview of their services. You can try these, and if there's a winner among one of those picks, you'll probably earn enough to pay for their services.  The paid NBA picks are often much better than the free choices, of course, and they can reward you with big bucks in your bank account.  Professional handicappers often collaborate, and their pool of knowledge is more than you can acquire by yourself.  But you can use that information to your advantage, and follow the professionals' picks to make money.  Whatever you choose to do, have fun along the way!

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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