The NBA and basketball as a whole is one of the most popular sports betting options in the United States. At most legal Michigan sportsbooks, the NBA and NCAA college basketball stand alongside NFL and NCAA college football as the most heavily wagered leagues/sports.
The emergence of legalized online sports gambling and its growth throughout the country should have a massively positive impact on the NBA’s continued growth. And the development of in-game/live betting has added another new wrinkle of possibilities for both bettors and sportsbooks.
The introduction of legal online sports betting in Michigan in 2020 gives Detroit Pistons fans, or anyone within state lines, a whole new entertainment experience. In this page we’ll get into what’s left of the current NBA season amid COVID-19, what’s on the horizon for 2021 and then dive into some NBA betting specifics.
Those just dipping their toes into the water could easily be befuddled by the various betting options for the NBA, so we’ll touch on those in addition to breaking down betting pricing, popular markets, some key factors to consider as a bettor, and some bankroll management.
The 2020 NBA regular season/playoffs and 2021 season
Barring a snag, the NBA is set to restart the 2019-2020 season at Walt Disney in Orlando on July 31st. Only 22 teams will take part in the restart, and those without realistic playoff hopes will stay at home. Unfortunately for fans in Michigan, the Pistons are one of those teams. The returning teams are the 16 teams in current playoff positions prior to the shutdown, plus the six teams that were six games or fewer behind the eighth seed in their conferences.
Each team will play eight “seeding games” which are basically regular season games. Opponents will be chosen based on the team’s remaining regular season matchups. As for the playoffs, the seven teams in each conference with the best records at the end of the seeding games will have clinched a playoff spot, with the eighth seed potentially coming down to a play-in tournament.
If the team with the eighth-best record in it’s conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record, then we’d see a battle for the final spot, with a twist – it would basically be a best of two series, meaning the 9th seed would have to beat the eighth seed twice while one win by the eighth seed would clinch. Once the playoffs begin with the traditional 16-team setup, things will flow exactly like they have in the past.
Draft lottery and free agency
Looking to 2021, the Draft Lottery is tentatively scheduled for August 25th if the 2020 schedule holds. The draft would then be held on October 16th, with free agency following on the 18th. The 2020-2021 regular season would then begin on December 1st, 2020.
To say that the 2019-2020 regular season has been and will continue to be weird would be the understatement of the century. Not only did a pandemic halt the league for more than four months, but we’ll see a restart come after players – without question some of the best athletes in the world – compete after being quarantined. It certainly adds an interesting wrinkle and gives this season a one of a kind storyline. The upcoming offseason will also be odd from the sense that teams won’t get as clear of a look at draft picks or as much time to act in free agency.
The 2020 free agent class is not nearly as strong as last year’s class headlined by Kawhi Leonard. It’s possible Anthony Davis becomes a free agent, but he may actually be able to make more by opting in this year and waiting until the following offseason to negotiate. Outside of Davis, there aren’t any franchise altering talents.
Danilo Gallinari and Fred Van Vleet are two of the better unrestricted free agents, which says a lot about this class. Another big name in this class is Pistons PF/C Christian Wood, who has always performed well when given an opportunity, but those chances were rare until this season. Wood took off in limited action behind Andre Drummond – another free agent in 2020 – to start the season, but continued to play well as a starter after Drummond was dealt despite the team’s struggles. Teams could try to sign Brandon Ingram to an offer sheet, but he’s restricted and the Pelicans would almost certainly match it. It’s always possible that we see a superstar shipped via trade, but it projects to be a relatively quiet offseason in terms of blockbuster moves.
Basketball history in Michigan
While the NBA was born in 1949, the roots of the lone professional basketball team in Michigan date back further. The Fort Wayne Pistons – the Detroit Pistons since the franchise relocated in 1957 – were established in 1941 as a member of the NBL (National Basketball League), and headed over to the BAA (Basketball Association of America) in 1948 after winning NBL championships in 1944 and ‘45.
The NBL and BAA merged to form the NBA in 1949, and the Pistons have been a part of the league since. They’ve won three NBA titles (1989, 1990, 2004) and reached the Eastern Conference Finals in six consecutive years from 2003-2008. It hasn’t been nearly as pretty since.
While the Pistons have struggled over most of the past decade, the NBA itself has had quite a different fate. The league generates billions of dollars in revenue each year and their audience is only growing – sports betting will only continue to fuel that further. Player salaries are enormous in a star driven league, but even some of the league’s benchwarmers are raking in salaries north of $15-20 million dollars per year.
This has only been the case since the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, but it helps shed light on how successful the league has been in the recent past. The emergence of stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry, as well as the dominance of their teams, helped fuel massive spikes in ratings during NBA Finals games. The marketability of the league’s stars allows for a worldwide reach, and the growth of overseas talent in the NBA has spiked significantly.
What’s the “vig” in NBA betting?
You may have heard the term “vig” or “juice” when it comes to sports betting – this is the book’s take. Those terms refer to the fee the sportsbook charges a bettor for making a wager. This is clearly identifiable in most spread or total (over/under) bets – regardless of which side you play, which will usually be priced at -110.
For that particular wager, $110 would have to be wagered in order to profit $100.
To put it another way, the book is taking a 10% fee, which is the industry standard rake/vig. It’s not terribly uncommon to see 15% or even 20% vig on in-game bets or player props, but for most sides/totals on pregame bets, you should expect to see -110, otherwise you may want to look elsewhere.
Player props vig
It’s very common to see spread and total bets priced at -110, but player props are a little different. They tend to come with higher vig, around -115 and up to -120 depending on where you’re shopping.
This can also appear to be much higher on certain bets; for example, you may see an over priced at -160 with the over bet priced at +120 or +130. These prices can vary significantly from book to book, unlike spread or total numbers where the books tend to be aligned very closely.
Some books will have slightly different totals for player props than a competing book. Remember the mantra: shop around!
Blake Griffin’s rebounding prop might sit at 6.5 at one book, but if you’re eyeing other books you may see a total of 7.5 elsewhere. Plugged-in bettors with access to strong player projections tend to love betting props, as they find more pricing errors in that market than in a more efficient market like NBA spreads or totals. Even new bettors can find accurate projections, some of which may be available for free.
Those into live or in-game betting will also notice higher vig attached to those bets more often than not. Prices tend to sit around -115. For those unfamiliar, live or in-game betting refers to wagering that occurs while the game is in action – or after it has begun. In general, players should look to bet spreads or totals with a 10% vig, while player props/live bets should be aiming for 15% or less.
Popular NBA betting markets and formats
- Point spread: One of the most common and popular forms of NBA betting, betting the spread means that you’re betting the game on a perceived even playing field – a “favorite” would need to win by more than the spread in order to “cover.” For example if the Lakers are favored by 5.5 against the Clippers, the Lakers would need to win by 6 points or more to “cover,” and for you to win your bet. If you took the Clippers and they lost by 5 or fewer, or won, you’d win that bet.
- Moneyline: Instead of factoring in any sort of point spread, moneyline bets simply require the team you wagered on to win in order to cash the ticket.
- Futures: Bets made on an outcome of a future event; popular futures bets in the NBA would be the winner of the NBA Finals and can break down to the player level (over/unders on seasonal stat totals).
- Player props: Bets can be placed on individual player stats – the book will assess a total for each stat, and players can bet the over or under. Those that are into daily fantasy sports will love this sort of betting, and player projections are extremely valuable for success in this space.
- Total (Over/Under): A total is set for the combined points scored between both teams in a given game, and bettors can ride with the over or under.
- Parlays: This refers to the grouping together of multiple bets on a single ticket. You can combine two bets, four bets, 14, you get the idea. They can pay a lot if you hit them, but they’re not quite EV+ plays.
- Teasers: Teasers are a type of wager that combines more than one bet into a single ticket, and allows the bettor to adjust the point spread in their favor for both games.
- Live betting: Betting that occurs while the game is underway. Live betting is most commonly offered during stoppages — commercial breaks or at the end of quarters/halves.
- Opening/closing lines: Spread bets are thought to have the most value right when they are released, before incoming bets start to move the number. The closing line refers to the line at the time of tip-off.
- Steam: “Steam” moves can help identify professional betting action, which can be valuable information. When lines move in unusual ways, a reverse-line movement, it’s usually a result of pro action.
NBA betting considerations
We could go on all day about different things to consider when placing an NBA bet, but let’s start with some of the basics.
Throughout the season teams will be in situations that can create some betting value due to the schedule, a key injury, rest days, etc.
- Back-to-backs: A team playing on back-to-back days can create some interesting situations. Players like Kawhi Leonard and Joel Embiid will sometimes rest on one end of the back-to-back, and a loss of a player of that magnitude has a non-negligible impact on the betting line. Rotations may also be staggered a little differently for teams depending on their situation.
- Load management: The term became more popular in the last few years, and in an 82-game season where regular season games can sometimes become monotonous, it’s not surprising it happens when stars are earning in excess of $30 million/year. The playoffs can become grueling and staying healthy is vital, so we tend to see it more with veteran players on winning teams, but bottom dwellers also get in on the lack of action, sometimes to try to improve lottery odds.
- Injuries: Especially for DFS players, nothing is more valuable than fast injury or rest news in the NBA. Injuries can have a massive impact on rotations as well as point spreads and totals, so finding and acting on that information fast is especially vital in betting. If you can beat the book and get in on a line before it’s taken off the board due to an announced injury, you’ll have a nice edge on the house.
The crossover between daily fantasy sports and sports betting
Those with a daily fantasy background have a nice leg up when it comes to sports betting. Utilizing accurate player projections and monitoring news can provide a massive advantage as far as getting the best number on a spread bet or finding a bad line on a player prop. Bettors and DFS players are looking at very similar information in order to make their choices.
Sports betting bankroll management
If you want to avoid quickly running through your wagering funds, there is no more important factor to sports betting than bankroll management. Put another way, it’s about being disciplined with the funds you’ve allocated for sports betting entertainment. If you think or know your betting is getting out of hand, please review this page.
Bankroll management is something every bettor needs to be conscious of, because betting wildly with big portions of your bankroll is likely to drain your bankroll sooner rather than later. This isn’t limited to big bettors either – even those shelling out some beer money should employ these strategies.
To start, bettors will want to figure out what their starting bankroll will be. In other words, decide what you can afford to and would be willing to lose, or spend for the entertainment. This obviously depends on each bettor’s financial situation and comfort level, but it should be an amount you won’t lose sleep over. From that point, a “unit” size can be established. Most bettors place one unit on a particular bet, although some may wager more on games they see more value in. Depending on where you’re at, it may be $5, $50 or it may be $500.
It’s generally recommended to bet a certain percentage of your bankroll as your unit size – that number can range from 1-5% and further depending on the bettor.
Unit sizes can also change based on how you’re performing – if you’re consistently winning and have built up a bankroll, you may be comfortable upping your unit size to reflect your current standing. A bettor on a losing streak would probably want to cut back on their unit size to ensure they can continue on through the down swing. And the general rule is: You should not bet more than 5% of your bankroll on any one position.
NBA in Michigan: the Detroit Pistons
Most NBA fans in Michigan find themselves rooting for the Pistons, although it hasn’t been a fun ride over the last several At the time of the 2020 NBA shutdown, Detroit had the 3rd-worst record in the Eastern Conference and the 5th-worst record in the entire league.
They also traded one of the franchise cornerstones in Andre Drummond, and the shock of such a poor return for his services made this a season to forget for Pistons fans. The growth of Luke Kennard, Christian Wood and Bruce Brown does provide a glimmer of hope for the future, although Detroit will need to retain Wood’s services in the offseason in order to keep him in Michigan.
Pistons outlook in the NBA Draft
The good news when it comes to a losing season is the possibility of faring well in the draft lottery. The Pistons will have a good shot at that – they own their own first round pick this season and will have a shot at a top selection in the 2020 draft.
With guys like Anthony Edwards, LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman, Obi Toppin and Isaac Okoro in this class, Detroit should be able to make an impact addition for the future. The Pistons do not own their own second round pick and do not project to have one in this draft.
Pistons outlook heading into 2021
With Andre Drummond out of town, the best hope for the Pistons is that Blake Griffin can get healthy and regain some of his pre-injury prowess. He’s not likely to be able to carry the Pistons on his own, and the fact that Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Derrick Rose are under contract next season helps. Detroit will have cap flexibility heading into the offseason, but there isn’t much in the way of superstar free agents to turn the franchise around in a hurry.