If you’re new to making sports wagers, prop betting can be one of the easiest ways to dip your toe into the water. Instead of focusing on games, prop betting refers to specific events that occur within a game.
The Super Bowl is like Christmas morning for prop bettors. You can wager on things like whether the coin toss will be heads or tails, the length of the national anthem, and which team will receive the opening kickoff. You can even bet on the color of the Gatorade dumped on the winning coach. There is no shortage of action on which degenerates can lay their money down.
That said, you don’t have to wait until the Super Bowl to take advantage of prop betting. Player props are the most common form of prop bets, and they can be found in virtually every major sport. Basketball is no exception.
The NBA is one of the best leagues to explore in the player prop market. The limits are relatively low for these bets, so there isn’t as much incentive for the oddsmakers to post an accurate line. The sportsbooks can also be slow to adjust the lines based on news, which can give the player a sizable advantage.
Overall, a successful approach to NBA player props is one of the easiest ways to build your bankroll.
What are player prop bets?
A player prop bet is pretty simple. Essentially, you are betting on whether you believe a player will succeed or fail at accomplishing a particular task on the court. These betting opportunities can be found for a wide variety of players in most NBA games, including all the top superstars.
You can find player prop bets for virtually every statistic generated during a basketball game.
Scoring is the most common NBA player prop category. Each player listed by a sportsbook will have an over/under line for their scoring total, and you can bet on either side. Most prop bets will feature more juice than a traditional spread or over/under bet, with the standard line being -115 in both directions. This means you’d have to bet $115 to win $100 profit.
However, it’s not common to see a line with -115 betting odds in each direction. One side will typically be favored by the public, causing the juice on that side to rise. The juice on the other side of the bet will then drop accordingly to compensate.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example. Say the Houston Rockets are taking on the Memphis Grizzlies and James Harden’s scoring total is set at 35.5 points. Most people are predictably betting on the over — who doesn’t want to bet on points being scored? — so the juice rises from -115 to -150. As a result, the juice on the under moves from -115 to +120 to entice some additional action on the under.
Scoring props will also adjust as the day progresses, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Harden’s scoring prop rise to 36.5 or higher if the action continues to flow on his over.
Another popular wager is how effective each listed player will perform as a distributor. These lines are listed much lower than the scoring props — the typical NBA team has averaged 111.4 points but just 24.3 assists in 2020 — so there are significantly fewer assists to go around per game.
Most assists will be centered around point guards, but there are some players who are able to rack up assists at non-traditional positions. LeBron James was on pace to lead the league in assists prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, while Nikola Jokic is an exceptional passer for a big man.
Prop bets on rebounds are more prevalent than on assists, but still nowhere near as common as points. NBA teams are averaging just under 45 rebounds per game this season, and 11 players are averaging at least 10.0 rebounds per game. To put that in perspective, only LeBron is averaging more than 10.0 assists per game.
Unsurprisingly, big men tend to dominate the rebound category. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player in the top 10 that isn’t a traditional center, and he’s an anomaly given his size and athleticism.
If betting on a specific player prop isn’t your cup of tea, you can bet on a combination prop. Instead of having to hit the over or under in one particular category, these props focus on a player’s total contribution in points, rebounds, and assists.
The upside to these props is your ability to win them in a variety of ways. If a player isn’t shooting the ball well, he can make up for it on the glass and as a distributor. If he’s scoring the ball well, your wager can survive potential lackluster contributions in the other areas.
The downside is that these props are significantly higher than the individual scoring, assist, and rebound props.
If you’re looking to grab the over on one of these props, they are best utilized with players who have the ability to fill up the stat sheet. If a player is someone who is primarily a scorer, rebounder, or playmaker, you’re likely better off just grabbing the over on the individual prop in which they’re known to excel.
Double-Doubles and Triple-Doubles
These props will offer some of the best odds in the player prop market because they’re not easy to accomplish. A player needs to score at least 10 points and record at least 10 rebounds or assists for a double-double, and they need to hit double-digits in all three categories for a triple-double. You can also theoretically replace rebounds or assists with blocks or steals, but reaching 10 in either of those statistical categories is an extremely difficult feat. Hassan Whiteside is the only player to record at least 10 blocks or steals in a game this season, and he only managed to score 8 points in that contest.
Double-doubles are another category that favors big men. We have already established that rebounds happen nearly twice as often as assists, so it makes sense that it would be easier to hit double-digits in that category. There have been 301 double-doubles with points and assists this season compared to 1,375 with points and rebounds.
Triple-doubles are tougher to rack up, and the usual suspects account for the majority of them. There have been 94 triple-doubles recorded so far this season, with LeBron, Harden, Jokic, Antetokounmpo, Russell Westbrook and Luka Doncic accounting for 55 of those.
You might be able to find some additional player prop bets in other categories — 3-pointers, steals, blocks, free throws, etc — but none of these are super prevalent in the industry at the moment.
The sportsbooks give each game an over/under and a point spread, and those can be used in combination to create an “implied team total” for each individual team. Generally, more points is a good thing if you’re looking to bet the over on points or assists.
Projected pace is another important factor that can be reflected in the over/under. If a slow-paced team is playing in a pace-up spot, you probably want to give those players a slight bump compared to their usual projections. The opposite is true when looking at a fast team in a pace-down matchup. Ultimately, possessions are king in prop betting. The more possessions, the more opportunities to rack up points, rebounds, and assists.
Prop betting strategies
The number one mistake that many prop bettors make is playing too many overs. In general, you want to be wagering on unders unless you have a good reason not to.
There are a few key reasons for this.
First and foremost, betting on overs is simply more fun than betting on unders. No one wants to watch a basketball game and root for missed shots. That’s why most people bet on overs instead of unders in the player prop market. For that reason, most lines are inflated towards the over, which creates value with the under.
Betting on unders also utilizes a concept of “mean vs median”. In case you need a brief refresher in your elementary math, mean refers to the average scoring, while median refers to the most likely middling outcome.
Let’s look at an example. LeBron has averaged 25.7 points per game during the regular season, making his mean expectation in most cases right around 26 points.
But means can be deceiving. If LeBron goes off for 50 points, that’s going to impact his mean scoring average, but you’re not going to get any extra money if you bet on the over. Covering by one point is the same as covering by 20.
This is where the median expectation comes into play. Even though LeBron has averaged 25.7 points per game this season, he has actually scored fewer than 25 points in the majority of his games (53.3%). It’s not an overwhelming edge, but it’s clear that his median expectation should be closer to 24.5 or so.
Most players are going to fit this model. Very rarely will they have games where they score well below their season average — particularly the all-stars — but they will have games where they crush. This means most players will have a lower median scoring expectation than mean.
Thinking in this manner can give you a leg up on other sports bettors.
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you’re exploiting “recency bias” wherever possible. Recency bias occurs because people typically place way too much stock in recent outcomes and ignore the longer track record.
If a player has averaged 12.0 points per game for the majority of the season but explodes for 20 points or more in three straight games, he’s definitely worth some additional research. Is his scoring streak due to an unusual volume of shooting opportunities — possibly due to an injury — or is he simply riding a few hot shooting performances? If it’s the latter, he’s a prime regression candidate moving forward.
To make things even better, his scoring over/under will likely be higher than usual due to his recent game log. This makes for a very appealing combination if you’re looking to bet the under.
How else can I utilize the prop market?
The main reason to look at the prop market is to identify and capitalize on exploitable bets, but that doesn’t mean props can’t offer another purpose as well.
The prop market provides an insight into how bookmakers are expecting each player to perform each evening, and that knowledge can be valuable in NBA DFS. You can also see how the market is reacting to the lines that are set. If the scoring prop for a particular player continues to rise throughout the day, you can bet the majority of the wagers on that prop are coming in on the over.
That said, I would recommend exercising caution in relying too heavily on the lines set by the sportsbooks. There is a reason why these lines are exploitable, and that’s because they don’t need to be as accurate as a spread or over/under. I am much more interested in the perspective of particular NBA experts than the bookmakers on any given night.
Prop betting is one of the easiest ways to get into sports betting, and it can also be one of the most profitable. You can bet on a variety of NBA props on each slate, including scoring, rebounding, assists, and triple-doubles. There are a ton of excellent resources out there that can give you an edge over the oddsmakers, and when all else fails, remember to lean toward the under instead of the over. That may not make you the most fun to talk to about the game, but it should lead to a positive return on investment in the long run.