No team sport relies more heavily on the success of individuals than basketball. The greatest MLB players only get five at-bats and as many plays in the field – and starters throw once every five days – and a poor offensive line can negate even the best of quarterbacks. In hockey, the best players are on the ice for less than half the game.
But in basketball the best players are on the floor for upwards of 75 to 80 percent of possible minutes. They dictate the action, have the ball in their hands on nearly every possession and, in turn, compile more volume stats than in any other sport.
It’s what makes betting NBA player proposition bets such a fun wager night in and night out. But they’re also difficult, with a number of different factors to consider before betting the over-under on a certain player’s points, rebounds or assists (or some combination of the three).
Tips for NBA Prop Bets
Analytics have come charging into basketball and they’re rather easy to decipher. One doesn’t need to be a mathematician to understand that not all teams play the same style.
In 2013-14, the Philadelphia 76ers played at a pace of 99.78 possessions per game, most in the NBA. The Memphis Grizzlies played at a pace of 90.60 possessions per game, fewest in the NBA. That meant opposing teams could expect to have nine more possessions when playing against the up-tempo Sixers than they would against the snail-paced Grizzlies.
Nine possessions over 48 minutes may not seem like a lot, but it could easily swing the difference on an individual prop bet. Oddsmakers will take this into account – and looking at a player’s own pace is important, too – but it can be even more pronounced than they give it credit for.
Consider whether a game is going to be played faster or slower than usual. On that thought, check into if a team is getting zero days of rest of not.
Beware the Blowouts
So Stephen Curry is playing the Atlanta Hawks, owners of the NBA’s worst record in his hypothetical scenario. Seems like a lock for him to hit the over on his points prop bet, right? Maybe not.
The NBA is increasingly becoming a chess match among the contending NBA teams, where rest and bench depth matters more than ever. So when the really good teams start to beat up on the really bad teams, ironically it sometimes means fewer stats for the stars.
Consider that in 2016-17, Stephen Curry scored 13 or fewer points in six games; in four of those games the Warriors won by 13, 23, 31 and 36 points. In 2013-14, Kevin Durant led the NBA in scoring with 32.0 points per game, and yet in the eight games where he scored fewer than 24 points, the Thunder were 6-2 with an average margin of victory of 17.1 points.
Conversely, in Durant’s seven highest scoring games that season the Thunder were 5-2 with an average margin of victory of 4.6 points. Might seem like betting potential scoring champions would be easy pickings here, but sometimes it’s best to avoid bad opponents and potential blowouts and instead look for games where a star is guaranteed big minutes.
Rebound Rate, Not Margin
Rebounding prop bets can be fun, too. While it isn’t as eye-catching as betting on points, seeing as a missed shot precedes every rebound, there’s certainly strategy within these wagers.
Pace still matters (see above) because more possessions means more shot attempts and, thus, more misses and chances for rebounds. And the blowout factor is in play, too. But with rebounds, instead of looking at an opponent’s rebounds per game, check its rebound rate.
Because pace changes the number of rebound attempts teams can have each night, analyzing the percentage of available rebounds a team grabs is more accurate to gauge how good they are in a category. Here’s an example:
In 2012-13 the Memphis Grizzlies were second in the NBA in rebound rate, grabbing 52.0 percent of available rebounds. But because they played at the second slowest pace in the NBA, thus fewer possessions and fewer rebound chances, they were only 11th in rebounds per game, still a solid mark but much lower than the real statistic that showed just how elite they were in the rebounding department.
FG% Defense Affects Assists
All assists come on made field goals. You’re welcome for that insight. So while pace and opponents’ assists allowed per game are certainly an important factors in wagering on player assist prop bets, in the end we really want to know how often opponents make shots against that team.
The majority of assists are the result of layups – transition, backdoor, passing to cutters, etc. – or 3-pointers – transition, driving and kicking to an open shooter on a collapsed defense, etc. – so looking at those two numbers specifically can give us an indication of whether assist numbers are likely to be up in that game.
And while there’s no statistical analysis of it, we’ll add here that individual matchups are important when it comes to point guards and assists. A hounding defensive presence can take the ball out of a player’s hands and limit his potential assists. So unlike scoring champions, potential defensive POTY always should be accounted for. Keep that in mind while considering all the above factors.