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By Mark Strotman | | 8 mins

Complete NBA 2021 Season Betting Guide, Storylines & Tips

Complete NBA 2021 Season Betting Guide, Storylines & Tips

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When the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets tip off the NBA 2021 season on Dec. 22, it will have been just 72 days since LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Los Angeles Lakers hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy inside the NBA bubble in Orlando.

That will be the shortest offseason in NBA history by nearly two months, and it will have a huge impact both on how the upcoming season plays out and on NBA betting strategy. Let’s take a look at the top betting storylines for the new season and what bettors need to know before making bets on games or on the futures market.

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NBA 2021 Season Betting Tips

Fatigue & Rust Are Issues

Some teams will be tired while others will be rusty. Consider that the Lakers will have played just 72 days earlier, while non-NBA bubble teams such as the Sacramento Kings last played 290 days earlier on March 8. Fatigue and rest will be a factor for teams that advanced deep into the summer playoffs, while others that failed to make the postseason will be shaking off rust after more than nine months away from live game action.

When looking at NBA odds, bettors will need to consider both when considering early-season bets. Conditioning (teams did not have true training camps), slow starts on offense and potential rest days for veterans mean potential value for unders. We could see some sloppy basketball in the early portion of the season as teams get back into the flow of things.

Pandemic Makes Positive Tests, Absences Likely

Beyond the quick turnarounds and long layoffs, the NBA 2021 season will begin amid the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic that continues to ravage many NBA cities. The NBA successfully implemented the bubble in Orlando that allowed the 2020 NBA season to finish, but that’s no longer in effect. Adam Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams outlining safety protocols that all players must follow – with penalties including reduced paychecks and quarantines if broken.

That should help reduce the number of positive cases, but consider that between Nov. 24-30, 48 NBA players tested positive. As we’ve seen in the NFL with players such as Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton and the Broncos quarterbacks, it feels likely that players will miss games due to positive tests. Bettors will need to stay on top of the latest updates, as players missing time has a significant trickle-down impact. That may mean waiting until closer to game time before making your bet.

Shorter Season Will Change Strategy

Complete NBA 2021 Season Betting Guide, Storylines & Tips 1

The league has also condensed its season to 72 games and is doing so in a tighter window than we’ve seen in the past. That means an increase in back-to-back games that could mean more veteran players resting as they prepare for the postseason. The condensed NBA schedule also means positive COVID-19 tests will result in more games being missed.

On the other hand, with just 72 games, there is a smaller margin for error with teams fighting for NBA playoff positioning. Bettors will need to stay on top of players’ availability and consider where teams are in the standings more than ever before this season. The number of factors weighing on teams is unparalleled, and it will result in roster changes, DNPs and strategizing like we’ve never seen before.

NBA 2021 Season Betting Storylines

There won’t be too many new faces as far as the contenders are concerned. It was a relatively quiet NBA offseason – few teams had significant cap space as most eye the coveted 2021 free-agent class. Of the 15 All-NBA players last season, only two changed teams (Chris Paul, Thunder to Suns; Russell Westbrook, Rockets to Wizards), and neither were championship odds-altering moves. Those were also the only two of the 25 2020 All-Stars to change teams.

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Coaching Moves, Healthy Stars Create Drama

Anthony Davis re-signed with the Lakers, Giannis Antetokounmpo appears ready to commit to the Bucks, and teams such as the Clippers, Celtics, Nuggets and Raptors are all running it back with the same core. The draft class was weak a year after Zion Williamson and Ja Morant took the league by storm, so there isn’t a large crop of immediate talent entering the league either.

Where there wasn’t much significant player movement, we did see plenty of coaching change. Steve Nash is in charge of the Nets, Doc Rivers is the new man for the 76ers, Stan Van Gundy is back on the sidelines coaching Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson in New Orleans, and Ty Lue is looking to guide the Clippers their first title like he did with the Cavaliers.

Complete NBA 2021 Season Betting Guide, Storylines & Tips 2

But a quiet offseason doesn’t mean the 2021 season is lacking for drama. Kevin Durant is healthy in Brooklyn, the champion Lakers revamped their bench, the Bucks traded for Jrue Holiday, Steph Curry is finally healthy – albeit without Klay Thompson – and the Heat won’t be sneaking up on anyone in the East after an NBA Finals appearance in the 2020 bubble.

Compelling Younger Stars

There’s also the most young talent in the league since the LeBron-Carmelo-Wade era in the early 2000s. Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker, Williamson and Morant could and should make noise and could make the jump from All-Star to All-NBA.

There are some really bad teams – looking at you Cavs, Pistons, and Kings – but the star power combined with the young talent should make for an intriguing season.

Top-Heavy NBA Championship Odds

There are four contenders as far as NBA futures go – the Lakers, Clippers, Bucks and Nets – who are led by future Hall of Famers, champions, All-Pros and Finals MVPs. The title chase may be top-heavy. But a shortened season, potential COVID-19 cases and fewer NBA fans in attendance to help with homecourt advantage means anything can happen.

With that in mind, looking for value in a team such as the Philadelphia 76ers (new coach, new GM, plenty of underperforming talent) could prove rewarding.

NBA 2021 Season Futures Bets to Back

Steve Nash NBA Coach of the Year (+900, Unibet): Wins matter for this award, and Brooklyn is going to do plenty of winning with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Let’s not sleep on their supporting cast – or the potential that they add James Harden at some point. Nash’s personality will also be a favorite with the media – who vote on the award. Check out our NBA Coach of the Year betting tips for more.

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Damian Lillard NBA scoring champion (+600 on BetMGM): James Harden has won the last three scoring titles, but Houston could be a nightmare this season – and if Harden is traded, he won’t have free reign like he does with the Rockets. Lillard finished third in scoring last season and is only getting better. His performance in the Bubble (33.1 points per game) was scoring champion-esque.


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Stephen Curry regular season MVP (+800 on FOX Bet): Remember this guy? The last time a healthy Curry played without Kevin Durant, he became the first unanimous MVP in league history. Without Klay Thompson, Curry will be shooting early and often for the Warriors. He will have MVP numbers, and Golden State will win enough to have Curry in the conversation. Check out the latest NBA MVP odds here.


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Giannis Antetokounmpo Defensive Player of the Year (+400 on DraftKings): Repeat winners are fairly common with this award: It has happened three times since 2010 (Dwight Howard, Kawhi Leonard, Rudy Gobert). The Bucks adding Jrue Holiday will only make them better defensively after they led the league in defensive rating last season. Giannis is a smart bet to win for a second straight year.


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Killian Hayes Rookie of the Year (+1000 on PointsBet): Rookie of the Year winners need minutes, and the Pistons have plenty to offer at point guard. The tanking Pistons will give Hayes all the experience he can get, meaning heaps of counting numbers. This has a Michael Carter-Williams/76ers feel to it. Check out the latest NBA Rookie of the Year odds here.


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NBA 2021 Season FAQs

When does the NBA season start?

The NBA season is scheduled to start on Dec. 22, 2020.

Who is the favorite to win the 2021 NBA championship?

The Los Angeles Lakers are favored to win the 2021 NBA championship, with the Los Angeles Clippers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks also considered contenders.

How many games will teams play in the NBA this season?

Each team is scheduled to play 72 games this NBA season.

Will there be an NBA bubble this season?

Currently there are no plans for an NBA bubble.

Will the NBA have fans in 2021?

The NBA is planning on 25% to 50% capacity for fans, but it will ultimately be up to local governments to determine because of the coronavirus pandemic.

About the Author

Mark Strotman for
Mark Strotman
Mark is a veteran sports journalist who has covered the Bulls and the NBA since 2012. His work has appeared on,, The Chicago Tribune and Yahoo Sports.