An NBA campaign featuring a heralded rookie class and a first-ever in-season tournament tips off Tuesday, the beginning of seven months of nightly high-stakes battles between bettors and bookmakers where big bucks are on the line practically every bucket.
Over the last three years, more than $3 billion has been bet on professional basketball with just Colorado sportsbooks. That’s more than was bet on professional football by $1 billion dollars. Sportsbooks, of course, came out on top during that stretch, but bettors held their own, only losing approximately a net $117 million on pro basketball to the books, according to Colorado gaming regulators. At around 3.9%, that’s a very small winning margin for the state’s sportsbooks on hoops.
Long gone are the days of sportsbooks offering point spreads and over/under totals and nothing much more on regular-season NBA games. Sportsbooks now offer massive menus of proposition bets on every game. The Denver Nuggets are -130 favorites to score 10 points first in the defending champions’ season-opener against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. Bookmakers churn out dozens of player props on a game-by-game basis, and they’re wildly popular.
Bettors build massive long shot same-game parlays, risking $5 to win $5,000 on 12 different outcomes in a single game. The handful of wild same-game parlays (SGP) that hit often trend on social media. The hundreds of thousands of SGPs that lose nightly, however, don’t receive as much attention, unless of course there’s a controversial officiating call that spoils that leg of a 12-legger given out by a social media influencer.
Kevin Lawler, head of trading for online sportsbook PointsBet, told ESPN that player props account for more action with the NBA than in any other major U.S. sportsbook league.
Basketball is trending less and less to who’s going to win this game and more toward, “How many points is [Nikola] Jokic going to have tonight?” Lawler said. “It’s a very engaging product, and these prop markets align perfectly with [same-game parlays]. Props are a big part of NFL too, but it hasn’t moved in that direction quite as much as it has on NBA.”
This season, with its new elements and the expanding legal sportsbook market in the U.S., will undoubtedly be the most-heavily bet NBA campaign ever in the U.S.
Phenom Victor Wembanyama will enter his first season with the San Antonio Spurs as around an even-money favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Oddsmakers have set the over/under on his scoring average for the season at 17.5 points.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics begin as the top two favorites to win the NBA title, ahead of the Nuggets and re-tooled Phoenix Suns. The Bucks, Celtics, Nuggets, Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers each have regular-season win totals in the 50s, the highest in the league at sportsbooks. In a competitive Western Conference, the Lakers are behind only the Nuggets and Suns in title odds.
The Washington Wizards are the biggest long-shots to win the title, with 1,000-1 odds at DraftKings, and, yes, some people have taken a stab on the Wiz.
The Bucks and Celtics also are the favorites to win the inaugural NBA Cup, the inaugural in-season tournament that attracted some early interest from sharp bettors at one Las Vegas sportsbook.
“We’ve had a bit of sharp play in the groups,” veteran Las Vegas sportsbook Jeff Sherman, who oversees NBA odd for the SuperBook, said. “But nothing in the [out]rights for the tournament.”
Sherman said professional bettors took the Indiana Pacers to win Group A, the Orlando Magic in Group C and the Oklahoma City Thunder in West Group C over the summer. He added that betting interest on the NBA Cup overall had been minimal, but he expects it to pick up as the group stage of the tournament, which tips off Nov. 3, approaches. It’ll be yet another opportunity for bettors to take a shot at the books.
But, be warned. Favorites have covered the spread in a coin-flipping 50.08% of NBA games over the last five regular seasons, and the differential between the closing spread and the final margin of victory dipped to a five-year low of 4.89 points last season, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
NBA betting notables
Can the Lakers ride their revamped roster to an NBA title?
The Lakers revamped and retooled their 2023-24 roster, bringing back Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell and adding Gabe Vincent and Christian Wood, in hopes of making a run at winning title No. 18.
However, action varies from one sportsbook to the next:
• The Lakers have attracted the most bets and the most money to win the NBA title at FanDuel and the SuperBook
• The Nuggets have attracted the most money to win the NBA title at BetMGM.
• The Toronto Raptors have attracted the most bets to win the NBA title at Bet365, likely due to the book’s market presence in Toronto.
Largest title bets reported by Caesars Sportsbook
• 30,000 on the Nuggets at 4-1 from a Nevada bettor. Would pay a net $120,000.
• $14,000 on the Nuggets at +475 from a Colorado bettor. Would pay a net $66,500.
• $6,000 on the LA Clippers at 18-1 from a New Jersey bettor. Would pay a net $108,000.
• $2,000 on the Minnesota Timberwolves at 75-1 from a Pennsylvania bettor. Would pay a net $150,00.
• $1,500 on the Thunder at 75-1 from a North Carolina bettor. Would win a net $112,500.
Q&A with Las Vegas NBA oddsmaker Jeff Sherman
Why Damian Lillard on the Bucks changes the NBA
Lillard on the Bucks changes everything from betting perspective
Sherman: I think it’s a good fit because of the roles on the team for what each one plays. I think they complement each other very well and, yeah, it is going to take some time. It always does. I’ve talked to people about this [WNBA’s New York] Liberty team. I mean, they built their super team in the WNBA, and it took over half the season for them to build some chemistry to be better than what they were at the start. It feels evident it’s going to be like that with Milwaukee and playing with some lineups and fit things like that. I expect some bumps along the way, and it might even be some games where Giannis and Lillard have both been a little injury prone in their career too, so you can factor that in.
You moved the Bucks’ season win total up to 55.5 after the trade for Lillard. What has the action been like on the Bucks since the trade?
Sherman: We went to 55.5 immediately and took some under money. We’re at 54.5 now, and it’s nothing to write home about at that number.
Sherman: We’ve seen this team play with and without him over the past couple of years, so we’ve got experience on that. To me, two and a half points is what he’s worth. I think they’ll be able to hold the fort down until he’s back.
How did Morant’s 25-game suspension impact your opening win total on the Grizzlies?
Sherman: Very minimal. Maybe a game and a half.
Which teams have received more support than expected from bettors in the offseason?
Sherman: Let me just start with the expected; the Lakers are No. 1 in tickets, No. 1 in money (to win the NBA title), as it is almost every year here. I’m sitting at 10 to one still getting money, but as far as we’re getting support on the Spurs every which way because of Wembanyama. For a long shot, they’re one of the bottom half of the teams that’s getting an unusual amount of support for a team at those odds just because of him.
Odds and Ends
• The Grizzlies have the best record against the spread at home over the last five seasons, covering the spread in 57.7% of home games.
• The Brooklyn Nets have the worst record ATS at home over the last five years, covering in 44.6% of home games.
• The Thunder have the best record ATS on the road over the last five years, covering in 58.9% of road games.
• The Golden State Warriors have the worst record ATS on the road over the last five seasons, covering in 42.5% of road games.
• The Wizards have the best record ATS on the second games of back-to-backs over the last five seasons, covering the spread 65.7% of the time in games with no rest.
• The Nets have the worst record ATS on the second games of back-to-backs over the last five seasons, covering the spread 37.9% of the time in games with no rest.
• The Dallas Mavericks covered the spread in 58.3% of games following a loss over the last five seasons, the best such mark in the NBA.
• The Houston Rockets have the worst record against the spread when coming off a loss over the last five seasons, covering the spread in 40.7% of games after a loss.
• 54.8% of Wizards games have gone over the total in the last five regular seasons, the highest mark of any team.
• 53.3% of New York Knicks games have stayed under the total in the last five regular seasons, the highest mark of any team.
• 50.8% of regular-season games have gone over the total in the last five regular seasons.
• Scoring reached a five-year high last season at 229.4 points per game. The five-year average is 224.2 points per game.
Active coaches with best/worst records against the spread in first three months of season (October/November/December)
• Best: Nets’ Jacque Vaughn 18-11 ATS; Thunder’s Mark Daigneault 45-30 ATS; Bulls’ Billy Donovan 82-59-2 ATS; Cavaliers’ J.B. Bickerstaff 64-48-2 ATS
• Worst: Lakers’ Darvin Ham 14-21-1 ATS; Mavericks’ Jason Kidd 29-20-3 ATS; Timberwolves’ Chris Finch 32-40 ATS
ESPN Stats and Information research Matthew Willis contributed to this preview.