How to Bet the NBA Preseason
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets.
We’ve been without the NBA for over two months and it’s exciting to anticipate a relatively normal season with 82 games, fans, traveling, and of course — betting.
We have the new look Lakers, the Nets’ superstars — Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving (possibly for 41 games), a return of the healthy Splash Brothers, and the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks to name a few. While there’s still some uncertainty regarding stars such as Ben Simmons, the key cogs of most teams are in place for the start of the season.
The regular season starts on Oct. 19, and over the next few weeks our Action Network staff will be breaking down NBA Finals bets, MVP, Rookie of the Year, win totals, etc for you throughout the preseason. But in the meantime, is there a way to bet on these preseason games and actually turn a profit?
During the preseason, there’s generally less betting volume and the lines are not quite as sharp because people do not really care about the outcomes in terms of wins or losses. Preseason is an opportunity to test new schemes, adjust lineups, or give fringe rotation players a chance to audition for more playing time.
This variance makes these games unpredictable in a vacuum. If the Lakers were playing the Rockets in the regular season I’d expect the Lakers to be double digit favorites but in the preseason the incentive is not there and it is difficult to anticipate a spread.
However, there are some historical trends we can refer to if you want some preseason action to whet your appetite.
As a general point, underdogs are underrated in the NBA preseason. Over the last 10 years, opening line underdogs are 367-313-18 against the spread (+4.5% ROI) and 271-426 straight up (+3.3% ROI), winning $100 bettor $3155 and $2306 respectively, per our Bet Labs Database.
But what about bigger underdogs? Underdogs that would pay back 2-1 or greater? Although there are not many games per preseason that fit this model, it’s been profitable and there is a significant spike in ROI.
Underdogs of +200 or greater have been profitable ATS in seven of the last 10 preseasons, and eight of 10 on the moneyline.
These +200 dogs are 90-67-6 ATS (+10.8% ROI) netting an impressive $1766. On the moneyline, those teams are 51-112 (+9.5% ROI) returning $1549.
This is something to keep an eye on over the course of the preseason. Most of these games are a coin flip, and at +200 or greater odds, I’m playing a numbers game where I can be right just a third of the time and turn a profit.
While teams undergo changes and may expend varying degrees of effort, we can turn to coaches to see who generally performs well ATS in the preseason.
Obviously, some of these coaches have extremely small sample sizes, but there are some strong performers which should not come as a surprise. Tom Thibodeau always pushes his teams to perform their best regardless of the situation and is one of the best active coaches ATS during the regular season. Both Mike Budenholzer and Quin Snyder also stand out as excellent performers both in the preseason and the regular season.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Gregg Popovich. He’s one of the worst active coaches ATS during the preseason (-19.9% ROI), yet he has the fourth-best ATS winning percentage during the regular season (52.8%).
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Teams Against the Spread — Last 10 Years
Each team performs differently ATS during the preseason and it’s something to keep an eye on. As you can see, the teams that are traditionally popular, or more recently popular (see Lakers, Knicks, and Warriors), perform poorly ATS during the preseason. But then there are other popular franchises such as the Celtics who have been successful over the last decade.
While the bookmakers want to be “right” so the house wins, they also are trying to garner action. In games that don’t matter from a wins and losses perspective, this is something to keep in mind before dropping a bet on your favorite team.
We are closing in on the NBA Regular season, and although it was the longest we have been without the NBA since we missed months due to COVID, it’s still best to be prudent when placing your first bets of the season.
It’s certainly fine to watch these preseason games, to learn from these games, and to even bet on these games (I know I am), but do so with the understanding that it is not really about who could field the best team during the regular season.
Let’s enjoy the ride, prepare our portfolio of futures, and gear up for a full 82 game season!