How to Bet NBA Player Props
by Trevor Whenham - 02/13/2009
If you are just a casual fan of the NBA and you like to bet on games a bit then you have probably realized just how hard it is to make money betting sides in the NBA. The lines are usually pretty solid, smart money is active, and there is little room for error. If you are committed to having a little action as you watch your team play, though, then there are other ways to satisfy your itch. Totals are the obvious option, but player props are another, and they overlooked by most bettors. You can bet on the performance of a wide range of players each night. The sheer number of props offered and the relatively low volume means that you can often find a prop that you will find attractive. The props are usually set for star players, and the public expects a lot from stars in every game, so opportunities to be a profitable pessimist can exist in these props as often as anything else. Here's a look at the types of player props that are available, and how to approach them:
Total points - this is the most straightforward of the props. Oddsmakers set a projected number of points for star players, and you can either bet over or under that total. It works exactly the same as any total does for points scored by teams. As a general rule, the total is set somewhere around the season average for the player. You need to decide if the player is going to have a particularly good day or a bad one. This is more attractive in many ways than betting on a side because there are fewer factors at play. The winner of the game depends on so many things - all 20 or so players that play, the coaches, travel, defensive and offensive schemes and so on. At it's core, the player prop is more straightforward - the number of points a player plays compared to his norm is based on his play and the play of those that guard him. You can occasionally find situations where these props are particularly profitable - a player is dealing with a minor injury that isn't reflected in the total, or the opponent plans to use a strategy that is likely to shut the scorer down. There is definitely value to be had.
Total points and assists - Whenever you add more factors you automatically add complexity. In this case you have to determine how a player will play in two elements of the game that are somewhat related by also quite independent of each other. A player can have a huge scoring day without any assists, or they can set up a lot of baskets without scoring any of their own. That makes this bet more challenging than the previous one. As a general rule, though, the better price is often on the under. That makes sense because the public loves the over in almost every circumstance when there is a total to be bet. The public also has a tendency to overestimate what is going to happen in a game - they often expect more points and more assists than is realistic. That can often create opportunities on the under in this prop if you are patient and keep your eyes open.
Total points and rebounds - This is very similar to the last one. The difference is that rebounds are more closely related to scoring than assists are. Or at least offensive rebounds. When you get an assist on a play you automatically don't get any points, bu you can often get a rebound and an assist on the same play. This one is also attractive because good rebounders tend to operate in a narrower range of performance. The number of points a player scores from game to game can vary wildly, but the number of rebounds varies less. That's because of a couple of factors, including the fact that it's hard for a team to shut down a good rebounder.
Total points, assists, and rebounds - This is obviously the most complex of the options. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, I also find it to be the most interesting. It's also the one where the actual number can vary the most from the posted total. You'll often see a difference of 10 or 15 combined points difference between the two. What I like about this one so much is it allows you to form a total picture of how you think a player is going to play against another opponent. If a player is generally well-rounded then he will shape his game to his opponent's. In other words, he'll do more of what is working and less of what isn't. In some cases that will mean scoring points freely, while in others he will be double teamed extensively and will be forced to try to help his teammates score. Once you have determined how you think the player in question will respond you can translate that into a total and compare that to the posted total.