NBA In-Season Tournament: Betting Lessons Learned for Futures and Prop Betting

The inaugural In-Season Tournament has been a success, and NBA odds have presented some unique opportunities for bettors to pounce on. See what lessons we've learned about the IST's impact on betting markets.

Dec 6, 2023 • 12:18 ET • 4 min read
Tyrese Haliburton NBA
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

The NBA odds to win the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament continue to fluctuate after each game of the knockout round. But, before we crown the inaugural winner of the NBA Cup, I want to highlight some of my thoughts about the tournament from a betting perspective.

Let's be brutally honest here: the NBA In-Season Tournament has been a complete success. I've even had casual NBA fans texting me about these games. We were told the players wouldn't care, and it turns out that was a massive lie. The only way it gets better next season is if we have all the teams with a red court get new designs for their tournament games.

Jokes aside, after watching the NBA In-Season Tournament odds unfold and witnessing the sportsbooks trade in these markets for the first time, I have some thoughts on how I would approach betting on the tournament next season, for both player props and NBA futures

Let's quickly dive into these thoughts before we move on through the rest of the schedule and the In-Season Tournament fades into the back of our minds.

Betting Futures Markets for NBA In-Season Tournament

Bear with me because I have a lot of thoughts about how I would approach betting on the NBA In-Season Tournament futures markets next season:

Attack tankers

First and foremost, I wouldn't necessarily target the highest power-rated team in the NBA to win the NBA Cup, but rather the teams with the most favorable odds in a group that features multiple tanking teams. We saw the Phoenix Suns earn the Wild Card in the Western Conference, and the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference. Both the Suns and the Knicks had multiple opportunities to increase their point differential because they shared a group with several teams at the bottom of the standings. The Suns were in a group with the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, and Utah Jazz, while the Knicks were in a group with the Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards.

By attacking teams in a group that features multiple point differential opportunities, you are increasing your chances of getting the team you backed out of the group stage because they can win the group and also utilize the point differential for the Wild Card. It may seem minimal, but advancing out of the group stage is incredibly difficult. So, you want to back teams that can make a run at the Wild Card as well (I made this mistake with the Minnesota Timberwolves).

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Last gets past

I'd also look to back teams to win the NBA Cup, or their group, who are playing on the final day of the group stage of the tournament. This is a huge advantage compared to a team that is sitting idle. We saw it with the Boston Celtics. The Orlando Magic were 3-1 with a point differential of plus-22, so the Celtics were aware of the number they needed to defeat the Chicago Bulls by to advance. I don't think this is something that will be taken into account with the odds, but knowing exactly what number you need to win by to advance helped several teams on the final day this season.

Catch books sleeping

Also, pay attention to the NBA futures boards throughout the entire group stage; there's a solid chance you will catch some errors in this phase of the tournament. The sportsbooks had a challenging time updating the odds for who would win each group and the NBA Cup because of all the potential tiebreakers involved, and it's also the NFL season for them. Once it reaches the knockout round, it's easy for the sportsbooks to update the board because it's just the projected moneyline for each game moving forward.

Be bold

Lastly, don't be afraid to shoot your shot with NBA In-Season Tournament futures like NBA In-Season Tournament MVP odds. The NBA is a sport where we don't usually see any longshots win the Finals or MVP. We know who the top teams and players are before the season begins, and you won't be surprised by a +10,000 winner. 

The NBA Cup brings a much different energy to the NBA futures board because it's only four games and then a single-elimination knockout round, so anyone can win. If you have conviction in the offseason that a team might be better than expected (Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic), don't hesitate to back them in the NBA Cup futures markets.

NBA In-Season Tournament Player Props

Proving the points

If you’re a fan of betting on the Over for player props in the NBA, then you better have your sportsbook accounts locked and loaded for Tuesdays and Fridays next November.

When sportsbooks price player props, they are working off projections for each individual player that predict their expected statistics based on a certain number of minutes played. A player playing 3-5 more minutes than expected will significantly increase the projections. This happens every night in the NBA, where someone will see more minutes than anticipated. However, what was happening in the NBA In-Season Tournament this year made it more predictable for bettors as to who those players might be, thanks to the point differential tiebreaker. 

The NBA In-Season Tournament games can't be priced as if they're just another regular-season game, and there were several scenarios where they were being traded like this.

With the point differential tiebreaker in place, teams aren’t going to rest a starter in the fourth quarter. They are going to be pushing their minutes from 35 minutes a game to maybe 38 minutes per game. This provides a nice edge for your player props if you enjoy betting on the Over.

Pick your spots

I believe the sportsbooks had a difficult time pricing the player props on the days of the In-Season Tournament because it also wasn’t a blanket statement of just increasing the projections on every player. Teams were only pushing their starters with increased minutes if they were still alive to advance out of the group stage, and it also depended on where they fell in all the tiebreakers. The minutes increase was an independent scenario for each team, which is very challenging for the sportsbooks to adjust to because it’s more manual than algorithmic and is constantly changing from game to game.

Next season, during the NBA In-Season Tournament games, we'll have to explore the markets and see if players are seeing a bump in their totals for these specific games. If they are, there’s a chance the adjustment is also too much, and while this season has been an Over fest, next season, we might be smashing some Unders.

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