NBA season prop bets are bets placed on team and player performances over the course of an entire upcoming season. These are futures bets, simply meaning they’re placed on outcomes much further in the future than the next game.
Learning how to bet on NBA season props is a matter of understanding the very basic way these wagers are offered then learning a little bit about how these bets have turned out in the past. Understanding the trends underneath these season-long contests can help you handicap the real odds of an event occurring. Then you can compare your understanding of the real odds to the book’s line and make a bet in what you think will be a profitable situation.
This post covers the two most popular NBA season bets. I’ll analyze the recent history of both propositions going back twenty seasons and then offer some tips on how to approach that particular bet.
Once you’ve figured out your own way to calculate a player’s odds of winning an award, you can apply that strategy to other futures bets, such as Coach of the Year or Sixth Man.
A Warning about NBA Season Bets
All futures bets, prop bets, and other wagers available outside of the norm (money lines, point spreads, or game totals) are longer odds propositions, seen by some as “sucker bets.” Lots of sports betting advice pages will just straight up say not to venture into this market.
I disagree, with some caveats.
I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with trying to leverage your own knowledge and experience into a payday. I also think a prop bet here and there can improve the entertainment value of a game. But I also think bettors without a lot of experience in the league should shy away from season bets until they feel more comfortable with their skillset.
NBA Regular Season MVP Betting Strategy
The easiest way to strategize a bet on the regular season MVP is to look at the recent history of the award. The NBA is changing, moving from a big man’s game to a game of speed and precision. Understanding how the award’s been handed out in the recent past gives us a leg up against the book’s line, which is after all set for the dumb general public.
Below is the positional breakdown for regular season MVP recipients over the past twenty season:
PF/SF – 5
Dirk Nowitzki ’07, LeBron James ’12-’13, Kevin Durant ’14, Giannis Antetokounmpo ’19-’20
Small Forward – 4
Kobe Bryant ’08, LeBron James ’09-’10 + ’12
PG/SG – 4
Stephen Curry ’15-’16, Russell Westbrook ’17, James Harden ’18
Point Guard – 3
Steve Nash ’05-’06, Derrick Rose ’11
Center – 3
Tim Duncan ’02-’03, Nikola Jokic ’21
Power Forward – 1
Kevin Garnett ’04
Shooting Guard – 0
Some trends to consider here.
Not only have there been zero regular season NBA MVPs out of the SG position, but there’s also only been one pure SG to ever win the award, Allen Iverson in 2001 when he averaged over 31 points and 4 assists per game. Clearly the odds are against shooting guards, who have just one win in the 65 years of the MVP awards existence.
What to do with this information? I’d ignore props on pure SG positional players – in the contemporary league, that means shying away from Paul George and Bradley Beal. Both are perennial listings on the NBA season prop pages of US-facing sportsbooks, and neither have a snowball’s chance of winning the award in the contemporary league.
Something else interesting – a real lack of centers winning the regular season MVP. Once upon a time, the MVP award was essentially a contest among centers – this was particularly true in the late 70s and early 80s. These days, big men not named Tim Duncan or Nikola Jokic have no real shot at this award. The game has shifted and tends to move through forwards and guards. Duncan and Jokic are both once-in-a-lifetime talents that exist far outside league norms for their position.
Again, use this knowledge to fade centers. I just peeked at my favorite online sportsbook and saw Joel Embiid listed at +700 to win the MVP. His odds are far longer than 7/1. I like the listed number for Rudy Gobert, another of the league’s best big men. At +40,000, he may be worth a 10-spot on a longshot. I say that because his real odds of winning the league’s best player award are probably not that far off from the 400/1 number I’m seeing online right now.
How would I use this strategy to identify potential winners? I’m looking for a PF/SF on a rising team listed at a decent number by my sportsbook. Why a rising team? Giannis and Jokic both won the award in non-championship years, as high-scoring big men on teams near the end of a rebuilding program. My book currently lists Anthony Davis at +2500 – that’s a big man playing power forward on a team in need of a big boost to get over the hump. I give Davis way better than 25/1 odds to win, so maybe I drop a small bet in hopes of yet another year of PF/SF dominance.
NBA Defensive Player of the Year Betting Strategy
I’m going to use the same strategy to analyze player’s DPotY chances that I used to break down the MVP award race.
Here’s a breakdown of the last twenty years of NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards by position:
Center – 14
Ben Wallace ’01-’03 + ’04-’06, Marcus Camby ’06-’07, Dwight Howard ’08-’11, Tyson Chandler ’11-’12, Marc Gasol ’12-’13, Joakim Noah ’13-’14, Rudy Gobert ’17-’19 + ‘21
Power Forward – 3
Kevin Garnett ’07, Draymond Green ’16-’17, Giannis Antetokounmpo ’19-‘20
Small Forward – 3
Ron Artest ’03-’04, Kawhi Leonard ’14-‘16
All Other Positions – 0
Some trends to consider.
Obviously, centers have won the award more than any other position. This is logical, as the defense tends to run through that position, and he’s generally the biggest and most physically dominant player on the floor. However, that trend is changing, with more teams relying on big men at the three for scoring and defense. That’s why centers have only won three of the last seven awards, with forwards popping up more frequently since Ron Artest’s dominant performance out of the small forward position in 2003.
Here’s a bit deeper piece of analysis for you – the average age of the NBA DPotY is decreasing. Going back to 1982, the first year the award was given, players recognized for their defensive performance were averaging well over 30 years old. Think of guys like Hakeem Olajuwon, two-time winner at age 31 and 32, or Dikembe Mutombo winning at age 35 in the year 2001.
These days, the winners are younger. Rudy Gobert picked up his first of three DPotY wins at the tender age of 24, Kawhi Leonard and Dwight Howard at 23. When I handicap each player’s chances, I’m going to consider a youth a serious asset.
To pick a likely winner, I’m going to look hard at young centers on strong but not dominant teams. I’m looking for rising powers for a simple reason – only two DPotY winners in the last twenty years played on championship-winning squads, and just a handful more got deep into the playoffs.
A good example of a player I think is cheaper than he should be for the upcoming Defensive Player of the Year bet at my book is Joel Embiid. At 27, he doesn’t exactly ring the doorbell of youth, but he’s still in his mid-20s, so I say he fits the bill. His team, the 76ers, are the definition of “rising.” He could easily average 12 or 13 rebounds and a couple of blocks per game, putting him right in the heart of the conversation. My book has him at +1000, but I think his chances of winning are much better than 10/1.
We’ve gone way outside the normal scope of NBA betting advice. The league offers enough of a challenge in the form of money line bets, points spreads, and game totals. Betting on NBA season awards is the sports betting equivalent of playing keno or the wheel of fortune game. You’re up against long odds for a potentially big payoff.
Dipping your toe into futures and prop bets is fun, and provided you have enough experience betting on pro basketball, it can be an entertaining addition to your typical slate of bets.