NBA Point Spread to ML Conversion and Tips For Betting Underdogs

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There are sports in which the Cinderella story is every fan’s delight. Basketball is not one of them.

Not only do fans want to see established hoops heroes collect championships, but bettors tend to pick favorites a lot more than the underdogs…especially newbie gamblers.

Many people see teams favored to prevail by a set number of points, and instantly think that the team is a lock. They focus on whether or not the favorites will cover the points, disregarding that the underdog could finish on top on the scoreboard altogether.

It should come as no surprise that as a team is favored to out-score its opponent by greater points, the higher the probability becomes that they will prevail outright. Before you look at the charts (if you haven’t already), guess which percentage among favorited teams triumph when they are favored by 3.5 points. Once you have that number, look below at our table and see if you were close. Most of the general public will completely overshoot the %.

NBA Moneyline Conversion – Implied Outright Winning % by Spread

Favorite ML Winning % Underdog ML Winning %
-1 -115 51.10% 1 -104 48.90%
-1.5 -121 52.30% 1.5 -100 47.70%
-2 -132 54.30% 2 +109 45.70%
-2.5 -143 56.30% 2.5 +118 43.70%
-3 -156 58.20% 3 +129 41.80%
-3.5 -170 60.10% 3.5 +140 39.90%
-4 -184 61.90% 4 +150 38.10%
-4.5 -199 63.60% 4.5 +162 36.40%
-5 -222 65.80% 5 +179 34.20%
-5.5 -247 68.00% 5.5 +198 32.00%
-6 -276 70.10% 6 +219 29.90%
-6.5 -309 72.10% 6.5 +243 27.90%
-7 -349 74.20% 7 +270 25.80%
-7.5 -397 76.30% 7.5 +302 23.70%
-8 -458 78.40% 8 +341 21.60%
-8.5 -536 80.50% 8.5 +388 19.50%
-9 -656 82.80% 9 +456 17.20%
-9.5 -832 85.20% 9.5 +545 14.80%
-10 -1069 87.30% 10 +651 12.70%

If your guess was close to 60%, then you have a pretty good understanding of what it means for a side to be favored by only 3.5. Those of you who guessed a lot higher than 60%? Don’t fret. It is a very common mistake. Now, guess what percentage of 3.5 ATS favorites actually cover. Check your answer with the table below.

Actual Winning Percentage by Spread in Basketball

Favorite Winning % Underdog Winning %
-1 45.40% 1 52.00%
-1.5 48.10% 1.5 51.90%
-2 49.50% 2 46.70%
-2.5 46.90% 2.5 53.10%
-3 48.50% 3 47.20%
-3.5 46.50% 3.5 53.50%
-4 52.80% 4 45.30%
-4.5 50.40% 4.5 49.60%
-5 46.00% 5 49.50%
-5.5 51.30% 5.5 48.70%
-6 50.60% 6 45.80%
-6.5 50.80% 6.5 49.20%
-7 47.20% 7 48.10%
-7.5 52.30% 7.5 47.70%
-8 53.10% 8 43.80%
-8.5 50.80% 8.5 49.20%
-9 50.20% 9 46.40%
-9.5 51.40% 9.5 48.60%
-10 44.70% 10 52.80%

It might not be a huge surprise that 3.5-point favorites only prevail in 60% of games played, but the fact that they don’t even cover 50% of those games should be.  Most gamblers assume that when a team has been favored at 3.5-points they are likely to cover.

In reality the underdog not only covers, but prevails on a scoreboard in 40% of contests played. The cash player can be tricked into taking small favorites because of how much the line is over-valued. If I had asked what percent of 10-point favorites prevail outright, your guess would have likely been a lot closer to the actual number.

Remember, a sporting event may pit 2 teams with disparate records and publicity. But it’s still a contest between 2 opponents on the same college or professional level.

Always give the ‘dog a thorough evaluation. There’s often value to be had.

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