Last night, the NBA Draft came and went, and it was a profitable event for me as a bettor.
I had never bet on the NBA Draft before, but was able to take in a terrific ROI by following the same principles I used to crush the NFL Draft seven months ago.
Obviously, I have run fairly well to accomplish this in two straight drafts. The sample size is also just two, so I am not going to overly ingratiate myself.
But while I’m not expecting to hit a 50% ROI every time I do this, I do believe that you can be profitable in draft betting markets by following a few simple tenants.
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The Main Tenants
1) Your Goal Isn’t To Make Bets You Think Will Win
I know, I know, you’re probably thinking “this luckbox is clueless,” but trying to make bets you think will win is one of the biggest mistakes bettors make in most markets.
I have no idea what is going to happen in the draft, relatively speaking. For NFL, I am pretty knowledgeable about the offensive skill players, but otherwise clueless. In the NBA, I barely know who the players even are.
Your goal isn’t to make bets you think will win, your goal is to make good bets. This seems like semantics, but produces a real, tangible difference in the kinds of wagers you place. Even more specifically, your goal should be to secure as much closing line value as possible.
For those of you who do no know, closing line value is the difference in the odds from the time you placed your wager, to the time the market closed. For example, my biggest hit last night was on a +2500 line that closed at +410. That is a tremendous amount of value in the line I wagered on, making it a good bet regardless of the result.
When you are looking for bets to make, don’t think about them in terms of if you think they will win. Think of them in terms of if you think this line is more likely to move favorably or unfavorably. Locking in the best price on as many wagers as possible will set you up for success.
2) Line Shop if You Can
This is true when wagering in all markets, but draft odds can come at a much wider range at different books than something like NFL sides. I am fortunate enough to live in New Jersey, with tons of options at my disposal. This is the mecca of sports betting right now. But even if you only have two books on hand, find the best price.
You can also think of this as an addendum to making good bets. If three books have a similar price on something, and a fourth is considerably different, it is a good indicator that the price will be adjusted. Lock it in, and soak up the CLV. Note that you can view the odds at places like DraftKings and FanDuel sportsbooks even if you cannot legally wager on their sites.
3) Digest the Mocks
Mock drafts are routinely criticized on various parts of the internet, but they are actually an incredibly reliable source of information when betting on these markets. The key is to look at a wide range of sources, and trust the wisdom of the crowd. Of course, various mockers will be more successful than others, but you don’t want to be so selective that you crush your sample size.
Mock draft information is valuable, because it gives you an idea of the range of outcomes in a player’s draft position. If you track these players over time, you can see how they are trending as well. Often times, there are betting lines that vary greatly from what plugged-in mock drafters are saying.
In the NFL, this is made incredibly easy by Benjamin Robinson, and his site, Grinding the Mocks. Ben aggregates hundreds upon hundreds of mock drafts around the internet, which you then have access to at the click of a button. Even better, Ben let’s you filter the mocks to include only experts, fans, or media.
Ben’s site also allows you to view the positions that teams are being mocked. This has a lot more utility in a sport with rigid positions like football, than a growingly more position-less game like basketball. Having an idea of what positions teams are targeting helps with position-specific props, but also helps to further develop a range of outcomes for players.
For basketball, it takes a little more manual grinding, but I focused on the major websites (ESPN, CBS, The Athletic), as well as the most popular “niche”-type of sites such as Tankathon. It also helped that Chad Ford started his own website that was completely free to access.
4) Follow the News
This is imperative to building a large portfolio of good bets in advance of any draft. News can change the lines aggressively, so it is important to follow reliable people who may be plugged in to the draft scene either nationally or locally. One report can create huge swings in draft odds, and loads of CLV.
This certainly creates an edge for those who can react to news quickly and get bets in before the lines move. Admittedly, this is an area that was a strength for me in the spring, because I was teaching from home on a half-day schedule. I will likely not run as pure this year, but will certainly do the best I can.
An easy recommendation to follow is to get push notifications from Twitter from those sources you trust the most. I am constantly getting important items sent right to my phone, which allows me to react quickly.
On the football side of things, Rotoworld and Adam Schefter are obvious musts, but I also recommend Daniel Jeremiah, who is one of the most plugged-in draft analysts in the space. Guys like Adam Levitan and John Daigle are also always retweeting content from beat reporters that can be useful. Tailing other sharp bettors in the draft space — like Matthew Freeman — is helpful as well. Even if you aren’t looking to match them bet for bet, you will always find useful information.
Smaller, But Helpful Tips
Set Bet Sizes (and Stick to Them)
If you aren’t looking to bet the draft seriously, then feel free to ignore this note. Bet whatever you want. But if your goal is to create profit, you should be consistent in your bet-sizing. Otherwise, you may see a good win rate on your bets, but not a quality ROI.
Consider bet sizes you would like to make for wagers coming in at different odds, and do your best to stick to those sizes. This should be mathematically sound, with bigger bets on shorter odds wagers.
The exceptions to these rules will be taking advantage of breaking news, and when you are looking to hedge, which I’ll discuss next. If you are leveraging news, I would recommend sizing your bet based on what you think the odds should be.
Hedge for Profit in Ambiguous Markets
Hedging is often frowned upon by professional bettors, but I think it is valuable when wagering on the draft, particularly in the longer-odds markets that allow you to do it for profit. I’m thinking of things like “first WR drafted” in the NFL or “second overall pick” in the NBA.
These are markets that will change a good bit in price leading up to the draft, and the news can sometimes be conflicting. However, if we are simply looking to make good bets, it is likely that we will be wagering on more than one possible outcome for these markets. If that is the case, you should be betting to wind up with profit, even if it goes against some of your earlier betting rules.
Understand Bet Correlation
This is helpful both for hedging and deciding what to bet. There are certain wagers that are going to impact each other, even if they aren’t on the same exact market. A win on one can create an automatic win/loss on another. It is important to know these relationships.
For instance in the NBA Draft, I had positions on James Wiseman to be the second overall pick, and LaMelo Ball to be first. As the news was indicating more and more that Anthony Edwards would be the top pick, I was looking to hedge for profit against my Ball bet. With Wiseman expected to go second, I could have taken Ball o2.5 at longer odds than directly betting on Edwards to go first. But doing so would have put me at risk to lose on Ball twice and Wiseman if he went second. The safer route was to just take Edwards at one, even though it cost me a little bit of EV.