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Understanding the Game: The Most Common Types of Bets in Basketball

Basketball, with its fast-paced action and dramatic game shifts, is not only thrilling to watch but also provides numerous opportunities for betting. Whether you’re courtside, watching from home, or keeping up with scores on your phone, betting on basketball can add an extra layer of excitement to every play. However, diving into basketball betting without a solid understanding of the different types of bets can be like stepping onto the court unprepared.

For both newcomers and experienced bettors, grasping the various betting options available is crucial. This knowledge isn’t just academic; it directly influences your betting strategy and potential success. Each type of bet offers unique challenges and rewards, shaping the way you watch and engage with the game. By understanding these differences, you can make more informed decisions, manage your betting budget more effectively, and enjoy the game on a deeper level.

In this article, we’ll explore the most common types of basketball bets. From straightforward moneyline bets to the complexities of parlays, each section aims to explain these options using simple, clear language. Whether you’re looking to place your first bet or wanting to refine your betting strategy, this guide will provide valuable insights into the exciting world of basketball betting. Let’s dive in and learn how to enhance your viewing experience and possibly your wallet through informed betting strategies.

Moneyline Bets

A moneyline bet is perhaps the most straightforward way to wager on a basketball game. It simply involves picking which team will win the game outright. There are no points spreads or other complications; if the team you bet on wins, you win your bet.

Placing a moneyline bet is as easy as selecting the team you believe will come out on top. For example, let’s say the Los Angeles Lakers are playing the Boston Celtics. If the moneyline for the Lakers is -150 and for the Celtics is +130, it means the Lakers are the favorites to win, and the Celtics are the underdogs. If you bet $150 on the Lakers and they win, you will receive $100 in winnings plus your original $150, totaling $250. Conversely, if you bet $100 on the Celtics and they pull off an upset, you’d win $130 plus your initial $100, totaling $230.


  • Simplicity: The straightforward nature of moneyline bets makes them an excellent choice for those new to sports betting. You pick a winner, and that’s it.
  • Value in Underdogs: Betting on the underdog can yield a higher payout due to their less favored status. If you have a good hunch about an underdog, the reward might be worth the risk.


  • Lower Returns on Favorites: Since favorites are expected to win, betting on them yields smaller returns, meaning you risk more money for less reward.
  • Upset Potential: Basketball is known for its unpredictability. Even strong favorites can lose, leading to potential losses on what may seem like a safe bet.

Point Spread Bets

Point spread betting is a popular form of wagering that levels the playing field between two unevenly matched teams. In basketball, where scores are high and game dynamics can shift quickly, the point spread assigns a handicap to the favored team, which they must overcome for a bet on them to win. This type of betting not only adds excitement but also a layer of strategy to the betting experience.

How It Works

Let’s consider an example to illustrate point spread betting in basketball: Suppose the Miami Heat are playing the New York Knicks. The Heat are favored to win, so they are given a point spread of -7.5. This means they need to win the game by at least 8 points for a bet on them to pay off. Conversely, the Knicks are the underdogs and receive a point spread of +7.5, which means they can lose by up to 7 points, or win the game outright, and still win the bet for their backers.

If the final score is Heat 100, Knicks 93, the Heat have covered the spread, as they won by 7 points, which is not enough to cover 7.5 points. Therefore, bets on the Knicks would win, despite them losing the game, because they “covered” the spread.

Why Choose Point Spread Bets?


  • More Balanced Betting: Point spreads make every game interesting, even if one team is heavily favored. This balance attracts more bettors to each side of the bet, maintaining engagement regardless of the matchup.
  • Strategic Depth: Bettors must consider not just who will win, but by how much they might win. This adds a layer of strategy and analysis that goes beyond simple win-lose scenarios.


  • Game Dynamics: Basketball games can swing dramatically in the closing minutes, which can turn what looked like a winning wager into a loss, and vice versa.
  • Complexity for Newcomers: New bettors might find point spread betting more complex and daunting compared to straightforward moneyline bets.

Totals (Over/Under) Bets

Totals betting, often referred to as over/under betting, is a popular form of wagering that focuses on the combined score of both teams at the end of a basketball game. Instead of picking a winner, bettors predict whether the total score will be over or under a number set by the bookmakers. This type of betting adds an intriguing layer to watching the game, as every point scored is significant to the outcome of the bet.

How It Works

For example, imagine the Chicago Bulls are playing the Denver Nuggets, and the total set by the sportsbook is 210.5. Bettors then decide if they believe the combined final score will be higher or lower than this number. If you bet the “over,” you are hoping the total score will be 211 or more. If you bet the “under,” you want the score to be 210 or less. Let’s say the game ends with Bulls 105, Nuggets 107, totaling 212. The “over” bets win in this scenario because the total score exceeded the set line.

Challenges and Benefits of Totals Betting in Basketball


  • Engagement with Every Play: Since every point can influence the outcome of the bet, totals betting keeps fans engaged throughout the entire game, regardless of which team is winning.
  • Simplified Strategy: Unlike point spreads or moneyline bets, you don’t need to choose a team. This can be less stressful and simpler, especially for those new to betting.


  • Scoring Volatility: Basketball is a high-scoring and dynamic sport. A sudden surge in scoring or a few minutes of defensive intensity can dramatically affect the total.
  • Research Intensive: Successful totals betting often requires a good understanding of team statistics, trends, and even factors like player injuries or game pace, which can impact scoring.


A parlay bet is a type of sports wager that involves combining multiple bets into one. This means instead of placing individual bets on separate games, you link them together into a single bet. The catch is that all your selections must win for the parlay to pay out. This makes parlays a high-stakes, high-reward betting option that can turn small bets into large payouts.

How It Works

To illustrate how a parlay works, let’s say you want to bet on three NBA games. You choose to bet on the Los Angeles Lakers to win their game, the total points in the Boston Celtics game to be over 200, and the Miami Heat to cover the spread in their matchup. All three of these bets need to win for your parlay to be successful. If even one of them loses, the entire parlay is lost. However, if all your picks are correct, you win a larger payout than if you had placed three separate bets because the odds of each selection are multiplied together.

High-Risk, High-Reward Nature of Parlays


  • Higher Payouts: The biggest allure of parlays is the potential for substantial payouts from small wagers, as the odds multiply with each added bet.
  • Excitement and Engagement: Parlays can make even seemingly unrelated games exciting and relevant since each part of the bet affects the overall outcome.


  • Higher Risk of Losing: The more bets you add to a parlay, the less likely you are to win because each individual bet must win. This can make parlays a risky choice, especially for inexperienced bettors.
  • Complexity: Keeping track of multiple games and outcomes can be more complex and stressful than managing single-game bets.

Prop Bets

Proposition bets, commonly known as prop bets, are wagers made on specific events within a basketball game that aren’t directly related to the final outcome or score. These bets can be on various occurrences or statistics that happen during the game, providing a fun and unique betting experience that allows for creativity and personal knowledge of the sport to play a significant role.

Common Types of Prop Bets in Basketball

  • Player Performance Bets: These involve betting on whether a player will go over or under a certain number of points, rebounds, assists, or other statistical categories in a game. For example, betting whether LeBron James will score more or less than 30 points in a game.
  • First to Score: A bet on which team or which player will score the first points of the game. It’s a quick result, often settled within minutes of tip-off.
  • Three-Point Shots Made: Betting on the number of three-point shots a player or team will make during the game.
  • Double-Doubles and Triple-Doubles: Wagers on whether a player will achieve a double-double (double digits in two statistical categories, e.g., points and rebounds) or a triple-double (double digits in three categories).
  • Fouls and Free Throws: Bets on the number of fouls a player will commit or the number of free throws they will attempt or make.

Why Prop Bets Can Be Fun and Unpredictable


  • Engagement with the Game: Prop bets can make every element of a game interesting, from individual player performances to specific game events, keeping bettors engaged throughout.
  • Use of Knowledge and Strategy: Successful prop betting often requires a deep understanding of the teams and players, which rewards knowledgeable fans and diligent researchers.


  • Unpredictability: The very nature of prop bets is grounded in events that can be highly unpredictable. A player’s performance can fluctuate widely based on form, fitness, game dynamics, and opposition, making these bets inherently risky.
  • Research Intensive: To make informed decisions, bettors need to stay updated with player stats, team news, injury reports, and matchups, which can be time-consuming.


Futures betting in basketball involves placing bets on events or outcomes that will be settled at a later date, often at the end of a season or after a specific tournament. Unlike bets on individual games, futures focus on the bigger picture, offering bettors a chance to predict long-term outcomes based on their overall assessment of teams or players.

Examples of Typical Futures Bets

  • Championship Winner: This is a bet on which team will win the NBA championship at the end of the season. It’s one of the most popular futures bets.
  • Conference Champions: Similar to betting on the championship winner, but focused on who will win the Eastern or Western Conference.
  • Season MVP (Most Valuable Player): A wager on which player will be awarded the MVP of the league at the end of the season.
  • Rookie of the Year: Betting on which new player will be recognized as the Rookie of the Year based on their performance throughout the season.
  • Win Totals: This bet involves predicting whether a team will win more or less than a certain number of games set by the bookmakers.

Long-Term Engagement and Risks of Futures Betting


  • Extended Engagement: Futures bets keep you invested in the entire season or tournament, not just a single game, enhancing your overall engagement with the sport.
  • Potential for Higher Payouts: Because of the difficulty in accurately predicting long-term outcomes, futures can offer larger payouts compared to single-game bets.
  • Value Bets: Early in the season, you might find better odds before trends become widely recognized, potentially increasing the value of your bet.


  • Capital Tie-Up: Money wagered on futures is locked until the outcome is determined, which can take an entire season. This means you can’t use that money for other bets in the meantime.
  • Injury and Uncertainty: A key player’s injury or unexpected changes in team dynamics can drastically alter the expected outcome, increasing the risk of your bet.
  • Difficulty in Predicting: Successfully betting on futures requires not only current knowledge about teams and players but also the foresight to predict how they will perform over time, which adds complexity and uncertainty.

Final Thoughts

Throughout this article, we’ve searched the fascinating world of basketball betting, highlighting the most common types of bets: moneyline, point spread, totals (over/under), parlays, prop bets, and futures. Each of these betting types offers its unique advantages and challenges, providing different ways to engage with the game and test your sports knowledge.

When choosing which type of bet to place, it’s crucial to consider your personal preferences and risk tolerance. Moneyline bets offer simplicity, while point spreads and totals add a layer of complexity and excitement. Parlays can yield high rewards for a small investment but come with higher risks. Prop bets allow for creative and detailed predictions, and futures stretch the excitement over a season or tournament.

As you jump into the world of basketball betting, remember the importance of betting responsibly. Set limits for yourself and stick to them, ensuring that betting remains a fun and enjoyable part of your sports experience. Additionally, the world of sports betting is dynamic, with new trends and information always emerging. Continual learning and staying informed about team and player statistics, game conditions, and other relevant factors will not only enhance your betting strategy but also increase your enjoyment of the game.


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