The NBA preseason is underway. There are ways to bet on the preseason if you are determined to do so, but I have never seen much value in betting on any preseason – too many variables that you have to guess about. That doesn’t mean that the preseason isn’t useful, though. There is a lot to be learned from watching preseason basketball games, viewing highlights, and perusing the boxscores that can help you prepare for strong handicapping during the season. Here are five things to watch for that may keep you betting on the right side of the NBA point spreads during the season:
Shifts in approaches – As a general rule we expect NBA teams to employ the same basic approach from year to year – the same offensive style and the same defensive schemes – as long as the coaching staff and core players are relatively similar. Sometimes, though, teams will make a significant change in an attempt to improve their fortunes. A typically defensive team could look to open up their play and score more from the three-point mark, for example, or a slower team could try to speed up the pace of their play and generate more fast breaks and drives to the hoop. We won’t be able to see the full scope of the changes in the preseason – coaches won’t give away their secrets before they have to – but we’ll have a good sense of the changes they are making. Because the new approaches won’t be fully implemented we can’t judge how well they are going to work, but based on what we see we can start to extrapolate what may or may not work. The public will mostly assume that things won’t have changed much from last year unless there has been a high profile change in a team, so spotting this type of change will give you an edge over the betting public early in the season – and perhaps longer if the changes are more subtle.
Roles rookies are taking on – The amount of playing time a rookie gets in the NBA preseason is relatively meaningless – especially if the coach doesn’t like playing his starters heavily. What we can learn from, though, is what role the rookies are playing when they do play. Are they being given playing time with the veterans? Are they being used in their own position, or are they being moved around? Are they allowed to be as offensive as they were in college? Are they being given a demanding role, or is the coaching staff keeping it simple for them? You may be able to pick something up from the way rookies are used in the preseason that will tell you how they may be used early in the regular season. This will be especially useful if it appears a high profile rookie won’t be used as much as the betting public thinks they will be, or if a lesser known rookie is going to be thrust into a big role form the start.
The first 10 minutes – If you are only going to watch parts of a game, watch the beginning. Different coaches have different approaches, but early on is when we have the best chance of seeing the starters play together, and that therefore gives us the best chance of seeing what the team will be trying to do, and how well the players are settling into their roles and building chemistry.
Players returning from injury – If a basketball player has missed a significant amount of court time but is ready to go now then he will likely aggressively be using the preseason to get back into game shape and to test out the health of his injury. Watching the preseason, then, is a chance to see how that return is going. You don’t want to look at stats to judge how he’s doing because he’s not likely to be playing with the intensity he will in the season, and neither will his teammates around him. What you do want to look for, though, are things like how good his stamina is, whether he is more tentative than he was, whether he seems to be favoring the injury, and so on.
New coach – It will take a while before we know if a new coach is going to have any success with his new NBA team. The preseason can give us a hint, though. I like to look at things like how comfortable the coach looks on the bench, whether he seems confident with what is going on or is looking frustrated and confused, whether he is relating comfortable and casually with his players when it is appropriate, whether the key veterans on the team seem to be reacting to him well, whether he relates well with his assistants, and so on. The danger is that you can read too much into what you see, but if you take things reasonably you can gain some positive insights. By watching coaches in this way I have definitely found myself less surprised than others both when a coach has a strong start and when a coach has a short stay in a city.