Should You Bet Small NBA Road Dogs on the Spread or Moneyline?

A few weeks ago, we published an article on ESPN.com that detailed why bettors should be taking small road dogs on the moneyline instead of the spread. The system detailed in the article focused on road dogs of 6.5 or less that received less than 40% of spread bets. One of the main reasons we chose to focus on this range was because +7 is one of the most important key numbers for NFL bettors. In fact, since 2003 our research indicates that 9.55% of all games finish with a 7-point margin of victory — the second most common margin.

Further research revealed that when we narrow our spread percentage range to focus on teams receiving less than 30% of public bets, the number of system matches dropped significantly, however, the return on investment (ROI) more than doubled on both the spread and moneyline.

With this system in the back of our minds, we wanted to see whether it would be wise to bet other small road dogs on the moneyline instead of the spread — specifically in the NBA. To accomplish this, we decided to build two new systems using our Bet Labs software.

After adjusting the season type to include both regular season and playoff games, we utilized the “home/visitor” filter to focus solely on road teams. This game us an immediate edge as road teams have gone 6244-6018 ATS since the start of the 2003-04 season. Although this was not enough to overcome the typical -110 juice at most sportsbooks, it gave our system a terrific starting point. As you can see from the screenshot below, road teams are also undervalued on the moneyline although the -2.3% ROI was worse than the -0.4% ROI in our spread system.

Home Road

Once we had narrowed our focus to road teams, the next step was layering on the “spread %” filter to focus on teams receiving no more than 30% of spread bets. This betting against the pubic philosophy has proven to be one of the simplest, yet consistently profitable betting strategies over the past decade. In fact, the addition of this one simple filter led to immense improvements for both of our systems.

For our spread system, road teams receiving no more than 30% of public bets have gone 429-353 (54.9%) with +55.71 units won and a 7.1% ROI. However, our expectation was that the moneyline system would be far less profitable as most sportsbooks increase the juice for large moneyline underdogs, thus sucking out much of the value. This hypothesis was quickly disproven.

Road teams receiving between 0 and 30% of spread bets have gone just 216-583 which equates to a winning percentage of just 27%. Despite this paltry win rate, the actual units won (+59.13) and ROI (7.4%) are almost identical to our spread system.

Spread Perc

It should be noted that the concept of “key numbers” doesn’t exist in basketball to the extent that it does in football. In the NFL, sportsbooks will do everything they can to avoid moving off 3 or 7. In the NBA, oddsmakers will almost always adjust their numbers if the market warrants it.

One of the things that can make NBA betting so frustrating at times is that late-game fouling consistently leads to backdoor covers. Teams frequently come back from two-possession deficits (4-6 points) in the final minute, whereas teams will often times give up if they’re trailing by three or more possessions (7+ points). Since our goal is to create a winning moneyline system, we wanted to focus on underdogs of 6 or less.

To accomplish this, our final step was to utilize the “spread range” filter to focus on all road teams between a pick ’em and +6. The hypothesis was that betting these small visiting underdogs on the moneyline would be more profitable than taking them on the spread.

Although these moneyline dogs win less frequently, the fact that you’re getting them between -105 and +250 would compensate for the rare occasion that a team covers the spread but loses straight up. In fact, at +250 you would only need to win 28.57% of your bets to break even.

While the addition of this spread range filter substantially increased the return on investment for our moneyline system, we were shocked by the results for the spread system. The table below displays how road teams between 0 and +6 have performed since 2003.

Bet Type Record Winning % Units Won ROI
Spread 162-103 61.1% +51.71 19.5%
Moneyline 120-151 44.3% +52.42 19.3%

As you can see, the results for these systems are almost identical regardless of whether you’re betting on the moneyline or spread. Both systems have a large sample size, consistent year-to-year results, and a solid driving hypothesis which are the three main criteria for a winning betting system.

Based on our past NFL research, we thought that it would be more profitable to bet small road dogs on the moneyline than on the spread. Although that did not turn out to be the case, we did determine that small road dogs are greatly undervalued in the NBA.

We were surprised to see these systems post identical returns, but we feel comfortable recommending either one to bettors. It should also be noted that it’s slightly more profitable to bet teams between +5 and +6 on the moneyline and teams between 0 and +4.5 on the spread.

Anybody interested in creating their own winning NBA betting systems can sign up for a 6-day Bet Labs trial, but Sportsbook Insider Pro customers have full access to our Best Bets and Bet Signals along with real-time odds, public betting trends and much more.

We have also introduced a new free NBA odds page where bettors can access odds, injuries, futures and other valuable information. Current Bet Labs customers can also copy the moneyline system or spread system from the Think Tank to receive all current game matches via e-mail or text message.

Have any questions for the staff at Sports Insights? Utilize our live chat to speak with a customer service representative or e-mail us at help@sportsinsights.com.

12/18/14 Update: This system has gone 2-3 this season on both the moneyline and spread, however, the spread system is down -1.05 units while the moneyline system is up +0.73 units.

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David Solar

David Solar has been the Content Manager at Sports Insights for over four years. He specializes in sports betting analytics and has created several popular data-driven betting systems. He can be reached directly at david@sportsinsights.com or on twitter at @TheDavidSolar.

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