Upcoming Match-ups

Few events on the NBA calendar generate more excitement among fans and bettors alike than All-Star Weekend. An annual tradition since 1951, the league’s mid-season showcase has grown from a single exhibition game into a can’t-miss three-day event featuring concerts, celebrity games, and Hall of Fame announcements. At any given moment, you’re likely to see Justin Bieber posting up Kevin Hart, Beyonce belting out “Crazy in Love,” or Kevin Durant chatting amicably with Bill Russell.

The All-Star Game is still the weekend’s biggest attraction, but the Rising Stars Challenge, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Contest, and Slam Dunk Competition routinely produce some of the most memorable moments. Ask any true fan and they’ll tell you exactly where they were when Larry Bird won the three-point shootout without even removing his warm-up jacket or how they felt when they witnessed Michael Jordan taking off from the free-throw line.

Sportsbooks have recently begun cashing in on the excitement of All-Star Weekend by allowing fans to bet on the various events. We have the lowdown on precisely what you can wager on, and have some tips to keep in mind before laying down your hard-earned cash.

NBA All-Star Game

How it Works: The NBA All-Star game is a high-octane, 48-minute affair showcasing the world’s best players. The game is divided into four, 12-minute quarters, and generally features more scoring than a Ron Jeremy film.

How to Bet: You can bet on the All-Star Game in three different ways: 1) picking against the spread, 2) selecting the over/under point total, or 3) choosing the MVP.

When betting the spread, you are not picking an outright winner, or an outright loser. The team you select either has to win by a certain margin or not lose by that margin. For instance, in 2016, Bodog listed the West as -5.0 favorites and the East as +5.0 underdogs. If you had bet on the West, they would have had to win by at least six points for you to successfully cover the spread and win your wager. Conversely, if you had picked the East, they would have needed to win outright or lose by four points or fewer for you to cover the spread.

Picking the over/under point total is even more straightforward as you simply have to choose whether the final score of the game will be higher (over) or lower (under) than the projected total established by the sportsbook. In 2016, Bodog set the over/under at 348.5, and the final score of the game amounted to 369. If you had chosen the over, you would have won your wager.

Choosing the most valuable player is just a matter of selecting the one player from the 24 competitors that you think will win the award. Sportsbooks rank the players according to their chances, and assign odds that reflect their likelihood to win the event.

Unique Considerations: The first thing you have to know about the NBA All-Star game is that it’s a less of a basketball game and more of a 48-minute track meet. The players race up and down the court at breakneck speeds while displaying an almost pathological aversion to defense. Three pointers are launched and full court alley-oops are tossed before the shot clock even has a chance to start ticking down. The game’s outrageous pace was especially evident in 2017 as the players combined for a record 374 points. By comparison, the average point total of a regular season NBA game in 2017 was 211.

More often than not, the MVP is usually the top scorer on the winning team, they’re almost always a starter, and they’re typically a ballhandler.

Selecting just one MVP from such a star-studded group can be a challenge, but there are a few things to keep in mind. More often than not, the MVP is usually the top scorer on the winning team, they’re almost always a starter, and they’re typically a ballhandler. Since 1990, the award has been won by 18 guards, ten forwards, and four centers.

There’s also a certain amount of bias that goes into selecting the game’s top player. Since 1987, a hometown player has won All-Star Game MVP seven times.

Year Location Player Team
1987 Seattle Tom Chambers SuperSonics
1988 Chicago Michael Jordan Bulls
1993 Salt Lake City Karl Malone and John Stockton Jazz
2004 Los Angeles Shaquille O’Neal Lakers
2009 Phoenix Shaquille O’Neal Suns
2011 Los Angeles Kobe Bryant Lakers
2017 New Orleans Anthony Davis Pelicans

NBA Slam Dunk Contest

How it works: The Slam Dunk Contest is the NBA’s annual FU to gravity. All four competitors get two dunks in the first round. The two players with the highest combined score advance to the finals, where they throw down two more jams each. The player with the highest combined score is then deemed the winner.

How to Bet: You select the one player from the Slam Dunk Competition’s four-man field that you think will win. Sportsbooks rank the players according to their chances, and assign odds that reflect their likelihood to win the event. In 2017, Bodog selected Magic power forward Aaron Gordon as their odds-on favorite at -110, meaning his implied probability to win the event was 52.4%. The eventual winner was Bucks reserve Glenn Robinson III, who was originally considered a longshot. Bodog gave him +900 odds, which carried a 10% implied probability.

Unique Considerations: Unlike the All-Star game where every player is a household name, the Slam Dunk Contest usually features emerging players who have yet to make their mark in the league. In 2017, the four-man field featured Suns rookie Derrick Jones Jr., who had logged just 24 minutes in the NBA, and Bucks forward Glenn Robinson III, who had started just five game in his first two years in the league. The relative anonymity of players in the contest can make choosing a winner especially difficult.

Another factor that makes the Slam Dunk contest a particularly risky bet is the fact that the event is judged by a panel of former players. Their personal bias (and in some cases relationships with the dunkers) can skewer the result of the competition. In 2017, the panel featured five judges who had all played against Robinson’s father and had known the 6’6” Robinson III since he was smaller than Mugsy Bogues.

Fortunately, there are a few trends that bettors can count on regardless of who the competitors or judges are. For starters, shorter players generally fare very well since their dunks have a much higher level of difficulty. The 5’6” Spud Webb won the contest in 1986, as did 6’1” Dee Brown in 1991 and 5’9” Nate Robinson in 2006, 2009, and 2010.

The dunker who wins the crowd also usually wins the event.

The dunker who wins the crowd also usually wins the event. That was evident in 2011 when Blake Griffin brought along his own choir and tabbed Kenny Smith as his hype man to whip the crowd into a frenzy. It was also apparent in 2008 when Dwight Howard became that rare big man to win the event after donning a Superman cape and literally flying through the air.

Three-Point Contest

How it works: An annual tradition since 1986, the Three-Point Contest is a two-round competition in which players have one minute to launch 25 shots from five designated spots behind the arc.

How to Bet: You select the one player from the Three-Point Contest’s eight-man field that you think will win. Sportsbooks rank the players according to their chances, and assign odds that reflect their likelihood to win the event. In 2017, Bodog selected Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson as their favorite at +110, meaning his implied probability to win the event was 47.6%. The eventual winner was Rockets gunner Eric Gordon, who was given +900 odds, which carried a 10% implied probability, just like Glenn Robinson III in the dunk contest.

Unique Considerations: The Three Point Contest is another notoriously difficult event to predict as the event is often won by the shooter that gets hot at the right time. That was the case in 2017, when Gordon blew everyone away with an opening round of 25 points and a pair of 20-plus-point performances in the second round and overtime. The Rockets guard was considered something of a longshot at the time as he’s a career 37% three-point shooter and was hitting just 38.5% of his threes prior to the All-Star break.   

Although Gordon’s performance was unexpected, there are some key indicators you should look for when choosing who to bet on in the event. The first thing to consider is mechanics. Players who have a consistent stroke and use a minimal jumping motion tend to do better than classic jump shooters since they’re able to remain fresh. That was the case for Larry Bird from 1986-88, Peja Stojakovic from 2002-3, Dirk Nowitzki in 2006, and Kevin Love in 2012.

You should also consider a player’s past performance in the contest. Have they made it to the final round before? Past performance is always the best predictor of future events. Finally, who’s the hottest shooter in the field coming into the competition? Take a look at monthly splits and see which competitor has the highest three-point percentage in the months of January and February.

Rising Stars Challenge

How it works: The best first and second-year players from America face off against the best first and second-year players from the rest of the world in fast-paced and frantic 48-minute game.

How to Bet: You select the one player from the Rising Stars Challenge that you think will be named the MVP. Sportsbooks rank the players according to their chances, and assign odds that reflect their likelihood to win the event. In 2017, Bodog selected Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns as their odds-on favorite at +250, meaning his implied probability to win the event was 28.7%. The eventual winner was Nuggets rookie Jamal Murray, who was given +2000 odds, which carried a 4.8% implied probability.

Unique Considerations: The Rising Stars Challenge has undergone more facelifts than Mickey Rourke. The game was introduced in 1994 as the Rookie Challenge and featured only first year players until 2000, when the NBA tweaked the format to include the league’s best rookies and sophomores. The format was altered again in 2015 to feature the best first and second-year American-born players against the best first and second-year foreign players.

Since 2000, a sophomore has won the Rising Stars Challenge MVP award 11 times, making them a far better bet than the rookies.

Since 2000, a sophomore has won the Rising Stars Challenge MVP award 11 times, making them a far better bet than the rookies. Second-year players are generally stronger, savvier, and more accustomed to the pace of the game than their younger counterparts.

You may also want to keep in mind that Team World has beaten Team USA in two of the last three years, giving them a slight upper hand in the competition. Foreign players in their first and second year are often older than their American peers, and often began playing professionally in their teens.

Skills Challenge

How it Works: Introduced in 2003, the Skills Challenge is a three-round obstacle-course competition that tests passing, dribbling, and three-point-shooting skills. Think of it as Wipeout for mutants.

How to Bet: You select the one player from the Skills Challenge’s eight-man field that you think will win. Sportsbooks rank the players according to their chances, and assign odds that reflect their likelihood to win the event. In 2017, Bodog selected Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas as their favorite at +200, meaning his implied probability to win the event was 33.3%. The eventual winner was Knicks unicorn Kristaps Porzingis, who was given +1200 odds, which carried a 7.7% implied probability.

Unique Considerations: The Skills Challenge was formerly reserved for fleet-footed ballhandlers, but that changed in 2016 when frontcourt players were invited to compete for the first time in a new bracket-style tournament. Many scoffed at the thought of seven-foot behemoths dribbling around pylons and lofting threes, but they had their minds blown when Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (7’0”) put on an expert passing and shooting clinic to win the event.  The big guys came out on top again in 2017 when Kristaps Porzingis defeated Utah’s Gordon Hayward in the final round.

It’s easy to dismiss the big men winning once as a fluke, but two wins in two years is starting to feel like a trend. Keep your mind open when deciding who to bet on in the Skills Challenge, and don’t dismiss the pivots. Their size and strength are far from their only skills.

Ready to get started? Visit our article on NBA Betting Basics today to learn how to make your very first wager.

Author Image

Ryan Murphy began his love affair with sports journalism at the age of nine when he wrote his first article about his little league baseball team. He has since authored his own column for Fox Sports, and now serves as SBD’s resident NBA and MLB expert.