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How to Bet on Olympic Basketball: Expert FIBA Strategy & Advice

Few sports are more enjoyable to bet on than basketball. While the majority of the handle in the United States comes in NBA and NCAA, international basketball is often just as, if not more, exciting. Three quadrennial tournaments — the FIBA World Cup, EuroBasket and, of course, the Summer Olympics — give us a handful of chances to bet on it. Let’s dive into how to bet on Olympic basketball as I dish out my expert strategy and advice for betting on FIBA player props, sides, totals and more.

Betting on international matches can be difficult, as teams change both year-to-year and tournament-to-tournament. If you’re expecting results all that similar to what you saw in the last international tournament — or in the NBA regular season, you’re probably not going to make much money. The betting public’s lack of knowledge and love of Team USA often generates soft, exploitable lines, which I’ve previously gamed for my benefit. Let’s get into it!

How to Bet on Olympic Basketball: Expert FIBA Strategy, Tips & Advice

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How to Bet on Olympic Basketball: Expert FIBA Strategy, Tips & Advice

1. Know the Differences Between FIBA Rules & NBA Rules

From the size of the court to what constitutes a foul, the rules vary significantly between FIBA and the NBA, and failing to understand those differences can prove costly. To go distinction-by-distinction:

Time: NBA games consist of four quarters that last 12 minutes; FIBA games consist of four quarters that last 10. Both leagues use a 24-second shot clock.

Court: NBA courts measure 94 feet 50; FIBA courts measure 28 meters (92 feet) by 15 meters (49 feet). The 3-point line is closer in FIBA than in the NBA, but while it’s 1.6 feet closer from above the break, it’s less than a half-foot closer from the corner. This (a) gives less of an advantage to corner sharpshooters and (b) makes crowding the lane easier.

Fouls: NBA players foul out after six personals or two technicals; FIBA players foul out after five total personals and technicals. In FIBA, the bonus is triggered when a team commits more than four fouls in a quarter; all fouls count toward the bonus, too.

Officiating: NBA officials tend to penalize contact far more harshly than FIBA officials, rewarding defensive effort and punishing players who attempt to draw ticky-tack fouls.

Goaltending & Defense: In both the NBA and FIBA, players cannot block a ball in downward flight toward the rim, but in FIBA, players can play the ball once it touches the rim. There are also no three-second violations in FIBA. Both rule differences favor tall centers who can protect the rim, like Rudy Gobert.

When it comes to the significance of these differences, you don’t have to take my word for it — during the 2023 FIBA World Cup, Bobby Portis declared FIBA and the NBA to be “totally different games.”

2. Know the Format & the Stakes

It’s generally quite easy to know the stakes of an individual NBA game. In the regular season, teams are jockeying for the best record over an 82-game season, which will determine their playoff seeding. In the playoffs, teams must win a seven-game series.

It’s not so easy in international play. Because of the short nature of these tournaments, the importance of each individual game is increased, and point differential often comes into play as a tiebreaker. Very few minutes are meaningless, and margins are almost always meaningful, which can create interesting dynamics for spreads and totals.

There are generally two stages to worry about in international tournament play: group and knockout. In the group stage, teams are divided into groups of four, and they then play one game against each opponent. In some tournaments, two teams advance from each group; in others, wild card third-place teams also advance.

Wondering how to bet on Olympic basketball? Our expert dives into his FIBA World Cup & Olympic basketball betting strategy and advice...

In the knockout stage, teams play a single-elimination tournament until only the top team remains. Seeding is usually predetermined such that the winner of a group will not play a member of their group again in the opening round; tiebreakers are usually only used to determine whether a team qualifies for the knockout round.

3. Contextualize Past Results

International team rosters will vary significantly from season to season. This is especially true for countries with superstar talent — Team USA, for instance, will look very different depending upon the tournament. Superstars often turn out for the Olympics, but they’re less likely to show up for qualifying matches or the FIBA World Cup.

For instance, even though the 2023 FIBA World Cup and 2024 Paris Olympics were just a year apart, only two players were on both rosters, Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton. Meanwhile, five players returned from the team that played i the 2020 Tokyo Olympics: Bam Adebayo, Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum, Jrue Holiday and Kevin Durant.

While it can be tempting to extrapolate from past results like you might be used to doing in the NBA, it’s probably the case that whatever team you’re talking about looked very different when it was playing the previous match you’re discussing. Case in point: Fading Team USA at the 2024 Paris Olympics because they lost to Germany in the 2023 FIBA World Cup wouldn’t be very smart.

4. Don’t Overvalue Players’ NBA Production — or Lack Thereof

If you’re used to betting on the NBA, you’re definitely familiar with American superstars like LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Most international superstars like Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic make their way to the NBA eventually, too, so you know them as well.

You’re probably also familiar with role players like Austin Reaves, P.J. Washington and Grant Williams. Some international stars who aren’t quite superstars, like Ricky Rubio and Patty Mills, make the NBA as well, but they’re then asked to be role players, not stars.

But unless you watch EuroLeague, you’re probably not familiar with many European role players, who can be quite good at what they do, and, unlike American players, don’t have to adjust to a new set of rules.

You also probably won’t expect it when an international player who fills a role at the NBA level turns into a high-usage star in FIBA. Case in point: Ricky Rubio, who outscored every member of Team USA in the quarterfinals in Tokyo, dropping 38 on 65/57/100.

Let’s look at some scoring and efficiency leaders from that tournament. You’ll recognize some names, but there are several that you will not, and only one player from Team USA made the list for his individual performance:

PlayerMIN/GPTS/GEFF/G
Luka Doncic (SLO)‎32.723.829.2
Kevin Durant (USA)‎27.420.724
Ricky Rubio (ESP)‎24.625.524
Mike Tobey (SLO)‎29.113.721.3
Patty Mills (AUS)‎32.623.320.5
Hamed Haddadi (IRI)‎29.615.720
Yuta Watanabe (JPN)‎35.517.718.7
Rudy Gobert (FRA)‎2612.218.2
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Concluding Advice on How to Bet Olympic Basketball & FIBA Betting Strategy

Just because you know a lot about the NBA doesn’t mean you know much — if anything — about FIBA. If NBA players used to NBA rules can struggle to adapt, especially on early, which we saw with Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, NBA bettors shouldn’t expect anything to come easy, either.

Usually, books will post game lines well in advance, and you can expect to see player prop lines in the Olympics and for the FIBA World Cup. Prop markets can be especially fun as NBA players can be asked to fill very different roles on the international stage, like Ricky Rubio turning into a high-volume scorer. Understanding what these players are going to be asked to do is a crucial part of any viable FIBA betting strategy.

Betting on Olympic and FIBA basketball can spice up the NBA offseason, but unless you go in with open eyes, you could easily end up lighting your money on fire. Make sure to understand both the in-game rules and tournament format before getting too gung-ho with your action. Don’t put too much stock into historical trends, especially for teams with variable national rosters, and don’t expect players to do what you’re used to seeing them do in the NBA.

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Isaiah Sirois

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Isaiah Sirois

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