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The NBA All-Star Saturday Night Bets We Like

Credit:

Dec 31, 2017; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. (1) attempts to dunk the ball over Oklahoma City Thunder forward Josh Huestis (34) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Describe one of Zach LaVine’s dunks in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest. I’ll wait …

That’s right, you can’t do it. Because Aaron Gordon was robbed! I mean, look at these dunks. The dude was flying over Stuff the Magic Dragon all night.

Saturday night, with the Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest, and Slam Dunk Contest, is arguably the best evening of the All-Star weekend for action, and our experts are here to muse on some of their favorite odds for the events. Enjoy! — Bryan Mears

JBL 3-Point Contest

Matt Moore: I have very strong feelings about this, as I have been trying to unwrap this mystery every year. To begin, I always went with the best spot-up shooter, until a past winner told me something crucial. Spot-up shooters are used to catching the ball and launching, and this is entirely different because you’re getting the ball on the side and picking it up before launching. So I’m switching it up and focusing in on players who specialize in hand-off 3-pointers. Among the contestants, here’s who has made the most and their percentages this season . . .

  • Wayne Ellington: 43 makes, 39.4%
  • Klay Thompson: 9 makes, 56.3%
  • Kyle Lowry: 8 makes, 33.0%
  • Eric Gordon: 5 makes, 23.8%
  • Devin Booker: 3 makes, 30.0%
  • Paul George: 2 makes, 12.5%
  • Tobias Harris: 2 makes, 33.0%
  • Bradley Beal: 1 make, 16.7%

You might ask what last year’s winner Eric Gordon shot on these? Twenty-two makes at 36 percent — right in line with Ellington’s volume. Now, Thompson’s the best shooter; that’s why he’s the favorite. But the Warriors are exhausted this year, and Thompson is no exception. I can’t imagine him being locked in on winning this thing two years in a row. No one else is nearly as comfortable as Ellington is in this situation. And at +700? Phenomenal numbers. I’m riding Ellington with a flag and a crest and a sweater and the whole deal.

John Ewing: The 3-point contest is random. According to data at SportsOddsHistory.com, the favorite has won the competition only once since 2010 (that eliminates Klay this year) and there hasn’t been a back-to-back winner since Jason Kapono in 2007-08 (that eliminates Gordon). On average, the winner of the competition has had the fourth-best odds (that eliminates Lowry).

That leaves Paul George at +475. The Thunder wing is one of 10 players to attempt more than 400 3-pointers this season; he is tied for seventh in 3-point percentage (.432). Plus, he just made history by becoming the fifth player to convert at least five 3-point shots in five consecutive games.

Bryan Mears: The data, even going back to the 1986 contest, backs up John’s point that this is mostly random. The correlation between winning and a variety of NBA metrics is pretty small:

Even if you look at the correlation between success and the metrics listed above on a year-by-year basis, there doesn’t seem to be any trends (click on a metric in the legend to isolate it):

The only notable stat I could find was that the top-four players in the sample in terms of free throw percentage — Craig Hodges in 1991 (.963), Jeff Hornacek in 2000 (.950), Mark Price in 1993 (.948), and Craig Hodges again in 1992 (.941) — all won in those seasons. For what it’s worth, Devin Booker leads the field this season with a .888 free throw percentage. But in general, this contest is quite random, and we know what to do when a contest is random but the posted odds are not: Bet the dogs. Booker at +1000? Why not?

And before I leave, just two more interesting nuggets. First, here’s the history of the winner and his season-long marks. Ya think the NBA has changed a bit of late?

And second, just because it’s amazing: Detlef Schrempf was invited to the 3-point contest in 1988. He had five total 3-pointers made that season.

Matt LaMarca: It’s clear why Thompson is the favorite in this contest after digging into some of the advanced shooting numbers. Not only is he leading the group in conventional 3-point shooting at 45.5 percent, but he also has the best marks in wide-open 3-point shooting (56.1 percent) and has shot at least 44.3 percent from every location on the floor, per NBA.com’s advanced tracking.

That said, Kyle Lowry looks like a live dog. He’s the only other shooter besides Klay who’s hitting 40 percent from every spot behind the arc this season, and he’s currently shooting 52.6 percent from the right corner. With the one money-ball rack worth nearly double the value of the other four, proficiency from one spot on the floor could go a long way in determining this contest. Lowry is only +325 at BetDSI, but he’s as high as +900 at some of the other online sportsbooks.

Evan Abrams: At first I was interested in digging into the numbers and informing you how good Bradley Beal was on pull-up jumpers and why his volume mattered from 16-24 feet … but I quickly realized it was a pointless journey. My theory here is simple: Follow the trend and what the league is telling you. The pick: Thompson or Gordon. Let me explain: Since Golden State won its first title, only Warriors and Rockets players have won this contest. Until the league changes the way the game is played, give me Warriors and Rockets in a 3-point shootout.

  • 2017-18: Warrior or Rocket
  • 2016-17: Rocket
  • 2015-16: Warrior
  • 2014-15: Warrior

Mark Gallant: I like Beal at +625. He’s a streaky shooter and probably doesn’t deserve odds that low. He’s shooting slightly below his career 3-point average (37 percent) this season, but picking ball after ball up off a rack is a bit different than in-game shooting. Back in the 2014 contest, Beal reached the final round with Marco Belinelli and actually tied him to force an extra round, which he ultimately lost. Everyone knows the 3-point shooting contest crown is the mostly highly-coveted piece of hardware in sports, and Beal will be out there to redeem himself and rid his family of shame following the infamous 2014 loss.

 

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

Matt LaMarca: Dennis Smith Jr. had a record-tying 48-inch vertical in a pre-draft workout with the Lakers and can do stuff like this:

That’s enough for me.

Mark Gallant: I consider myself somewhat of a slam dunk contest expert. I have home video of the Gerald Green cupcake dunk on the old camcorder, and I also cashed on Glenn Robinson III last year at +1200 in the first one I ever bet on.

Although there isn’t someone with such long odds this year, I do think Victor Oladipo is a strong bet at +400 (odds via BetOnline, always shop around for the best number!). Everyone is in love with the flashy rookies, but Oladipo has plenty of bounce and showed some of it off with an in-game 360 recently. When it all comes down to it, this event is practically random. As we saw last year with Aaron Gordon and his drone, favorites can set their sights too high and miss a bunch of attempts on something that is way too hard.

Evan Abrams: In the end, the Slam Dunk contest is a subjective competition based on votes. The most entertaining, biggest name in the contest entering the All-Star break is Mitchell. He replaced the injured Gordon and is making the most of his opportunity by linking up with a man by the name of Chuck Millan. I’m rolling with the future Rookie of the Year and Chuck in the dunk contest.

Matt Moore: Narrative, narrative, narrative. It’s not just who a player is, it’s the crowd’s reaction to him and how the dunks feel. I have a sneaky feeling Gallant’s Dipo pick will go down as the “actual best performance only the hardcore dunk savants remember.” It’s a grand Pacers tradition that carried through Paul George three years ago with the Tron dunk.

But again, follow the narratives. Mitchell has big-name status already, he’s in the ROY conversation, and is an explosive in-game dunker who attacks the rim with violence. Larry Nance Jr. is great for posters, but creativity is key, and I don’t know if he has the hang-time for it with these other guys. Mitchell, on the other hand, is like a miniature J.R. Rider when he dunks, and, well, that’s a former champ. He’s even friggin’ called Spida.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

Matt LaMarca: This comes down to motivation. All big men want to prove that they have guard-like skills, so they tend to take this competition a little more seriously than their smaller contestants. With that in mind, it’s not a surprise that a big man has won this competition in each of the past two seasons. Lauri Markkanen seems like the most logical candidate to make it three in a row given his ability to knock down the 3-pointer (35.4 percent).

Evan Abrams: In the past, this competition has to come down to passing and 3-pointers. Combined, they are the toughest obstacles, so that will be my angle. I’m with LaMarca in thinking Markkanen is a viable candidate. We all know about the shooting, but he has sneaky passing ability. Markkanen rankings in the top 20 in total passes made, which may give him an edge. If I had to pick a guard, I’d go with Spencer Dinwiddie. He’s shooting the most 3-pointers of his career this year, he’s top-10 in total passes made, and he ranks outside the top-75 in turnovers.

Matt Moore: It’s crazy to me, even with the motivational factor LaMarca mentioned above, that a big man has won it two years in a row. That’s just insane. They should get smoked, considering it’s time-based. I would fade the big men in this year’s field. Markkanen and Joel Embiid are plodders, and I worry about Markkanen’s handle. This comes down to Sweet Lou or Jamal Murray, I would reckon. To LaMarca’s point above, Murray wants this the most. He wants to shine, and he’s competitive about everything basketball-related. Williams is the most-skilled player, but I think Murray probably goes the hardest.

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