Can History Help You Predict the NBA 3-Point Contest Winner?

Can History Help You Predict the NBA 3-Point Contest Winner? article feature image

Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Seth Curry and Stephen Curry

  • The NBA's 3-Point Contest will take place Saturday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. ET at All-Star weekend in Charlotte, N.C.
  • Below, I look at past contests to see if the contest is predictable and whether there's an edge to be found in the betting market.

Is the NBA 3-point contest predictable?

The obvious answer is no: Stephen Curry is fairly inarguably at this point the best 3-point shooter ever, and he’s won this contest just once in five tries.

Of course, all of the shooters every year are great — that’s why they’re in the 3-point contest — but it’s not as cut-and-dry as just taking the player with the most 3-pointers per game or highest 3-point field goal percentage.

To see if any metrics do help predict this contest, I went back 10 years and pulled a variety of data points, including:

  • Season 3-point percentage
  • Season 3-point makes per game
  • Season 3-point attempts per game
  • Season free-throw percentage
  • Season 3-point rate
  • Season catch-and-shoot percentage
  • Career (to that point) 3-point percentage
  • Career 3-point makes per game
  • Career 3-point attempts per game
  • Career free-throw percentage
  • Career 3-point rate

I correlated those numbers with 3-point contest success to see which metrics best predicted the outcome.

What’d I find?

Well, the contest really isn’t that predictable at all. But that’s OK for bettors, since betting is done in a marketplace. Odds are set for each player.

That means in betting, there’s always an inefficiency to pursue, even if an event is completely unpredictable. Because if it’s truly unpredictable, there really shouldn’t be favorites. Yet there is — here are the odds this year:

If there shouldn’t be favorites, there’s inherent value on the underdogs.

For fun, I used the above data to build a crude model to see if I could predict the winner with any regularity. Interestingly, the guy at the top of the model each year made it into the final round in seven of 10 years — although that player won it just once (Marco Belinelli in 2014).

I’m not sure exactly what that means other than I wish books offered props on getting into the final round instead of just winning. Further, the model is built off the data above, which says more 3-pointers per game is bad in the contest.

There’s no real reason I can think of why that would be predictive, so take all of this with a grain of salt. Perhaps it’s because more niche, lower-volume shooters, a la Belinelli or James Jones, have done relatively well. (shrug emoji)

How Does This Year’s Field Stack Up?

If you’re curious, however, here’s how the past data would rank this year’s candidates:

  1. Seth Curry, +550
  2. Dirk Nowitzki, +1500
  3. Joe Harris, +750
  4. Danny Green, +1200
  5. Khris Middleton, +1200
  6. Devin Booker, +450
  7. Buddy Hield, +400
  8. Damian Lillard, +900
  9. Kemba Walker, +900
  10. Stephen Curry, +200

Note that Dirk has played just 286 total minutes this season, so his stats this year are definitely skewed due to the small sample.

My final thoughts: I do think Seth Curry and Joe Harris are likely a bit undervalued in this competition: Harris ranks second in the NBA with a 47.1% 3-point percentage, and Curry is third at 46.5%. Those are insane numbers.

Further, on catch-and-shoot shots, which likely mimics the competition more than other attempts like off-the-dribble 3s, Curry and Harris lead this year’s field, hitting 54.1% and 47.6% of their attempts, respectively.

Again, the winner has been wildly unpredictable, but I do think those two are set up well to make it past the first round, and who knows what could happen from there. At their low odds, I don’t mind taking a risk on betting them to win.