NBA 3-Point Contest Betting Analysis: Grading Each Shooter’s Value to Find the Sleeper Pick

NBA 3-Point Contest Betting Analysis: Grading Each Shooter’s Value to Find the Sleeper Pick article feature image

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images. Pictured: Zach LaVine.

Well, it looks like we're having All-Star Weekend (for some reason), and that means we're having the 3-point contest.

Last year, I took a new approach, focusing on location consistency, along with efficiency and range. That led me to believe the best value was Buddy Hield, who won the thing.

Can I do it again? Let's go for it!

What We're Considering

Here's why I focused on location consistency.

Shooters do tend to develop both short-term and long-term habits when it comes to where they shoot from.

A player will shoot really well from the corners when they are role players but as they get older, they spend less and less time there because they have the ball so much. The obvious example here is Stephen Curry, who has just 35 corner-3 attempts this season despite his minutes and usage. Curry is also shooting just 14% from the left-side corner this season.

That doesn't mean Curry can't rip off the left-side corner rack, but it's an example of what we're looking for.

Furthermore, a few years ago, I went back and asked every pure shooter I could interview if they ever looked at their shot chart. The only one who said he did: J.J. Redick.

Every other player said they knew where they shot well from. That kind of bias can create a small delta since the player won't focus on the ranges they haven't been great from recently, and beyond that, most shooters put the moneyball rack in the corner.

I've seen so many players put the moneyball rack in the worst spot they shoot from on the season just because they felt like it was where they shot well from.

Consistency of where you shoot from and how you shoot from those spots matters.

The other thing that I've started to incorporate is playset data. We tend to think of the 3-point contest as similar to a catch-and-shoot scenario. You stand in a spot, and shoot. But the dynamics are entirely different, I talked to participants about this for a few years. It's more like a hand-off situation, because you're reaching to the side to collect the ball instead of having it thrown to you.

Also, yes, efficiency matters. You can be a volume shooter but you have to be able to make enough to make it out round by round.

Finally, the NBA is bringing back the — ugh — Mountain Dew Zones, which are basically logo shots between the arc and wings and further back, worth three points. The ability to hit from deep can swing this thing.

All-Star Weekend Best Bets: 3-Point Contest | Skills Challenge | Slam Dunk Contest | All-Star Game

The Participants

(All prices courtesy of DraftKings. Shot charts courtesy of Positive Residual.)

Jayson Tatum (+700)

  • Volume shooter: No
  • Efficiency: No
  • Consistency: No

Tatum's chart:

Be honest, that's better than you would have thought for a 36% shooter from beyond the arc.

The moneyball rack is big here. If Tatum puts it in the right corner (left on this image), that's his lowest efficiency area. If he puts it up top, those are lower-value shots.

Tatum's release time concerns me a little. He's not slow by any means. He's just not lightning quick, either. He can hit despite his form being slightly off:

But he's also just 21% under four seconds on the shot clock. Compare that to 54.5% for Booker and 31% for Mitchell and Curry.

Value Grade: D

Jaylen Brown (+700)

  • Volume shooter: No
  • Efficiency: No
  • Consistency: No.

Yes, that is Brown's and not Tatum's, though they look nearly identical.

I'm a little worried about Brown's release, as well. It's not slow by any means. It's just not lightning quick either, even on pull-up jumpers:

Brown started off the year red-hot, shooting 44% from 3-point land in the first months. But in February, that number dipped to 30.3%. He shot well in two March games before the All-Star break, but it's another reason for caution.

The consistency is good, as long as he doesn't put the moneyball rack in that right corner, but I wouldn't think he'd be a prime candidate to hit from the Mountain Dew Zones and might run out of time. He's not a sprinter.

Finally, Brown has the fewest made 3-pointers of any player in the contest. That's a real issue given that we've learned volume shooters do really well in this contest.

I don't like the value even at 7-1.

Value Grade: D

Donovan Mitchell (+450)

  • Volume Shooter: Yes
  • Efficiency: No
  • Consistency: Yes

Mitchell's chart:

Mitchell has the third-most made 3-point shots among the competitors, but he's second-to-last in efficiency. Like Tatum and Brown, he's got that cold spot in the right (left on the chart) corner. Again, that's usually the moneyball spot. That concerns me a bit.

Mitchell could be pretty good if he hits from deep, he's got the best chance outside of Curry at the Mountain Dew Zones.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Mitchell make the second round, only to come up short. He seems very much like a player who might have a great round but not two.

Value Grade: B-

Stephen Wardell Curry (+150)

  • Volume Shooter: Yes
  • Efficiency: Yes
  • Consistency: Yes

I don't know if you know this, but Stephen Curry is a pretty good shooter.

It makes sense that the greatest shooter alive is the odds-on favorite. He's hit the most 3-pointers per game and overall this season in the NBA, he's shooting 41% from 3 and his release is obviously the quickest of the group.

That undersells it, though. Curry has made one-half more 3-balls per game than second-place Damian Lillard. If he plays in all 35 of the Warriors' remaining games, he's on pace to finish with 337 3-pointers. In an 82-game season he would be on pace for 384 and would be the second-most all-time behind his 2016 season, ahead of James Harden's 2019 season.

However … I do have to note that this will be Curry's seventh 3-point contest appearance and he only has one win. For the greatest shooter alive, you would have thought he'd have more, which just shows you the unstable nature of a 27-shot sample.

Curry did finish second in 2016 and 2019. There are good reasons for him to be the favorite, but in a contest like this where a bad round can sink you, I'm not going chalk.

Value Grade: B

Mike Conley (+500)

  • Volume Shooter: No
  • Efficiency: No
  • Consistency: Yes

Conley was chosen as a replacement for Devin Booker due to a knee injury, and there's some sneaky value here.

First, Conley has made as many 3-pointers as Tatum this season (81), so he's not a volume shooter, but he's also shooting 42% from beyond the arc.

Conley has that same cold spot in the corner as Tatum, Brown and Mitchell, but the rest of his range is consistently good.

Conley's not a volume shooter. But he does have a really smooth, quick release that's consistent.

Conley's 33, which makes you nervous about the legs for it, but Curry's 32 and you're not worried about him, are you?

Conley's not a volume shooter, but his quick release and efficiency make him a prime sleeper in this competition.

Conley doesn't have as good a chance as Curry to win it … but he's also 5/1. That gives him the edge here.

Value Grade: B+

Zach LaVine (+500)

  • Volume Shooter: Yes
  • Efficiency: Yes
  • Consistency: Yes

Let's. Go.

Again, that right (left on the chart) corner 3 is a problem.

But LaVine is the best shooter from 3-point range this season in the contest.

That's right. LaVine has shot better from 3-point range (43.5%) than even Curry (41.1%). And he's done that on the third-most attempts of any participant. LaVine has the second-most makes per game and second-highest total on the season of any player in the contest behind Curry, and yet he is 5/1.

I'm also not worried about his release time. It's quick and his motion is consistent.

LaVine put his moneyball rack at the top of the key last year and only went 2-of-5. This year he absolutely needs to put it on the right wing, where he's 57%, or the left corner where he shoots 59%.

Zach LaVine on his 3-point shooting contest strategy with money balls this time around: "I'm putting them in the corner … If I put my money balls in the right spot, I have a shot."

— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) March 4, 2021

LaVine is a volume shooter, who is red hot this year, with great form and consistency from the field in volume and efficiency outside of that corner. He's my best bet.

Value Grade: A-

(Right) Side Note

We've talked about that corner 3 being a problem spot for a lot of these shooters, so I wanted to show exactly what that is for the participants.

Right Corner 3 (common moneyball spot):

Curry: 50% (14.3% from the left corner)
Conley: 35.5%
Tatum: 20.0%
Brown: 20.0%
Mitchell: 31.3%
LaVine: 31.6%

So Curry is the only one who if they put the moneyball rack there can benefit, based on this season's numbers anyway.

Here's a look at the shooters by 3-point contest location:

Conley grades out the best on consistency, having two hot spots, two median spots and just one cold spot. Curry obviously is the hottest, with three hot spots and two cold spots. This chart pretty well shows why Tatum, Brown, and Mitchell are low-value bets.

That's not to say they can't win; this is a great crop of shooters. But there are tiers, with Curry at the top and Conley and LaVine below.

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