The NBA 3-point Contest has become the highlight of Saturday’s All-Star events.
While that might have as much to do with the downfall of the Dunk Contest as a compelling event, the 3-point contest is also tailor-made for bettors, as it’s not reliant on subjective judging and has actual measurable outcomes.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the picks to get a sense of who has the best value for bettors. As a guiding post, here are the four factors we’re looking at when trying to get the best value:
Consistency: You don’t want to go through a rack where a player just can’t hit any. The moneyball helps but you don’t want them having to catch up all on one rack. Having an even distribution matters.
Volume: You do need to be able to get up shots quickly and efficiently.
Right corner efficiency: It’s the last rack, and as such, it’s where most players put the moneyball rack.
Handoff efficiency: I’ve written about this before; this is not a catch-and-shoot event. It’s more akin to a hand-off, taking the ball from a stationary position at waist-level and firing. Hand-off efficiency is actually a lot better determinant than spot-up shooting.
I’ve narrowed the field to three candidates I think have value in the event. Let’s disqualify the others first.
Patty Mills (+450)
Mills is the favorite, which is an odd selection. His overall percentage (41.3%) is great, and his release is whip-fast. But his shot profile is inconsistent.
Mills shoots 37% from top of the key (where a rack is), and just 37% in the right corner, where the moneyball rack is usually placed. He’s lethal from the spots he specifically tends to shoot from during regular-season play, but that inconsistency can be killer if you have a dead rack or two.
Karl-Anthony Towns (+1200)
Towns doesn’t have the volume, or consistency, his release point is slower than most of these players, plus he’s bigger, so just time in-between racks can be a half-second slower.
Towns doesn’t take a lot of 3s from the corner and doesn’t shoot that well to boot. He’s a no-bet.
CJ McCollum (+950)
McCollum is from Ohio, so there’s a home-state boost here. But on top of various injuries this season, there’s an inconsistency there.
He’s shooting 44% from the likely moneyball spot, but I’m concerned about the top of the key and his 40% on above-the-break wings are good but not spectacular.
Trae Young (+490)
Young is obviously a superstar scorer, but it’s all built on volume.
He just doesn’t shoot enough from the corners for me to feel comfortable. Young hit just 15 in his first All-Star 3-point contest appearance back in 2020. He’s a volume shooter, and his efficiency is inconsistent.
I will add that the NBA (unfortunately) brought back the Dew Zones, which are 30-foot special shots worth three points. Young might make the semifinals based on those shots alone; he’s one of the few players in this field comfortable enough to launch those distance shots.
So with those four out, we’re down to four serious candidates. From least to most value.
Zach LaVine (+650)
I just can’t quit LaVine. He was my best bet last year, followed by Mike Conley (who finished second) and Stephen Curry (who took it home).
LaVine put his moneyball rack in the right spot — the left corner — where he shot the best, but just couldn’t make enough off the bat and had to catch up. He tied Donovan Mitchell and likely would have won a shoot-out for the semis, but Jayson Tatum went bonkers with 25 for the first-round only to score just 17 in the second.
LaVine’s consistency is better this season and he’s better from the corners, which means he can put the moneyball rack in that right corner.
LaVine is struggling more from above the break this season, which is why he’s not higher for me. But he is the best hand-off shooter in this bunch with a 73% eFG on handoff 3s per Second Spectrum.
I do think he’s a good look if you’re looking for a longer shot. This is his third contest. You don’t do the 3-point contest three times unless you really want to win the damn thing.
Fred VanVleet (+500)
VanVleet is a really interesting cross-section of our key metrics.
Because of the way he’s used, VanVleet is a lot more consistent zone to zone and gets a lot of different 3-point looks. One of the reasons we went for Buddy Hield two years ago in a win was because Hield is a volume shooter who converts at a high percentage.
FVV has the second-most made 3-pointers this season and at 40% is at a higher percentage than eight of the other top-10 in 3-point attempts. (The other being Mills, who is eighth in makes.)
VanVleet is also liquid fire from those corners. He can put the moneyball rack on either side. He’s 50% from the left corner (!!!) and 44% from the right this season.
That top of the key rack will be an issue, but I feel better honestly having one rack where he doesn’t shoot well vs. inconsistency from rack to rack.
FVV’s combination of volume and consistency make him a strong bet here.
Desmond Bane (+550)
Bane is really tempting.
He’s shooting 40% or better from every spot in the contest, with his lowest 40% from the left corner where most players start. The right side likely Moneyball rack, he’s 43%. He has the range to hit from the Dew Zones, and he’s 72% on the second-most hand-off threes this season.
Bane is also ninth in made 3’s, putting him in company with Mills and FVV while shooting the same percentage as Mills (41.9%).
I will note that it’s rare for players in their first or second seasons to win the contest. Kyrie Irving was the most recent player in 2013 to win in his second season.
It’s possible that playing in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night — after media availability and followed by social events — then participating in the 3-point contest the following night creates a drag.
But objectively, Bane has a lot of value here.
Luke Kennard (+500)
My cohorts on the Buckets Podcast talked me into this one after I initially overlooked Kennard because he’s not really a volume shooter. Kennard ranks 22nd in made 3’s this season.
But the efficiency here is downright wild.
Kennard is 43.6% or better from each of the rack zones, including 46.7% from that right corner moneyball zone. The consistency zone-to-zone is outstanding.
Plus, Kennard is an Ohio kid (like CJ McCollum) from Middletown.
Luke Kennard says his "entire family" will be in Cleveland for All-Star Saturday night and his 3-point contest.
— Justin Russo (@FlyByKnite) February 18, 2022
So he’s got a motivational edge here as the home-state kid.
He’s not as good at handoffs — he has the fourth-most hand-off threes this season and is fifth in efficiency on them — but his overall efficiency is just too great to be overlooked.
If I have to pick one, I’ll go with Kennard, but I think the top three of Bane, Kennard, and FVV all have exceptional value based on the number.