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How Much Better Do You Shoot In the 3-Point Contest?

Posted by Neil Paine on February 11, 2010

The All-Star Game is coming up this weekend in Dallas, which means the usual Saturday night festivities that I often enjoy more than the actual game itself. The headline event is obviously the Slam Dunk Contest, where Nate Robinson will defend his title against Gerald Wallace, Shannon Brown, and either DeMar DeRozan or Eric Gordon, but I'm also a big fan of the 3-Point Shootout, a contest that we can all relate to a little bit more than the one where guys pull off 360° windmills.

Not that you or I could realistically compete in the Shootout, either, of course. I mean, the sharpshooters are the cream of the NBA's crop when it comes to knocking down treys; in game action this season, they've hit a combined 41.9% of their 3-point attempts (550-for-1313), led by Paul Pierce's rate of nearly 45% from downtown. Since many of these attempts came under pressure with a hand in the face, imagine what they'll shoot when wide open?

Well, actually, you don't have to imagine -- we have almost 25 years' worth of results for the 3-point shootout, to which we can compare to the contestants' in-season percentages and see exactly how much easier it is to drain a three in the contest than it is in everyday game conditions. Now, the results only list the # of points each player scored per round, but we can estimate their shooting percentage if we divide that number by 30. The assumptions that make this an estimate are: A) We have to assume the player made moneyballs at the same rate he made all other shots. But moneyballs are worth 2 points, twice as much as normal ball, so a player could conceivably hit all 5 moneyballs and it would look like he had 5 more makes than he actually did. B) We assume every player got 25 shots off in 60 seconds, which is not always the case.

If you can look past these bugs in the estimation process, you'll find that contest participants since 1986 have made 3,669 of 7,173 shots in the contest, good for a rate of 51.2%. Since the NBA's average in-game 3-point% over the same span was 35%, that's some highly impressive shooting. However, the guys doing the hoisting weren't mere average shooters, they were the cream of the crop, the best in the league. So if we weight their normal, in-season 3-point percentages by the number of shots they attempted in the contest, we come out with a baseline figure of 40.5% for the all-time participants. In other words, a group of shooters that were 16% better than the typical NBA player found their own already-high 3-point percentages boosted by more than 26%, or 10.6 percentage points, when taking wide-open looks against only the clock. If we apply that standard to this year's crop of shooters, you get:

Player Predicted3P%
Chauncey Billups 0.541
Daequan Cook 0.423
Stephen Curry 0.540
Channing Frye 0.539
Danilo Gallinari 0.508
Paul Pierce 0.554

Of course, some players exceed their regular-season shooting stats more than others in the 3-point contest. Here are the the biggest overachievers:

Contest Season
Player Year 3fg 3fga 3fg% 3fg 3fga 3fg% Diff
Damon Jones 2007 39 50 0.783 89 231 0.385 0.398
Mike Miller 2007 39 50 0.783 202 498 0.406 0.378
Jason Terry 2007 77 100 0.767 162 370 0.438 0.329
Tim Legler 1997 45 75 0.600 8 29 0.276 0.324
Jason Kapono 2007 62 75 0.822 108 210 0.514 0.308
Peja Stojakovic 2003 51 75 0.678 155 406 0.382 0.296
Craig Hodges 1991 51 75 0.678 44 115 0.383 0.295
Mark Price 1994 50 75 0.667 118 297 0.397 0.269
Jason Kapono 2008 38 50 0.750 57 118 0.483 0.267
Voshon Lenard 2005 28 50 0.567 4 12 0.333 0.233
Voshon Lenard 2004 30 50 0.600 106 289 0.367 0.233
Peja Stojakovic 2002 40 62 0.645 129 310 0.416 0.229
Mark Price 1993 48 75 0.644 122 293 0.416 0.228
Larry Bird 1988 48 75 0.633 98 237 0.414 0.220
Ray Allen 2001 33 50 0.650 202 467 0.433 0.217
Gilbert Arenas 2007 14 25 0.567 205 584 0.351 0.216
Jim Les 1992 42 75 0.556 45 131 0.344 0.212
George McCloud 1996 29 50 0.583 257 678 0.379 0.204
Peja Stojakovic 2001 30 50 0.600 144 360 0.400 0.200
Tim Legler 1996 54 75 0.722 128 245 0.522 0.200
Larry Bird 1986 47 75 0.622 82 194 0.423 0.200
Brent Barry 2003 30 50 0.600 118 293 0.403 0.197
Dennis Scott 1996 47 75 0.622 267 628 0.425 0.197
Dana Barros 1996 15 25 0.600 150 368 0.408 0.192
Quentin Richardson 2005 28 50 0.550 226 631 0.358 0.192
Gerald Henderson 1989 25 50 0.500 33 107 0.308 0.192
Scott Burrell 1995 30 50 0.600 96 235 0.409 0.191
Daequan Cook 2009 43 75 0.578 153 395 0.387 0.190
Peja Stojakovic 2004 31 50 0.617 240 554 0.433 0.183

And the players who seemed like they'd actually rather have a hand in their face than be wide open:

Contest Season
Player Year 3fg 3fga 3fg% 3fg 3fga 3fg% Diff
Joe Johnson 2005 7 25 0.267 177 370 0.478 -0.212
Michael Jordan 1990 4 25 0.167 92 245 0.376 -0.209
Jeff Hornacek 1992 6 25 0.233 83 189 0.439 -0.206
Steve Smith 2002 7 25 0.267 116 246 0.472 -0.205
Vladimir Radmanovic 2005 5 25 0.200 128 329 0.389 -0.189
B.J. Armstrong 1994 7 25 0.267 60 135 0.444 -0.178
Steve Nash 2008 8 25 0.300 179 381 0.470 -0.170
Dana Barros 1995 8 25 0.300 197 425 0.464 -0.164
Craig Hodges 1988 8 25 0.333 86 175 0.491 -0.158
Paul Pierce 2002 7 25 0.267 210 520 0.404 -0.137
Byron Scott 1987 8 25 0.300 65 149 0.436 -0.136
Sam Perkins 1997 7 25 0.267 122 309 0.395 -0.128
Jon Sundvold 1989 10 25 0.400 48 92 0.522 -0.122
Drazen Petrovic 1992 18 50 0.350 123 277 0.444 -0.094
Steve Kerr 1995 11 25 0.433 89 170 0.524 -0.090
Antoine Walker 2003 6 25 0.233 188 582 0.323 -0.090
Glen Rice 1991 8 25 0.300 71 184 0.386 -0.086
Kiki Vandeweghe 1987 10 25 0.400 39 81 0.481 -0.081
Craig Ehlo 1992 8 25 0.333 69 167 0.413 -0.080
Bryon Russell 2001 8 25 0.333 95 230 0.413 -0.080
B.J. Armstrong 1993 9 25 0.367 62 139 0.446 -0.079
Danny Ainge 1987 18 50 0.367 85 192 0.443 -0.076
Bob Sura 2000 8 25 0.300 122 332 0.367 -0.067
Dan Majerle 1995 8 25 0.300 199 548 0.363 -0.063
Terry Mills 1997 9 25 0.367 175 415 0.422 -0.055
Clyde Drexler 1991 7 25 0.267 61 191 0.319 -0.053
Mike Miller 2002 8 25 0.333 116 303 0.383 -0.050
Dan Majerle 1993 8 25 0.333 167 438 0.381 -0.048
Norm Nixon 1986 8 25 0.300 42 121 0.347 -0.047

So, to whichever player embarrasses himself shooting the rock on Saturday, take solace: even the GOAT struggled during the 1990 Shootout. And if that player happens to be Paul Pierce again, he'll join Thunder Dan Majerle and B.J. Armstrong as the only players to make the 30-biggest-disappointments list twice. I guess he could look on the bright side: as a shooter, you could definitely have worse company.

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6 Responses to “How Much Better Do You Shoot In the 3-Point Contest?”

  1. P Middy Says:

    Cool stuff, Neil! Do you enjoy the PG skills challenge? It's not as exciting as the shootout or the dunk contest, but I like it a lot.

    DVR really makes All Star weekend even better. Skipping adds over 4 hours of whatever it is a blessing.

  2. Jason J Says:

    I wonder if the 3pt shootout's 51% make rate isn't a little unbalanced when you consider that the best shooters (generally) shoot a lot more than the others. If the best shooters are the ones who make it to multiple rounds, then they have a much bigger impact on the overall percentage.

    For instance if Hodges led the league in 3pt%, then having him shoot for 3 rounds is going to make the overall average look a lot better than if Jordan had done the same. Hodges shooting 40 of 75 over 3 rounds raises everyone's %ages more than Jordan shooting 4 of 25 over 1 round lowers them.

    You don't necessarily get those same discrepancies in total 3s attempted in live action.

  3. Scrappy Doo Says:

    Any explanation about the 2007 contest? Seems a bit over the top.

  4. P Middy Says:

    Sounds like J is angling for the median percentage . . .

  5. Neil Paine Says:

    I love the skills challenge. I wish it included more participants.

    As far as the median % goes, I'll have to run that when I get some time later. I agree that the average is thrown off by selective sampling, because the best performers get to stay around the longest.

  6. Brandon Says:

    Well, Pierce won, so he made up for his first performance