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:
Of course, some players exceed their regular-season shooting stats more than others in the 3-point contest. Here are the the biggest overachievers:
And the players who seemed like they'd actually rather have a hand in their face than be wide open:
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.