NBA all-star three-point contest primer: Can Lowry upset Thompson?

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (centre) hits a three-point shot as Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving (centre left) and Marcus Morris (right) defend. (Chris Young/CP)

The slam dunk contest may get all the hype heading into each NBA all-star weekend, but in a league in which the long bomb is as crucial as ever to a team’s success and a player’s value to his team, the three-point shootout is coming for the dunk contest’s title.

This year’s field is loaded with big-name talent and three-point specialists alike.

Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon is back to defend his 2017 crown, while Golden State Warriors marksman Klay Thompson, who won the shootout in Toronto in 2016, is the betting favourite to win it all. But will an Eastern conference foe like Kyle Lowry or Bradley Beal defy the odds and win it this time?

Here’s a look at the 2018 three-point contest field:

ERIC GORDON, Houston Rockets

Contest history: 2017 champ
2017-18 stats: 154 3PM (7th in NBA), 3.0 3PM per game, 33.4 per cent
Games with 5+ three-pointers this season: 12
Season-high: 7 threes made (twice)
Last 10 games: 32.1 per cent
Hot spot: Left corner (45.2 per cent)

Gordon has reinvented himself as a long-range specialist on the three-point happy Houston Rockets, currently third in the NBA at a whopping nine attempts per game. He’s an incredibly streaky shooter who can shut down the gym when he catches fire, like he did last year when he scored 25 points in the first round — tied for the second-highest total in a single round.

But if his recent sample size is any indication of where his rhythm is at, Gordon could be in tough to repeat as champ. In his last ten games Gordon is shooting just 32.1 per cent, the second-lowest over that span of any competitor in the field.

KYLE LOWRY, Toronto Raptors

Contest history: 2016 (eliminated in Round 1), 2017 (last place)
2017-18 stats: 156 3PM (6th), 2.9 3PM per game, 38.6 per cent
Games with 5+ three-pointers this season: 7
Season-high: 8 threes made (Nov. 29 vs. Charlotte)
Last 10 games: 34.5 per cent
Hot spot: Right corner (52.6 per cent)

Third among point-guards in threes made per game, a big part of Lowry’s breakout over the past few seasons has been based on finding consistency from beyond the arc. A 33 per cent shooter for the first seven seasons of his career, he’s improved that mark by five per cent over his last five seasons, which have now included four straight all-star appearances. He hasn’t had much luck at this event so here’s hoping that the third time’s a charm.

As you can see, Lowry takes the majority of his three-pointers from the top of the arc and on the wings this season:

But his percentages from the wing spots are almost exactly at league-average, whereas his rate from the corners — specifically the right one — is where he hits at a far higher rate than the league average despite that right corner three only making up 2.8 per cent of his total attempts this season:

WAYNE ELLINGTON, Miami Heat

Contest history: First-timer.
2017-18 stats: 167 3PM (5th), 3.0 3PM per game, 39.1 per cent
Games with 5+ three-pointers this season: 14
Season-high: 8 threes made (Dec. 22 vs. Dallas)
Last 10 games: 35 per cent
Hot spot: Right corner (46.5 per cent)

He’s always been a shooter, but Ellington has carved out a nice role for himself as a three-point specialist for Miami this season. In the process he’s become one of the league’s most voluminous and consistent long-range gunners.

Ellington may not carry the name recognition of others in the field, but is a steady shooter from all points on the floor and should be considered one of the players to beat once Saturday night rolls around.

PAUL GEORGE, Oklahoma City Thunder

Contest history: 2013 (last place)
2017-18 stats: 181 3PM (T-2nd), 3.3 3PM per game, 42.7 per cent
Games with 5+ three-pointers this season: 14
Season-high: 7 threes made (twice)
Last 10 games: 44.1 per cent
Hot spot: Left corner (48.6 per cent)

With the exception of his rookie year, George has always been a potent three-point threat, but this season he’s taken things to another level entirely, hitting career-highs across the board from beyond the arc.

He’s obviously benefited from the attention teammate Russell Westbrook commands, particularly when the point guard draws defenders en route to the basket, but if this season is any indication George is as good a bet to win it all as there is — only Thompson comes into the contest on a hotter shooting streak than George.

Speaking of…

KLAY THOMPSON, Golden State Warriors

Contest history: Participant (2014-18), 2016 champ.
2017-18 stats: 181 3PM (T-2nd), 3.2 3PM per game, 45.5 per cent
Games with 5+ three-pointers this season: 11
Season-high: 7 threes made (three times)
Last 10 games: 46 per cent
Hot spot: Left corner (57.1 per cent)

It’s not even fair. Just take a look at Thompson’s shot chart this season and note the amount of red…

Because he’s such a deadly scorer without having to put the ball on the floor and so many of his three-point baskets (and field goals in general) come off of catch-and-shoots, Thompson is tailor-made for an event like this. It’s no wonder he’s the prohibitive favourite.

TOBIAS HARRIS, Los Angeles Clippers

Contest history: First-timer
2017-18 stats: 120 3PM (25th), 2.3 3PM per game, 39.9 per cent
Games with 5+ three-pointers this season: 5
Season-high: 7 threes made (Dec. 26 vs. Indiana)
Last 10 games: 26.7 per cent
Hot spot: Right wing (46.2 per cent)

A bit of a surprise entrant, given he’s never been known as a three-point shooter, Harris is being rewarded for the best shooting season of his career.

Harris was shooting over 40 per cent in Detroit for most of this season, but has been ice cold from deep in five games so far with Los Angeles after being traded to the Clippers as part of the Blake Griffin blockbuster.

DEVIN BOOKER, Phoenix Suns

Contest history: 2016 (third place)
2017-18 stats: 112 3PM (31st), 2.6 3PM per game, 38.1 per cent
Games with 5+ three-pointers this season: 9
Season-high: 6 threes made (Nov. 17 vs. LA Lakers)
Last 10 games: 34.6 per cent
Hot spot: Top of key (45.3 per cent)

At 21, Booker is the youngest competitor in the field and already one of the most potent shooters in the NBA. He’s been battling a nagging hip injury this season and it’s the only reason he ranks so low in total threes made.

Booker has missed his last few games, so we’ll see if he’s at full strength by Saturday night.

BRADLEY BEAL, Washington Wizards

Contest history: 2014 participant
2017-18 stats: 135 3PM (15th), 2.4 3PM per game, 36.6 per cent
Games with 5+ three-pointers this season: 10
Season-high: 7 threes made (Dec. 31 vs. Chicago)
Last 10 games: 37.7 per cent
Hot spot: Left wing (42.8 per cent)

Beal owns one of the NBA’s most picture-perfect jumpers and his fundamentally-sound shooting form has helped him carve a reputation as one of the league’s best shooters. He’s actually in the midst of his worst shooting season to date, but has picked it up as of late.

His shot chart shows that he’s actually a below-average shooter from multiple spots beyond the arc, so keep an eye on whether or not he improves from those spots on Saturday night.

The three-point contest goes down Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. ET.

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