2015 NBA Playoffs Picks: A Totals Prediction Using Three-Point Shooting Percentages

Jay Pryce

Tuesday, May 5, 2015 7:48 PM UTC

Tuesday, May. 5, 2015 7:48 PM UTC

When handicapping the NBA playoffs, how can sports bettors take advantage of three-point shooting percentages? We walk you through an NBA playoff angle factoring in three-point shots and game totals to help you when making your next NBA picks.

It's no secret that the NBA is increasingly becoming a three-point shooting league. The value of the once novelty shot is unparalleled in the modern game, as it is now essential to league offenses. How can we take advantage of this variation as a sports bettor? I've uncovered an NBA playoff angle factoring in three-point shots and game totals I want to share with you.

Why is the three-point shot en vogue? For one, superior rim-protecting defenses, like the Bulls or Pacers of recent seasons who stack the paint and force teams to beat them from the outside, and the rarity of  dominant offensive big men of prior decades, like David Robinson, Karl Malone, or Shaq, have helped make shooters like Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and others the keystones to NBA offenses. Secondly, without venturing too deep into the conversation, NBA analysts have proven that with the rise of shooters in the current era, it's more valuable for teams to fire away three-pointers to boost offensive efficiency. On average, teams shoot 35% or so from behind the arc, and with the extra point gained it is more lucrative than most traditional two-point jump shots when considering field goal percentages and points-per-shot. Bleacher Report's, Adam Fromal, provided this shot percentage breakdown of the 2013-2014 NBA regular season showing effective field goal percentage from distance, and its three-point percentage equivalency:



So, essentially, the more three's a team launches, the more efficient they are on offense, and the more points they score. As a result, the NBA has seen a huge increase in three-pointers attempted over the last several years. NBA odds makers know that in 2014, for example, they accounted for 27% of all shots league-wide, compiling 105.8 points per 100 possessions in the process. Below you can see the dramatic increase in three-point shots attempted by team (3PA) since 2000, and its correlation to average points-per-game (PTS/G) and average totals at close:



How important are three-pointers and today's NBA Playoffs? Glancing at the 2014-2015 regular season, one will find eight of the top ten teams in three-point shots attempted earned playoff spots, and the entire top ten in three-point field goal percentage did too, including the Golden State Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks. Oh, and chew on this: seven of the last eight Finals winners have led all playoff teams in three pointers attempted and made. Obviously the shot's value cannot be underestimated in terms of a team's success, and most certainly can provide an edge to the astute sports bettor looking to explore its potential value.

In theory, our angle looks to jump on high-scoring affairs in a playoff series before defenses can potentially adjust to better stop the three point shot. The situation is as follows: back the over when a road dog allowed more than the average 25 points in at least one of their previous two fourth quarters, and their current opponent had a better three-point percentage in their last two games combined than the away team's previous opponent's success rate from behind the arc during this time. Since 2002, the over in this situation is 78-38, or 67%. In layman's terms, we are backing a defense who we suspect are recently poor at not only defending the three, but also leaky when the game counts, facing a home favorite who is shooting three-pointers lights out, and often. The kicker here is that three-point shots are high-variance, and predicting percentages are extremely difficult—hence the popular phrase “live by the three, die by the three.”

Given our angle, two circumstances may help us forecast when the three-pointer will act as a difference maker and improve our return of investment. First off, we want to see the home favorite taking advantage of their superior three-point success rate to date. In our original 116 game sample, only nine teams, for a total of ten games, shot below the league average 35% in their previous two contests. Looking to continue their hot shooting, if the favorite has more three-point attempts than the road dog in their last two games, than the over is hitting at 76% with a 48-15 record.

Likewise, as with many overs in the NBA, bettors need to look for dogs who will score above their projected team total, and potentially challenge the favorite for the win. Three-pointers provide an edge in this situation. When the dog shoots average (35%) or better at three-pointers in our wagered contest, than the over strikes at an 83%  rate (50-10) versus less than average where in 56 games the over/under is split evenly at 50% (28-28). How can we predict this success before placing NBA picks? Similar to our first conditions, we want to sniff out an away dog who is averaging more three-point attempts than the home team throughout the playoffs (not just the last two games!). This situation yields a record of 39-10, or a 80% success rate in our original angle. The idea here is that in addition to possibly defending the three poorly, as suspected in our baseline situation, our dog is shooting them badly as well, and we expect some progression toward normalcy. If entering the game shooting below the 35% league average in their last two games, for example, the over is 21-2 (93%). When either of these two conditions emerge within our original angle the over is 72-25 (74%) to date.

As always, use this information to support your leans, and best of luck!

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