MIAMI — Wayne Ellington will enter Saturday’s 3-point contest as an underdog.
There are bigger names in the competition like Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Oklahoma City’s Paul George and Washington’s Bradley Beal. And Ellington is one of just two players, along with Clippers forward Tobias Harris, in the eight-man field who has yet to participate in the contest at the NBA level.
But the Heat’s sharpshooter is still confident.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Ellington said. “I want to have fun with it, most importantly, and I feel like I’m a good enough shooter that I’m confident enough to go in there and feel like I’m going to win it.”
Ellington will go up against Thompson, George, Beal, Harris, Houston’s Eric Gordon, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and Phoenix’s Devin Booker in the 3-point contest at Staples Center. The competition will be the second event of All-Star Saturday Night, which begins at 8 p.m.
Gordon won the shooting contest last year and Thompson claimed the trophy in 2016. The experience and fame that many of the players in the field bring to the event leaves Ellington under the radar.
Ellington has the seventh-best odds to win the 3-point contest at 15-to-1, according to Sports Betting Dime, only ahead of Harris (50-to-1). Thompson is the favorite at 7-to-3, with Gordon (4-to-1), Booker (6-to-1), Beal (7-to-1), George (10-to-1) and Lowry (14-to-1) also in front of Ellington.
“Wayne’s got to go in there, looking at it like, ‘You know what, there’s not a lot of pressure on me,'” said former Heat star Glen Rice, who participated in the 3-point contest five times and won it in 1995. “Because people probably aren’t expecting him to win because of some of the other players in there. So don’t put that added undue pressure on yourself. The pressure is on the other guys that they are picking to win like Klay Thompson. The pressure is on them.”
But the statistics offer a different perspective, one that indicates Ellington should be one of the favorites.
Ellington ranks fifth in the NBA in 3-pointers made this season with 168, and George and Thompson are the only two players in the contest ahead of him on this list. But per 36 minutes, Ellington ranks first among the eight contest participants with 4.0 3-pointers made per game.
“I love it. It’s poetry in motion,” Rice said of watching Ellington shoot. “He’s got that quick release and it doesn’t take much for him to get going. That’s how you know when a guy is a shooter, and he can shoot it from anywhere. He’s not a spot shooter.”
While most of the pressure might be on the bigger names, Ellington knows he has a reputation to protect Saturday night. The Heat have a history of success in the 3-point contest.
Six different Heat players — Jon Sundvold, Rice, Jason Kapono, Daequan Cook, James Jones and Mario Chalmers — have combined to make 10 appearances in the competition. Four of those 10 appearances ended with trophies, as Rice in 1995, Kapono in 2007, Cook in 2009 and Jones in 2011 won the event while with the Heat.
“He understands. He’s a very smart guy,” Rice said when asked if Ellington knows he has a reputation to uphold. “He knows the history and he’s aware of it. But that’s OK, though, because that’s good pressure. Think about it. When he comes in off the bench and we need buckets, that’s pressure. He’s used to it.”
This will be a little different, though.
Ellington will stand alone on the court with a full Staples Center and the basketball world focused on his 3-point stroke. Heat teammates Udonis Haslem, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic, and team executive Alonzo Mourning are expected be in attendance to support him.
“It’s going to feel amazing. It’s going to feel good,” Ellington said. “I was just talking to some of the guys and we’re going to have a large group out there. It feels good to have some of the guys that are supporting me. It’s going to be fun, though, most importantly. I’m excited about it and I’m serious about it.”
But don’t expect Rice to bother Ellington over the next few days.
“My approach is to just leave him alone,” Rice said. “He understands what he’s got to do. He knows the names that have won. So hearing from us, I think is going to put more pressure on him. Whether he wins or loses, he’s still going to be my man and he’s still going to be one of the great shooters.”