Zach Lowe: The Hot Hand might actually exist, after all

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

One of the great things about getting new data is it allows you to explore old questions. We thought this one was settled ... but maybe it isn't.

Zach Lowe has a very interesting, deep article about the concept of the hot hand: that notion, that almost all players and a huge number of fans believe in, that making a few shots makes you more likely to make the next one.

The raw statistics have generally shown the opposite to be the case. The more shots a player makes in a row, the less likely they are to make their next one. However, new data, including those fancy player-tracking cameras, have yielded a key extra bit of data - allowing statisticians to control for the difficulty of the shot in terms of location, proximity of the defender, and so on. As Lowe explains:

Take a string of five given shots, and control for the difficulty of each shot. If the player in question has hit even just one more of those five shots than we’d expect, his shooting percentage on shot no. 6 in the string goes up by something between 1 and 3 percent, the study found. In other words: If shot no. 6 is on average, given its difficulty level, a 40 percent proposition, having even a single extra make in the recent rearview appears to nudge that shooting percentage up to 42 or 43 percent.

However, the studies Lowe reports on have found that this effect tends to be swamped by the tendency of players to take more difficult shots:

They found that “hot” players are indeed more likely to make the shots they take, but that those shots are very, very tough — low-percentage looks under any condition. Heat checks, perhaps. Their raw field-goal percentage declines slightly in the “hot” state, a finding that jibes with Weil’s work and other prior studies.

The entire article shows the thorough analysis that makes Lowe the best writer on the NBA working today. What's most fascinating to me is that it that this data suggests that BOTH the eye-test analysts and the stat-heads are right: players do get hot, but they over-rate the effect of that heat so severely as to make them actually shoot worse.

And since I've felt the hot hand myself a few times while playing, it's nice to see that I'm not entirely delusional.

Read the whole article here.

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