Debating the Hot Shooter

Watch this video. Is Mike hot?

Brad and I have discussed clutchiness, hot streaks and the hot shooter to some degree. It's a strange feeling - when the game slows down and you can make every shot, catch every ball, or hit any pitch. We've all been there. During these rare instances, we feel -- superhuman. Recently, I had some friends over discussing the "hot hand" and I was trying to explain (though unconvincingly) that the hot hand doesn't exist and could hurt you/the team statistically.

The naysayers disagreed; pointing to the fact opinion that they "feel like they can make every shot". They argued that as each shot goes in their confidence level rises and the odds of making their next shot increases. To their defense came the point of muscle memory. But I have a problem with this because no two shots are alike (I do not shoot a 3-pointer the same way I shoot a free throw). For the muscle memory argument to have more "weight", in my opinion, every variable (elevation, release point, trajectory, hand/eye coordination, exertion, force of the shot, etc) would have to be the same and it just isn't the case. To my defense came random events. But randomness usually occurs when models fail (basically, when we can't prove something).

Peruzing the interwebs I found this article about the hot hand in the context of basketball. This study found strong evidence of players taking worse shots when a shooter thinks he's hot...

  • Players take about 77% jumpers after a missed shot but they take about 85% jumpers after a made jump shot.
  • Contrary to the existence of the hot hand, the 49 prolific shooters in our sample are less likely to make a shot after a made basket than after a miss
  • The average of the players in our study shoots about 46.7% on a shot after missing his previous shot. But if he made a non-jumper, he'll shoot around 45%. And after a made jump shot, he'll shoot around 43.3%
  • Players who have just hit a shot tend to have shot selection issues on their next shot: "The player shoots, on average, 56 seconds later after a missed jump shot but shoots 47 seconds later after a made jump shot. They shoot the next shot about 26% of the time after a missed jump shot but they shoot 34% of the time after a made jump shot."
The website 82games supports this finding with a study they conducted during the 2005-06 season. The data says a hot shooter is likely to miss his next shot than make it...

I believe that hotness/streakiness is an outlier. If that game against the Trailblazers was another hour long, would Jordan regress back to his normal distribution? I would like to think he would have. MJ knew what he was doing was unexplainable - he's not that good of a three point shooter (hence the shrugging of his shoulders). He was a 27% 3-point shooter that season (and in the '91-'92 playoffs he was shooting 38%, his career average - at that point - was 24.5%).

The "hot hand" is a strange phenomena. It gives us a false sense of security that we can make any shot (even the more difficult ones). It would be wise of us to stick to an effective strategy that increases our odds of winning a game instead of giving the ball to the hot shooter. If we combine strategy with statistics instead of blindly following the "hot hand", the outcome may be more favorable.

Who am I kidding? Pass me the rock, I'm hot tonight...and I can't miss.

Additional Links:
Streak Shooting | 82games
The 'hot hand' in basketball: Does it exist? | News Observer
Finding the hot (and cold) hand at a local gym | Gravity and Levity
The Science Of Streaky Shooting | Inside Science

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  1. Unless I'm missing something, I do not see how the studies apply. They do provide a baseline. Now what are the stats after a player makes two shots in a row? What are the stats after a player makes three in a row? What are the stats after...well, you get the idea.

    I would think the expectation is that the next shot percentage would go down with each addition to the streak.

    And the question is, are there any players where the next shot % goes UP after so long a streak?

  2. Hi Rich.

    Thanks for the comment.

    The 82games study does talk about the shooting percentage of a player making AND missing two/three shots in a row.(

    I would also think that the FG% would go down as the streak continued.

    82games also looked at streakiness after two shots (at the bottom of their study) and found a lot of "bigs" FG% increases - but I think big men already have a higher FG% and shouldn't be considered for streaky shooting but this is a debate for another time.

  3. Good post, Will. Thought you might enjoy this-,19769/

  4. Thanks, Matt! Excellent link! I recently went to a party where I was debating the hot shooter, tempers were heated and it almost went to fisticuffs.