Category: basketball

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He’s On Fire! How The Hot Hand Helped Golden State Become NBA Champions

“When you do your statistics (and your averaging) correctly, you find that many NBA players really are streakier shooters than others. Klay Thompson may be the streakiest shooter of all, but Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving all “get hot” in a streaky way that goes beyond what their normal shooting percentages would indicate. A player getting hot at the right time can help their team tremendously, and now that we’re finally doing our statistics right, we’re finding something surprising but robust: for at least some NBA players, the effect of the hot hand is real.”

When someone makes a shot, it’s a little instinctive to want to give them the ball again to see if they’ll make another. If they make three or four in a row, you’ll really want to ride that ‘hot hand’ as far as it will go. And if your teammate has made six, seven, or eight shots in a row, you know you’re beginning to witness something very special. There’s nothing like getting hot in quite that way. Except, for decades, statisticians have been telling us that the hot hand is nothing more than a fallacy, the way we convince ourselves that you can better predict the results of a coin flip or a roulette wheel based on prior results. This was based in solid enough numbers, but there was a flaw: by selecting for streaks in the first place, the scientists doing the analysis had restricted their choices! When you account for that restriction, it turns out that the “hot hand” is very real.

NBA Jam had it right all those years ago. For some players, they really do go into an “on fire” mode that makes them streakier – for better and for worse – than others.