Does the ‘Hot Hand’ Exist in Basketball?

The Wall Street Journal:

It was a shooting performance so incredible, even veteran basketball experts had never seen anything like it.

In a game last month at then-No. 4-ranked Villanova, Creighton senior Ethan Wragge swished a three-pointer on his team’s opening possession. The next time down the court, he hit a deeper shot. At that point, Wragge wanted a third “because I feel like it’s going in no matter what.” He was right. Wragge’s next four shots didn’t miss, either. He scored 21 of his team’s first 27 points in the Bluejays’ 96-68 rout.

He also became the latest example of a phenomenon that many people say doesn’t exist: the hot hand.

This sensation is familiar to anyone who has ever played or watched basketball. A player with the hot shooting hand seems to enter an ethereal zone, an inexplicably heightened state of ability in which he is unstoppable.

The findings may have persuaded skeptics to reconsider their position. Cornell psychology professor Thomas Gilovich, the lead author on a 1985 paper that found no evidence of streak shooting, said this paper has intrigued him in a way that similar efforts haven’t.

“It’s opening up a new chapter in this 30-year-long tale,” he said, “and it may be the most interesting chapter.”

The twist in this long-running saga is the result of the complex data flooding sports these days. Gilovich’s study with Robert Vallone and Amos Tversky was based on one season of shooting numbers provided by the Philadelphia 76ers, an examination of three years of Boston Celtics free throws and a controlled experiment with Cornell players. The reason the authors chose the 76ers as their guinea pigs was far from scientific. NBA statistics were so primitive at the time, Gilovich said, that the 76ers were the test subjects by default: They were the only team that kept useful records of their jump shots.

Read the whole story: The Wall Street Journal

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