Hot or Not?

Does the hot hand exist? And if it does, how should coaches and players think about it? A debate with Henry Abbott of TrueHoop.

This post, appearing simultaneously on both Cleaning the Glass and TrueHoop, features a conversation between Ben Falk and Henry Abbott. Before founding Cleaning the Glass, Ben was VP of Basketball Strategy with the Sixers and the Blazers’ Basketball Analytics Manager. Henry is the founder of TrueHoop.

BEN:The hot hand is among the most studied things of all time, with many a study from Amos Tversky himself, the godfather of bias research. The BIG takeaway from all those studies is: People love to impose narratives. Show people results of a random coin and many will guess it was a loaded coin, because it will have streaks. But it’s just random. This thing, this hot hand, either does not exist, or is just incredibly rare. But we conjure the emotion of it in our heads every time someone hits a shot or two. There are all these instances of people remembering “that guy hit 10 shots in a row!” But if you go back and look, he made five of eight and the rest was fishing-story magic that happens in our heads.

What Henry wrote has been the prevailing wisdom within the basketball analytics community for some time. I was, however, aware of recent research that casts some doubt on how airtight the anti-hot hand case is, and I thought I’d shoot Henry an email and share it with him.

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