Nick Young and the "hot hand" theory

This is going to be another quick post, but I was thinking about this earlier as I rode into work today.  Even though his game has improved so much from year-to-year, we still think of Nick Young as a Microwave-type player that can get hot and bring you back with torrid shooting.  In other words, we think of Young as the kind of guy who can ride a "hot hand" to a win.  Hell, even his coach said so.

Weirdly enough, though, statistically, the "hot hand" theory actually holds no significance.  A look at play-by-play data shows that players are no more likely to hit a shot after they've made the shot before it than they are when they miss the shot before it.  (Here's one study on the matter).  It's a classic case of numbers vs. conventional wisdom that too often hasn't been resolved.

That is, until Rob Mahoney did just that for the New York Times.  Mahoney wrote about Young's 43-point performance on Tuesday against the Kings and came to the following conclusion:

It's just strange that while rhythm, confidence, and flow are considered essential for shooters, they're disregarded in the black-and-white analysis of hot hand studies. By reducing every shot to a line in play-by-play data, the all-important context is stripped from each attempt. "Heat checks" are evaluated on the same ground as open jumpers, and desperation shots as the shot clock expires are judged equally with those that come naturally through offensive flow. That makes sense for the purposes of statistical analysis, but in determining whether the hot hand is a legitimate factor in basketball, it seems the full story isn't represented.    

This is a drum I've been beating down for a while now, and I'm glad to see someone put it out there.  The problem isn't that the "Hot Hand" theory doesn't exist, it's that players think that gives them liberty to shoot whatever shot they want.  Even when you're in the zone, you probably won't hit a 23-foot fallaway, but players think that and chuck up "heat checks" to try to prove it.  In fact, that's probably what Young has done in the past, but he's hardly alone.  Everyone does that.

But if you can get "in the zone" and then keep shooting the shots you'd normally shoot anyway, you are truly riding the "hot hand."  Here's to Young for doing that on Tuesday.

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