Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hot Hand, Or Hot Hand Fallacy?

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.
For years, though, academics have dismissed the hot-hand theory as basketball's version of Bigfoot. Almost everyone in the last three decades who had hunted for hard evidence of streakiness had come up empty. Instead, they say, belief in the hot hand is a case of people mistakenly seeing patterns in randomness.
But new research using previously unavailable data is heating up the debate. It turns out that popular intuition about the hot hand may have been right all along.
Count me as a believer in the hot hand.  It is probably just statistical anomaly, but as a very unathletic individual, I always seemed to be very streaky.  Whether it is baseball or bowling or darts or cornhole, I can be very consistently terrible, but then I'll get in a run where I'm dead-on.  It may last for a game, or a series, but then it is gone just as quickly as it had come.  This works to my advantage when playing folks who have seen me suck every time I've played them, and suddenly I'm kicking their ass. 

Another area where I've noticed it is playing cards.  That obviously is randomness, but I still pay attention to it.  I've just adapted by quitting to minimize my losses when things aren't going my way (I know, if I kept playing, it is likely I would even out).  Considering that sports typically involve repetitive motion, I can see how somebody might get into a groove for a little while where everything is going right.  I think that since I generally lacked the ability to consistently succeed in sports, the few times when I started doing things right stood out to me. 

For better athletes, the hot hand might not be as significant statistically because they generally succeed.  That's why I'd think it might be more noticeable in baseball, where hitters go on tremendous hitting streaks followed by epic slumps.  I'm looking at Paul O'Neill in his days with the Reds.  It was nothing for him to go 2 for 50.  Then, after he was traded to the Yankees, he started out the season hitting like .438. 

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