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Ben Gordon and the ‘hot hand’

Whether or not statistical data supports the ‘hot hand’ mythology has been an interesting and hotly debated topic this season. Steve McPherson of Hardwood Paroxysm looks at the ‘hot hand’ in the context of Ben Gordon‘s performance last night:

But wouldn’t the Pistons maybe have been better off if Gordon had revised some of those jumpers—even the successful ones—into assists? This is where he would really be murdering his darlings because it might be the case that sometimes he shouldn’t have even been taking the good shots in favor of promulgating a more balanced offense. Not that the Pistons are overflowing with offensive options, but maybe if the love is spread around a bit more, Gordon doesn’t force up that final jumper and miss the game-winning shot.

Interesting read, interesting topic.


  • Mar 22, 20124:02 pm
    by Tiko


    Stuckey should be shut down the rest of the season to give Gordon minutes to boost his trade value for the summer.  that way we lose a few extra games in the process as well..

  • Mar 22, 20124:31 pm
    by Max


    In spite of getting some assists, BG turns the ball over too much when he does anything with the ball but shoot.

  • Mar 22, 20125:09 pm
    by Mark


    BG had 8 asts, he was on fire, and no one else was could seem to put the ball in the basket. Whoever wrote this likely didnt even watch the game.

    • Mar 22, 20126:15 pm
      by Max


      I’m not sure if you addressing me or Patrick but if you are talking to me, I watch all of the games.  That’s why I’m not going to change my opinion about him overnight.  I’m not saying he shouldn’t get minutes or take a lot of shots but that while he can create offense for others, he turns the ball over too much.  And he has not often been on fire as a Piston so pardon me if he I don’t think they should orchestrate their offense with the assumption that he will continue to be.  If you weren’t addressing me…..oops.
      @Patrick.  I’m in total agreement about the iso jumper at the end.  The should have created some movement and at least attempted to get a high percentage shot and especially because Gordon was guaranteed to get attention.  Doc Rivers would probably have gotten Knight, Monroe or Prince a layup but I think going to Gordon in that situation was at least conventional wisdom.
      BTW: That last thought makes me think the Pistons should work on a variation of that pick and screen play where Monroe sets a pick/screen that frees Knight and Prince throws an lob to Knight for end of the game situations like the Celtics do with Rondo.  Which also makes me want to bring up that Prince is a great inbounder and they have not been utilizing him in that role nearly as often as past years and it’s puzzling.

    • Mar 22, 20126:22 pm
      by Max


      @Patrick…..oops to you too.  It’s McPherson’s opinion.

  • Mar 22, 20125:50 pm
    by tarsier


    There is no statistical evidence that a “hot hand” exists. It is bullshit. Making your previous ten shots makes you no more likely to hit your next one than missing your previous ten. Personally, I expected a “hot hand” to be a real thing purely as a psychological issue. In most activities, confidence increases performance. However, statistical studies have been done on players’ shooting. And it turns out that, lo and behold, even the confidence gained from being “on fire” on any given night appears to have no impact.

    • Mar 23, 20122:36 pm
      by Max


      That’s why stats lie.

      • Mar 23, 20125:15 pm
        by tarsier


        Stats never lie, unless they are just erroneously recorded or whatever. Sometimes their interpretations lie. But in many cases like this, your eyes and brain lie to you. Because it is more evolutionarily useful to attribute a cause to an occurrence than to attribute it to randomness/statistical noise.

        • Mar 23, 201210:45 pm
          by Max


          No one who has ever been been on fire would agree with the notion that they weren’t experiencing having a hot hand.  I’ve mostly played on the streets but I know there were times when I was flowing and I felt like I couldn’t miss.  I was also a competitive tennis player and have had peak days and weeks even where I was much better than I was in general.  I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced these things.   Either way, if there is anything you are really good at, you’ve probably had times when you were flowing and you were just much better for a while.
          There is no statistical way of gauging a player’s confidence and focus.  The reasoning that a player is no more likely to hit his tenth shot after making nine out of nine ignores so many contextual factors that it is a point of near irrelevance.  Did the defense double team the tenth shot or actually block it?  Was the shot taken from 12 or 27 feet away from the basket?  Did the player get the ball in rhythm or was he forced to throw it up at the end of the shot clock?  Was he a lot more tired by the time he took his tenth shot?   Did he turn his ankle in between?   Had the game disintegrated into a disinterested blowout?  There are endless questions to be asked about that tenth shot when trying to use that nine for nine as a predictor of whether the tenth shot will go in and yet the stats ignore all of these questions.  The only common sense absolute though is that the player will eventually miss if he keeps shooting.  This is no cause for saying the hot hand doesn’t exist and neither would be the eventual cold spell.

          • Mar 23, 201211:07 pm
            by Max

            I left out my most important point.   There is no statistical way of defining if a player is on fire.  I have seen Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman have 9-9 kind of games where circumstances produced open layups and easy put backs that they got through their normal hustle.  They probably didn’t feel like they were on fire as scorers.   Stats don’t even allow for the differences between players.  Let’s say you say being on fire is every time a player goes 4-4 since 9-9 is unreasonable and reduce the time frame to a quarter.   The trouble is that a four for four can include Michael Jordan taking over the last three minutes of the game or Bill Cartwright getting four easy setups in a quarter due to others being double teamed.  Here comes the last shot.  If I’m watching Jordan that game and he gets a good look, I’m pretty sure that fifth shot is going in.  If  I’m watching Cartwright and he has to take an open 15 footer, I have no idea if it’s going in.

          • Mar 24, 20129:51 am
            by tarsier

            Obviously, all your points are true. But that doesn’t change the heart and soul of statistical analysis which is that all those other factors are what make noise. But if someone has hit their last 4 shots, they are more likely to be “on fire” than if they didn’t, right? And, yeah, they might be doubled or whatever else on their next shot, but they may also be if they’re not “on fire.” So they should be more likely to hit the next shot if they qualify as being “on fire,” right? I’m certainly not expecting that it be guaranteed that they hit it. So if the definition picks up guys who are “on fire” 20% of the time (that doesn’t sound like very much so there is a good chance it would). And someone who is “on fire” has a 5% higher chance of hitting a shot (again, not unreasonably high expectations), those shots should have a 1% better chance of going in (since all the other shots are just random examples that got pulled in by the sub-optimal definition, they are equally likely to be made, on average, as random other shots). And since the people who do these analyses have decades of games to work with, and over a dozen players per game, they have big enough samples that they could catch an increase in shooting percentage considerably smaller even than that.

            Obviously, most shots could be argued on extenuating circumstances, but what argument do you have as to why there is no difference at all.

          • Mar 24, 20129:53 am
            by tarsier

            And I’m sorry but “I can feel it” is a terrible argument. It’s the sort of nonsense people throw out when they argue for or against the existence of a god.

          • Mar 25, 201212:12 am
            by Max

            Do you seriously believe that an increase in adrenalin does not enhance performance?

          • Mar 25, 201212:16 am
            by Max

            @Tarsier….I don’t understand the question you are asking me about establishing a difference….

          • Mar 25, 201212:21 am
            by Max

            I do think what you wrote “if the definition picks up on guys who are on fire 20 percent of the time” helps make my point.  It would create a situation where the stats were incorrectly labeling a guy as on fire 80 percent of the time and thus invalidate their findings.

          • Mar 25, 20129:16 am
            by tarsier

            No, because the entire point was that even if it mislabeled them 80% of the time (the very most I could see it doing), it would still pick up a difference if there was one. How did you not pick up that that was what I was saying. The point was that unless the definition does not at all or very barely correlates with being “on fire”, it doesn’t matter that there is a ton of error because the sample size is large. In other words, incorrectly labeling a guy 80 percent of the time would not invalidate it. That was the entire point of the comment.

            And yet what you took out of it was “perhaps 80% of the time it mislabels so it is completely untrustworthy.” It would be like if I said even though Lou Williams scores the most, Iguodala is the 76ers most valuable player and you took it to mean because Lou Williams scores the most, he is the 76ers most valuable player.

            And no, I don’t doubt in the slightest that adrenaline increases performance. But I bet every player on the floor has a good bit of it coursing through their veins, And probably no more in those “on fire” than those not.

            As for my question about establishing a difference, my point was that studies have shown no difference in shooting percentage after hitting the last several shots. You are saying many of those could be explained away by the dude isn’t actually feeling it or faced a double team or something. But those extenuating circumstances also exist for the people not labeled as “on fire.” So as long as the labeled group is a somewhat higher percentage of guys legitimately “on fire” as you call it (I still maintain the term is a nonentity), then that group should be hitting a higher percentage. All these other factors will only reduce how much higher that percentage is.

          • Mar 25, 20123:31 pm
            by Max

            You don’t think Isiah was on fire when he scored 25 in the third quarter of a finals game while limping and hopping on one leg?   You don’t think he had more adrenalin than was usual for him?  You don’t think he turned his pain into focus and energy?
            Anyway, another fault of the data is that it does not allow for the idea that when a player hits a shot and then hits another shot and so on, the collective defense will pay increasing attention to him and his individual defender will try harder.
            As for the establishment of difference; I thought I addressed that when I said that the only absolute was that a any player will eventually miss if he keeps shooting and I would add that every period of being on fire comes to an end.  As raw data on field goal pct fails to provide context, it ignores everything that happens between shots as in trips to the bench and 2-40 minute stretches between shots.
            My overriding point is that most of the time when a player goes 4-4 it is circumstantial and not due to their being on fire.   Being on fire should apply to games like Kobe putting up 82 or LBJ scoring 25 straight points in the 4th quarter and overtime and not 4 times a hustling player got a layup due to other players receiving attention and even not when they just go 4-4 without forcing a shot in the normal flow whether the shots are 3 pointers or a layup.
            BTW: @Tarsier….no offense, but haven’t you ever done a much better job for the girl in bed than usual?  Weren’t you going through a peak experience where you were “on fire”?   The trouble with pure stats is that it doesn’t account for conscientiousness and mood which do influence how well one performs.

          • Mar 25, 20123:50 pm
            by Max

            Also, I think all of your arguments would apply equally to the idea that players don’t ever have “cold hands” when it is clear to me that players go through slumps.   The same logic you use would apply though since the stats assume the resumption of a player’s normal shooting pct.  This is why I repeatedly cite how stats fail to account for context.  The stats are blind to when the hot hand or cold hand will go in the other direction but because the data is created by humans performing tasks for which true consistency is impossible, the base line average pct always resumes unless the player is truly getting much better or worse in the moment.   My interpretation of the data saying the hot hand doesn’t exist being wrong comes down to thinking “on fire” is very poorly defined and that stats ignore context while assuming a resumption or normality whenever there are temporary outliers.  The trouble is that the data doesn’t say anything meaningful about the periods between a player playing as he usually does other than that he is most likely to resume playing as he normal does during the next sample size.  It may be true, but it is not revealing and it does not disprove the “hot hand”.

          • Mar 25, 20125:37 pm
            by Max

            BTW: The article link in this thread’s post regarding the the study on hot hands seems to be defining it in an incredibly stupid way and is asking questions about what happens after 1-1s instead of the 4-4s we’ve been using to hypothesize.

          • Mar 25, 20126:34 pm
            by tarsier

            Yeah, studies vary. And I do hate the definition this one uses. I don’t remember where I have before read one, but it basically compared how well a guy shot after hitting his last shot, his last two, his last three, etc. And the point was that it wasn’t rising at all. Now all the things you say are true. And when I watch a game, I definitely sometimes get suckered into the notion that someone is really “feeling it.” But I guarantee you, you would feel the same way if you were playing poker and won a couple hands in a row. Hence why it is called gambler’s fallacy.

            The point is that feeling like you are hot doesn’t make it so. Given things like increased confidence and whatnot, I would totally believe that people did get “hot hands” if a study showed it reasonably well. And it is totally possible that one will at some point. Honestly, I think this issued has not been analyzed nearly enough by people who are paid to be stats junkies.

            But by and large, I do not trust humans’ feelings or perceptions when it comes to matters of probability. Any anthropologist, mathematician, or logician will tell you that is one of our weakest areas. People instinctively think pretty much only categorically in impossible, possible but unlikely, 50/50ish, likely, or definite. That’s why people do things like buying lottery tickets and are more afraid of planes than cars or lightning than fast food. We aren’t good at dealing with odds.

            So why would I expect us to be good at perceiving the likelihood of hitting a basketball shot? No, I’ll concede that these studies tend to be weak and could therefore easily be wrong. But I still think that the best way to get an answer then is a better statistical study. It still won’t be perfect, but at least it has limited bias and relies on a dearth of facts rather than a handful of anecdotal instances.

          • Mar 25, 20126:40 pm
            by tarsier

            But I have enjoyed this back and forth with you. Particularly because of your limited use of anecdotal evidence. You continually make good points. But it is just very difficult to convince me stats are not the answer unless there is either a limited sample size or extenuating factors that could actually compromise the results instead of merely toning them down.

            I guess the defender trying harder could fit that description. But if being on fire can be entirely counter-acted by the additional effort it inspires in an opponent, it may be a real thing, but it’s not a very useful thing.

          • Mar 26, 20121:57 pm
            by Max

            I’ve enjoyed this debate as well.  One thing about players “deciding” to shoot again after they hit a shot because as Abbot says they are over confident—he is totally ignoring the idea that the coach became over confident and called for the player to shoot the ball.   He is also totally ignoring the notion that a player’s teammates can think a player is hot and start deferring to him.  Either case can lead to teammates forcing the ball to a player in a bad position from which he has to force up a shot.

  • Mar 22, 20125:53 pm
    by Jens


    BG deserves some more love! BK deserves a little less! That´s pretty much about it. All the talk about BG being able to play well off the bench is wrong imo. As a starter he is almost averaging 17 ppg in 33 mpg. As a reserve he has 9 ppg in 23 mpg. He just needs more minutes.

    • Mar 22, 20127:06 pm
      by tarsier


      Gordon’s value is entirely about efficiency. If he needs a ton of shot to put points up, he has no value.

      • Mar 22, 20127:35 pm
        by Chris H


        Correct me I am wrong, but wasn’t that what Dumars was touting when they signed Gordan?  That he didn’t need a lot of shots to put points up?

        • Mar 22, 20127:59 pm
          by tarsier


          Probably. But I was responding to Jens. I don’t know all the numbers, but my point was that how much Gordon scores (17ppg or 9ppg) is not the point.

  • Mar 22, 20129:17 pm
    by DontDoCurses


    to understand what Dumars sees in BG think back to vinnie johnson, the microwave… i believe this is what he ultimately wants from BG…. that type of corliss williamson instant O, just add water type thing… with the #2s its fine he’s a ballhog.

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