Skip to content

‘Hot Hand’ may exist after all, and data shows players like J.R. Smith believe in it

Mar 1, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

Charlotte Bobcats v New York Knicks Getty Images

BOSTON — It doesn’t take an MIT graduate student to tell you that J.R. Smith is among the many players in the league who believe in the “Hot Hand” theory, which is essentially the notion that if you’ve made a few shots in a row, you’re shooting the next one — regardless of the quality of that shot — because of a belief that you’re now in some kind of zone.

Historical research has shown that this type of streak shooting simply doesn’t exist — think of it like a coin flip or a roulette wheel, where what happened on the previous toss or spin has no bearing on the outcome of the very next turn.

But new research presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference shows that the Hot Hand does indeed exist, and that there is a statistical likelihood of a player hitting his next shot after making a few in a row — once you adjust for things like difficulty, range, and the proximity of the nearest defender that hasn’t been possible to quantify until now.

The SportVU tracking cameras that have been installed in all 29 NBA arenas log all of this data, so when you put this information into a complex mathematical equation, what you get is a small statistical bump (a little more than one percent) in the likelihood of a player making his next shot after he’s hit three or four straight.

The most important factor here seems to be the “heat check,” where a player will launch increasingly difficult shots that have a very small percentage of going in once one of these shooting streaks has started. It could be a pull-up three in transition, or a wild turn-around jumper over a long defender, but these types of shots not only end a player’s current run of hot shooting, they’re also detrimental to his team’s overall success on a given possession.

The conclusion of the study found that players believe in the Hot Hand and act accordingly: When they believe they’re hot, they take shots from further away, defenders cover them more closely, they are more likely to take their team’s next shot, and they take shots that are more difficult than normal. The aforementioned J.R. Smith, for example, was found to take his team’s next shot more than 50 percent of the time when he’s made four of his last five.

Statistically, it was shown that players make a higher percentage of shots after hitting a few consecutively when adjusting for these factors. Teams could theoretically use this data to educate players by informing them that yes, when you feel like you’re hot, there’s something real associated with that — just don’t go forcing a horrendous shot the very next time you touch the ball because of it.

  1. sportsfan18 - Mar 1, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    J.R. sure hasn’t had a hot hand much in his career…

    His career field goal percentage is .423%

    That’s really low for all you who dislike stats!

    I’d like to see a study on the “cold hand” as I’m sure it would show a bump DOWN in shooting percentages when one has missed say 5, 8 or 11 shots in a row and they shoot AGAIN.

    J.R. leads the league in that category I’m sure…

    He thinks, I’ve missed my last 2 shots (er, no J.R. you’ve actually missed your last 11 shots but your not thinking clearly).

    So you think since you’ve missed a few your next shot has got to go in…

    I believe in the J.R. Smith Cold Hand theory for sure!

    • casualcommenter - Mar 1, 2014 at 5:55 PM


      • sportsfan18 - Mar 1, 2014 at 6:41 PM

        Sure it fails…at getting laughs…

        But it’s accurate in that a .423 percent field goal rate is NOT good.

        And he keeps tossing more bricks up at the rim over and over again… that too is a fact.

        So yes, part of what I wrote failed, but not in the other way.

        Just because people don’t like what I say or like me, that, in and of itself does not make what I say wrong.

        How about some REAL, ACTUAL shooting stats from games THIS for J.R.?

        I WON’T skip games in what I list below, simply list some streaks of CONSECUTIVE games and his what he shot from the field…

        1-9, 4-10, 4-16, 3-18 (these were CONSECUTIVE games). That works out to 12-53 or 22.6%

        Uh, that was NOT the hot hand theory at work… A rounded 23% folks. Cold Hand theory for sure.

        Here is another stretch of stink, stank, stunk from J.R.

        2-8, 3-9, 5-13, 4-11, 3-6, 6-11, 1-5, 5-14, 2-8, 0-1, 1-8, Again folks, these were ALL consecutive games from THIS season. That Hot Hand stretch works out to 21.5% over 11 games.

        I just know J.R. was thinking I’ve missed a few shots now so my next one has to go in… gimme, gimme, gimme the ball ya’ll…

        I guess this terribly cold winter has really caused him to go cold… Nah, others weren’t affected…

        J.R. “Cold Hand” Smith folks…

        And hell, if a Hot Hand theory is supposedly real, then why wouldn’t a Cold Hand theory be real too?

    • bjswoosh805 - Mar 2, 2014 at 6:14 PM

      I guess i have to agree w/ your “cold hand thoery” that’s a good point.
      Maybe JR smith wasn’t the best example for this. But then again he’s a streaky shooter and a volume shooter which helps conclude the hot hand thoery.

    • bougin89 - Mar 3, 2014 at 9:05 AM

      “And hell, if a Hot Hand theory is supposedly real, then why wouldn’t a Cold Hand theory be real too?”

      It is. Which is why JR Smith isn’t valued greatly in the NBA. He can be a decent option off the bench for a scoring spark at times.

      For the record I’m not a Smith fan at all and I’m really glad the Bucks didn’t sign him even though they signed Mayo instead who has been absolutely pathetic this year.

  2. ProBasketballPundit - Mar 1, 2014 at 6:05 PM

    This is the only part of LeBron’s game that bothers me. If he makes two shots then he thinks he’s on fire and launches the next one as soon as he dribbles over half court. He’s actually cut way down on this, but he still does it.

    • kinggw - Mar 1, 2014 at 6:24 PM

      What player in the NBA doesnt try a heat check when they feel it?

      • ProBasketballPundit - Mar 2, 2014 at 6:14 PM

        True, but LeBron gets a total green light so he tends to attempt ridiculous heat check shots. I guess I’d prefer he find another shot in the rhythm of the offense or on a drive to the hoop rather than 25-footer. But hey, look at me criticizing the wing player who’s shooting 58% this season.

    • sportsfan18 - Mar 1, 2014 at 7:00 PM


      I don’t like LBJ. I’m a Jordan fan, older. But facts are facts.

      LBJ has INCREASED his FG% for each of the last 6 CONSECUTIVE seasons… This just doesn’t happen often, if at all… MJ, Bird, Kobe never came close to increasing their FG% for that many consecutive seasons.

      And don’t think that 7 seasons ago LBJ’s FG% was so low and that was how he was able to begin this streak.

      7 seasons ago, LBJ’s FG% was .476%. Kobe has NEVER had even ONE season that high. Kobe has never had ONE season with a true 47% FG%. He has had a couple seasons that round to 47% as he shot .465% etc…

      So, something Kobe has never done, shoot .476% from the field, LBJ then goes out and INCREASES that for the next 6 CONSECUTIVE seasons.

      I thought his streak would have to end this season as he shot .565% from the field last year.

      Well, right now LBJ’s FG% so far this season is .579%

      I don’t think his teammates, his coaches or the Heat fan cares if he comes across half court and puts up a shot. This will be the 5th consecutive season he’s shot above 50% and he’s well ABOVE 50% for this 5 yr stretch…

      You just might be the only person that this bothers, him shooting again after he’s made two shots in a row… as you said above in your comment.

      Odds are with LBJ that it’s going in the basket when he shoots it…

    • sportsfan18 - Mar 1, 2014 at 11:11 PM


      What’s the deal? I simply used facts, shooting percentages about LBJ to counter what you said above.

      I even stated that I’m NOT a fan of LBJ as I’m not. I like MJ, am older, was born outside of Chicago and have been a Bulls fan since before Jordan got there…

      You make my comment go away for what? I didn’t call you any names or anything.

      Are we really this thin skinned in this country now?

      What happened to free speech?

      Grow up.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Mar 12, 2014 at 1:02 AM

        I don’t know how to make comments go away. I think it’s just an issue with this site. Sometimes mine don’t show up either. For the record LeBron is my favorite player. But that’s why I criticize him I guess.. I watch him so much that I know his bad tendencies, even if there aren’t any. I think it’s funny that the day after I made that comment he scored 61. Joke’s on me I guess.

  3. oldmanbasketball - Mar 1, 2014 at 6:15 PM

    Anyone who has played the game at any level understands there are times when you just can’t miss, just like there are times you couldn’t toss the ball into the ocean if you tried. If you have a team mate who has the “hot hand”, get ’em the ball. It’s about buckets.

    • sportsfan18 - Mar 1, 2014 at 7:02 PM

      I agree with you oldmanbasketball… you nailed it!

      Sadly for Knicks fans, for every “hot hand” J.R. Smith has, he has about 7 or 8 “cold hand” games…

    • infieldhit - Mar 1, 2014 at 10:21 PM

      And there are lots of times when a guy hits 3 in a row, misses a wide-open shot, hits two, misses two, etc etc. But no one notices or remembers stretches like that.

  4. antistratfordian - Mar 1, 2014 at 6:25 PM

    This has always made me wonder about how poor of a player someone has to be in order to be passionately against the idea (like Henry Abbott, who doesn’t believe in the zone, the hot hand, or a player being clutch). You cannot have several hot hand or in-the-zone episodes and come out the other side thinking it isn’t real. If you’ve ever experienced it, you’ve always known it was real. It’s like The Force in that way.

    “Teams could theoretically use this data to educate players by informing them that yes, when you feel like you’re hot, there’s something real associated with that…”

    The players already know. They’ve experienced it countless times – they are fully aware of the reality of it. Teams could use this data to educate the coaches.

  5. miamatt - Mar 1, 2014 at 7:08 PM

    Makes sense. When one is confident, i.e., “feeling it”, they perform better, whatever the activity is. When that confidence crosses over to gross overconfidence, quality of judgement declines and eventually the person regresses to the mean.

    • infieldhit - Mar 1, 2014 at 10:29 PM

      But doesn’t regression to the mean happen regardless? A career 50% FT shooter might start a game 6 for 6, but he probably won’t keep it up, and it’s not because he gets overconfident and takes more difficult FTs.

  6. dinofrank60 - Mar 1, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    Never been in a game where you were making a lot of shots and felt you couldn’t miss?
    Never been in a game where you were guarding a man and no matter what you did, he lit you up?

    I see…

  7. metalhead65 - Mar 1, 2014 at 9:15 PM

    nonensense like this is why I hate metrics, analytics or whatevever you want to call them. it is sucking thefun out of baseball and now the rest of the sports. did we really need astudy to prove this? if aguy is hitting every shot he makes it is a hot streak and it would be dumb for him to stop shooting untill he starts missig.

  8. yousuxxors - Mar 2, 2014 at 1:09 AM

    education and Jr smith should never be used in the same sentence

  9. ranfan12 - Mar 2, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    Lol nothing about Farmar’s Career High night. Looked like he had the Hot Hand himself.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Rose (2076)
  2. L. James (1837)
  3. K. Irving (1656)
  4. K. Bryant (1653)
  5. J. Smith (1427)