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The Hot Hand

the Mystery and Science of Streaks
Jul 15, 2021PimaLib_NormS rated this title 3.5 out of 5 stars
Okay, let’s try solving an interesting basketball conundrum, shall we? (For those of you not into sports, I’ll make you a deal. I promise to keep the jock jargon to a minimum, and you keep reading. This stuff is good. You won’t be sorry.) You are the point guard for a basketball team and you are bringing the ball up the court. Scanning the scene ahead, you see that due to a mix-up by the defense, two of your teammates are wide open. To your left is the team’s best shooter. But, she is having an off night. She has missed 4 in a row and her body language is terrible. It is obvious that her confidence level is low. She’ll come out of her shooting slump eventually, but when? The team needs a basket on this possession to stay in the game. To your right is the team’s worst shooter. But on this night, she is “en fuego”, as a hip ESPN anchor would have said in the 90s. She’s made 4 in a row, and she is engaged and enthusiastic and she’s ready to win this game right now! Given the low percentage of made baskets in her career, statistically she will regress to the mean at some point. At this moment, though, she has the hot hand. So, to whom will you pass the ball? Well, Point Guard, if you had read Ben Cohen’s new book “The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks”, you would know what the correct play is. Some pretty impressive academic genius types have studied the concept of “the hot hand”, in an effort to learn if a streak of successful outcomes in a given endeavor could reliably predict the outcome of the next opportunity. In other words, is “the hot hand” a real thing? Or is it simply one of those things that people say that has no basis in fact? Interestingly, the hot hand phenomenon is not exclusive to sports. How do I know this? Ben Cohen told me in his book, that’s how. He told me lots of other cool stuff, too. Sometimes I thought he was going off on kind of a tangent, but he was always able to bring everything back around to “The Hot Hand”. So, in our little basketball scenario, what is the point guard’s best play? Pass it to the best shooter, who is in a slump, or pass it to the worst shooter, who has the hot hand? C’mon. You really didn’t think I would answer that, did you? Read the book and figure it out.