Hot Shots: An Analysis of the 'Hot Hand' in NBA Field Goal and Free Throw Shooting

Robert M. Lantis, Erik T. Nesson

NBER Working Paper No. 26510
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies Program

We investigate the hot hand hypothesis using detailed data on free throws and field goal attempts for the entire 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 NBA regular seasons. Free throws represent a more controlled setting, allowing a closer examination of the potential physiological mechanisms behind success in repeated motions, while field goal attempts represent the setting most observers have in mind when commenting on a player's repeated shooting success. We examine these two settings together, within the same players in the same games, permitting a more comprehensive analysis of the hot hand. We find a small hot hand effect for free throws, concentrated in second and third shots in a free throw sequence, in players shooting at least 100 free throws in a season, and in games where players shoot four to five free throws. We find the opposite results for field goal attempts. If a player makes a field goal, he is less likely to make his next field goal attempt. These results are robust to controlling for the characteristics of the previous shot. Interestingly, both offenses and defenses respond to made field goals as if the hot hand effect exists.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26510

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