Is The Hot Streak Real?

A huge new study – consisting of an entire NBA season of free throws and 50,000 professional bowling games – sought to prove the existence of hot hands. Gretchen Reynolds summarizes the findings:

Basketball players experienced statistically significant and recognizable hot periods over an entire game or two, during which they would hit more free throws than random chance would suggest. But they would not necessarily hit one free throw immediately after the last. Similarly, bowlers who completed a high-scoring game were more likely to roll strikes in the next game. But a strike in one frame of each game was not statistically likely to lead to a strike in the next frame.

And the streak raises expectations:

[Yigal Attali, who analyzed all available shooting statistics from the 2010-11 NBA season,] found that a player who drained one shot was more likely than chance would suggest to take the team’s next shot — and also more likely than chance would suggest to miss it. Essentially, he found that in real games, players developed anti-hot hands. A momentary success bred immediate subsequent failure.