Israeli research solves the mystery of NBA 3-pointers

December 11, 2011 - 8:39 AM by

The Boston Celtics' Ray Allen is the king of 3-point shots.

With the players’ strike over in the NBA, fans are looking forward to the belated opening of the shortened season later this month. But players better take heed to some new Israeli research as they warm up for their opening games. There may be no such thing as a ‘hot hand.’

According to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem study, players who try to repeat a successful three-pointer are more likely to be a missed shot. On the other hand, trying again after missing is more likely to end with a score. The findings were published in the latest journal Nature Communications.

Professor Yonatan Loewenstein and graduate student Tal Neiman examined more than 200,000 attempted shots from nearly 300 leading players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 2007-8 and 2008-9 regular seasons. They also examined more than 15,000 attempted shots by 41 leader players in the Women’s National Basketball Association from the same seasons.

They wanted to test the conventional wisdom that a player who scores one or more three-pointers is more likely to make the next shot from beyond the arc and enjoy a scoring streak. “There was an idea that if you make three shots then you’re sure to make a fourth,” said Loewenstein, from the university’s department of neurobiology. .

“What we learned is that it is not always a good idea to follow your intuition,” Loewenstein told The Media Line. “We typically infer our future from our very recent experience and this is true sometimes, but not always.”

In other words, if a player makes a three-pointer, which is statistically about 30% of the time, then they are prone to try it again shortly afterwards. On the other hand, if they missed it, they are more cautious about giving it another shot, thus missing opportunities.

“What we concluded is that these players chase random fluctuations in outcome of the action. And as a result they sometimes taking risks they wouldn’t if it wasn’t for their recent history,” said Loewenstein.

According to the researcher, the implications of the study are not only for basketball players, but for any risk-taking profession.

“Stock brokers make investments according to past market performance, and commanders make military moves based on the results of past battles. Awareness of the limitations of this kind of learning can improve [people's] decision-making processes – as well as those of basketball players.”

So, if you see the percentage of three-point plays rising this year in the NBA, you’ll know that the players have been taking Israeli advice to heart.


2 Comments on Israeli research solves the mystery of NBA 3-pointers

  1. Sarti on Sun, Dec 11th 2011 3:28 PM
  2. I am glad there were and still are stars like Jordan, Miller, Nash, Stojakovic, Allen… who can bring down this research anytime the want with couple of three points shots in a row :)

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