Thursday, May 03, 2007

Aided by Michael Finley's 8-of-9 performance on three-point shots, the San Antonio Spurs defeated Denver last night to close out the teams' NBA first-round play-off series in five games.

Upon closer examination of Finley's overall statistics (box score) and the game's play-by-play sheet, his shooting seemed to be anything but the prototypical "hot hand." If the latter phrase makes you think of a hoopster knocking down a barrage of shots in rapid succession, boom-boom-boom-boom-boom (just like Golden State's Stephen Jackson is doing right now against Dallas, as I write!), then Finley's sequence doesn't qualify.

First of all, Finley's overall shooting from the field was 9-of-14, meaning that he made only 1-of-5 on two-point attempts. On these two-point attempts (ignoring his launches from behind the arc), Finley (in sequence) missed from 18, 16, 16, and 9 feet, and then made a lay-up.

If you look below at the chart I made, Finley's first quarter consisted to a large degree of alternating three-point makes and mid-range two-point misses. The oft-cited phrase about the rim looking the size of a hula-hoop to a hot shooter thus probably didn't apply.

In the second half, Finley missed only one shot. However, his last four made treys were each separated by roughly three minutes. As I reflected back in January, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of this website, the optimal conditions for streaky performance would be:

...when players could execute a short, simple motion (e.g., swing or stroke) in relation to the ball, which could be repeated often and in short succession. That way, a player could rehearse and remember how he or she executed a successful motion and apply it repeatedly.

I noted, further, that consistent with the above reasoning, evidence for hot hands had been found in such athletic endeavors as bowling, tennis, and golf-putting.

In conclusion, I guess, seeing the variety of ways in which an athlete can accomplish a substantial stretch of success (as Finley did on threes) or failure is what makes being a fan and statistician of sports so interesting!

No comments: