Heads up Kobe Bryant! Research shows that trying for another 3-pointer is a mistake

December 7, 2011
Image: Wikipedia.

Basketball fans everywhere recognize the following scenario: Their favorite player scores a three-point shot. A short time later he regains control of the ball. But does the fact that he scored the last time make him more likely to try another three-pointer? Does it change the probability that he will score again?

New research by Dr. Yonatan Loewenstein and graduate student Tal Neiman at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem shatters the myth that a player who scores one or more three-pointers improves his odds of scoring another. Dr. Loewenstein is at the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for and the Department of Neurobiology at the Hebrew University.

Appearing in the latest issue of the journal , the report raises doubts about the ability of athletes in particular, and people in general, to predict future success based on past performance.

Loewenstein and Neiman examined more than 200,000 attempted shots from 291 leading players in the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 regular seasons, and more than 15,000 attempted shots by 41 leading players in the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) during the 2008 and 2009 regular seasons.

The researchers studied how scores or misses affected a player's behavior later in the game, and found that after a successful three-pointer, players were significantly more likely to attempt another three-pointer. In other words, a successful three point shot provided players with to attempt additional three point shots later in the game.

Surprisingly, the researchers discovered the exact opposite of what players and fans tend to believe: players who scored a three-pointer and then attempted another three-pointer were more likely to miss the follow-up shot. On the other hand, players who missed a previous three-pointer were more likely to score with their next attempt.

According to Dr. Loewenstein, "The study shows that despite many years of intense training, even the best over-generalize from their most recent actions and their outcomes. They assume that even one shot is indicative of future performance, while not taking into account that the situation in which they previously scored is likely to be different than the current one." The behavior of basketball players shows the limitations of learning from reinforcement, especially in a complex environment such as a basketball game.

"Learning from reinforcement may not improve performance, and may even damage it, if it is not based on an accurate model of the world," explains Dr. Loewenstein. "This affects everyone's behavior: 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 help them improve their decision-making processes — as well as those of basketball ."

Explore further: Athletes' winning streaks may not be all in our -- or their -- heads

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2 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2011
Shooting just because you made your last one is called "forcing it" for a reason. The defense is more likely to focus on you. Also, your mind is less clear, thus conscious thoughts are more likely to overwhelm trained muscle memory and affect mechanics. If you are an experienced athlete with sufficient introspective abilities, you know exactly what I mean.
4.7 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2011
This really IS the problem with using statistical data to justify a point of view or action in a world/real life event or effort. CONTEXT is lost. Key variables that are not quantifiable by any normal measuring device. Judging by mere outcome in the macroscopic world is very much like the double slit experiment on the quantum level, Something escapes measurement. The three point shot is problematic, a difficult shot for the best of athletes. If Kobe makes 3/5 or higher, it is then mandatory that he keep shooting them especially(context) if his team is controlling the boards! This is especially true late in the game when superior conditioning takes charge. If he is strong enough to remain effective at 3-pont range, the defense may not be able to guard him as tightly any longer. Now his percentages go up disproportionately. No, no, stats are good, stats are science, but humanity has drive and intuitive insight as well as extreme adaptive powers & this is where we beat Cmdr. Data!
2.5 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2011
Good points, 210. Still, if teams can use these stats to lower the incidence of "heat check" shots, it has significant value, mostly to teams with a superstar(s). However, the entertainment side of these pro sports also has an impact on player behavior. Even if they knew they only had a 10 percent chance on a specific heat check shot, they still do it because getting on SportCenter's top-10 plays puts butts in seats. $$$$ > wins for most teams.
1 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2011
there is a reason they are worth 3 points, DUH!
5 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2011
there is a reason they are worth 3 points, DUH!

and if you shoot under 33% then you were better off taking a 2pt shot assuming an average of 50% on those. Duh. Think more, post less.
0.7 / 5 (49) Dec 08, 2011
210 if only you could be as serious about other things as you are about basketball.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2011
210 if only you could be as serious about other things as you are about basketball.

Heyyy! Be nice...! I AM serious man! You just misinterpret my intent! Here: I hacked your account and sent you a nice package...at the 'shelter.' It contains a nuclear hand grenade, please gargle with it after pulling the pin. (And don't forget to floss!)
See? I can be kinda serious...!

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