Should a team ride a 'hot hand'?

Answers to this and other key hoops questions from the Sloan Conference

Updated: March 3, 2014, 1:25 PM ET
By Kevin Pelton | ESPN Insider

Players don't get any hotter than Kevin Durant was when his Oklahoma City Thunder hosted the Golden State Warriors on Jan. 17.

After missing on his third shot attempt of the game, Durant made his next eight in a row. He scored 15 points in the first quarter and had 29 by halftime en route to a career-high 54. Durant saved his greatest heroics for the final period, when he stymied a Warriors comeback attempt by making three triples in a little more than a minute, following it up with a shorter jumper on the Thunder's next possession.

By that point, Durant looked like he couldn't miss. But he did. In fact, Durant didn't score from the field again, misfiring on his last three shot attempts and scoring his lone two points of the final four and a half minutes at the free throw line.

I couldn't help but think about Durant's performance against Golden State on Friday at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, when John Ezekowitz and Carolyn Stein were presenting their paper (co-authored with Andrew Bocskocsky) on revisiting the so-called "hot hand" in basketball.

The hot hand has been a hot topic among academics since Thomas Gilovich, Robert Vallone and Amos Tversky authored a paper disputing its existence in 1985 by showing that players on the Philadelphia 76ers were no more likely to make their next shot after a make than a miss. With additional support from studying streaks at the free throw line and in practice situations, they concluded that past shooting success did not predict more in the future.