Professional athletes have skills that go far beyond what us normal folk could ever dream of doing. But sometimes even pros seem to perform above what they should be capable of – they hit every pitch, catch every pass or sink putt after putt after putt. In other words, they get “hot.”

In basketball, the idea that making a number of shots in a row increases the chances of hitting the next attempt is called getting the “hot hand” – and wisdom states that you should always pass the ball to the hot player.

But is this just luck? Or is their success somehow propelling them on to even greater glory? To answer this, University of Pittsburgh’s Konstantinos Pelechrinis and Wayne Winston of Indiana University used a complex statistical model to evaluate the real-game experience of 153 players in the NBA. They found that the hot hand is very real – but only some players can turn the momentum of made shots into superhuman performances.

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Daniel Merino

Assistant Science Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast

Kevin Durant is one of the NBA players who shows the ability to go on hot streaks. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The ‘hot hand’ is a real basketball phenomenon – but only some players have the ability to go on these basket-making streaks

Konstantinos Pelechrinis, University of Pittsburgh; Wayne Winston, Indiana University

A study shows that a select group of NBA players really do go on hot streaks by making more shots in a row than statistics suggest they should.

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