What Is A Heat Check In Basketball?

By Max Kesler


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nba heat check

The unapologetic heat check — basketball’s greatest feeling

There’s nothing better than feeling like every shot you throw up will go in. The rim feels like it’s the size of the ocean, you can’t miss, and there’s nothing your defender can do to stop you from scoring. 

You’re heating up and shot after shot falls. As your confidence grows with each made bucket, your range increases as well. Mid-range shots, three-pointers, even shots from the logo feel like they will go in. Everybody on the courts knows that you’re feeling ‘on’, and the ultimate heat check could be a three, 5 feet behind the three-point line.

But what exactly is a heat-check?

When playing basketball, you might hear someone say that a player is ‘feeling hot’ or ‘heating up’ – this is because they’re hitting everything and ‘getting hot’. In the NBA, you’ll hear this a lot about Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, or the Brooklyn Net’s Kevin Durant (while this is mainly reserved for shooters, big guys can get hot too!).

A ‘heat-check’ refers to a shot that a player would not normally take if they weren’t feeling confident. This could be a shot from a greater distance than the player is comfortable with, or could be a high difficulty shot (e.g. a spinning fadeaway over 2 defenders). Basically, a player on a hot streak is ‘checking’ how figuratively hot they really are.

The things that qualify a heat check are:

a) The player is on fire, successfully hitting multiple shots in a row
b) Said player attempts a tough shot (e.g. half-court shot, highly contested shot)

Under these circumstances, you can say the player did a heat check. Whether or not the hard shot they took made the net, or missed it completely, doesn’t matter.

Why would a player choose to take a heat-check?

Why would a player choose to take a difficult shot that’s outside of their typical repertoire? As players get hot, they might get cheered on to take more and more difficult shots. Their teammates, or even the crowd could spur the player on to go crazy.

Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, is one of the ultimate heat-check players. He’s known for pushing the boundaries and jacking up difficult threes based on how loud the audience is cheering. 

The more a heat-check shot goes in, the more confident players feel. They feel like they’re on cloud nine when a crazy shot goes in. The feeling is second-to-none.

But is feeling hot real?

The interesting thing is that many statisticians don’t believe in ‘feeling hot’ or having a ‘hot hand’. Scientifically, there have been a number of studies to evaluate and test whether this phenomenon is even real, or if it’s all mental.

A lot of research went into the whole ‘hot hand phenomenon in the ’80s and ’90s. Basically, they were looking to see if a player made x shots in a row, then the percentage of making the (x+1)th shot would be more likely to go in. Most studies concluded that there was no such evidence that a shooter is probabilistically more likely to score if their previous shot attempts were successful.

However, a more recent study evaluated a whopping 83,000 shots taken in the 2012-13 NBA season and discovered something interesting. Players with ‘hot hands’ were indeed choosing to take more difficult shots and were facing tighter defense from the opposite team.

This study goes on to argue that previous literature on the “hot hand fallacy” isn’t perfect because they don’t account for the fact that players are attempting harder shots and being defended harder.

So basically, the whole question of whether a player improves as they hit a streak is still up in the air.

So…is feeling hot real?

Yes and no.

Scientifically speaking, there’s no concrete evidence that shows feeling hot improves the efficiency and accuracy of a basketball player. 

BUT, ask any basketball player and they will swear that it’s a real phenomenon. In practice, in 21 streetball, in competition, or even professionally, you can ‘see’ someone getting hot. You can see the confidence in the player – the way the player stands or even the why the player acts. It’s a noticeable difference and can greatly affect the player or team’s behavior.

In some cases, teams will even dare players to shoot and give them false confidence in feeling hot. They will push players to take difficult shots, knowing that the chances of them making it is much smaller. This wouldn’t happen if people didn’t believe that the concept of feeling hot or heat-checks existed!

Final Thoughts

So even though there isn’t scientific proof that heat-checks or feeling hot exists, anecdotally it’s definitely real. You just need to ask any basketball player. Or even find out for yourself! 

author avatar hoopsbeast
Written by Max Kesler

Max Kesler, a Philly native, is the chief editor at HoopsBeast. He has covered the game at NBA and NCAA levels. He hopes to see his beloved 76ers win a championship soon.

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