Tuesday, January 26, 2010

+/- in the NBA

Over the past few years the NBA has been going through a bit of a statistical revolution. Owners and GMs have been looking for better ways of evaluating talent and have turned to nerds with computers to try and help them determine who has value and who doesn’t. As a direct result of this developing trend a bunch of new stats have been created for the sole purpose of player evaluation. One of those stats is plus/minus.

It works just like in hockey. If a player is on the floor when his team scores a basket then he receives a +2. If he is on the floor when the opponents score a basket then he goes -2.

The +/- is a telling stat for a number of reasons as it exposes guys for being awful defenders and can also help coaches figure out which combinations of players work. Basically you should be able to see who is helping you win games and who is hurting you. The key thing to remember however is that good players on bad teams may still have a low +/- as they are only 1 player on a team of 5. Still having looked at the league leaders the system seems to work pretty well.

I just spent the last few hours on NBA.com looking at the +/- of a bunch of guys and here are some comments and insights I feel are worth sharing:

1) 1) The #1 and #2 leaders of +/- are Kobe and LeBron, which makes a tonne of sense, but #3 is a real surprise. It is none other than Anderson Varejao. What is even crazier is that he is only 14 points below LeBron for second place. To me this proves either 1 of 2 things. 1) Varejao is a solid 2 way player that can score and also defend or 2) he plays with LeBron more than anyone else and is benefitting from the injuries to Mo Williams and Delonte West. Either way it’s crazy he is so high ranked.

2) 2) The Top 50 leaders in +/- play for 13 teams: Lakers, Celtics, Magic, Heat, Thunder, Suns, Mavericks, Cavs, Hawks, Nuggets, Blazers, Jazz and Spurs. Only 1 of those 13 teams isn’t a playoff spot right now and that’s the Thunder who are represented by Kevin Durant. This seems obvious because obviously if you have a high +/- it means you are winning games but the fact that there isn’t one aberration other than Durant is surprising.

3) 3) Who owns the worse +/- in the NBA? None other than Brook Lopez of the New Jersey Nets who is a whopping -420 on the year. That is a crazy number if you think about it. Other notable players who have a staggering awful +/- are Monta Ellis -182, Johnny Flynn -328, Tyreke Evans -175, Troy Murphy -235 and Charlie Villanueva -125.

4) 4) Only 1 player on the Utah Jazz is a minus. That man would be Kosta Koufas who is a -22 on the season. Everyone else on the team is a plus. Clearly we found the weak link on that team.

5) 5) The best 5 player combination +/- wise in the NBA is: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, and Rajon Rondo. Combined they are a +166 which is only 29 points higher than Mike Biddy, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin Williams who are a combined +137. In 3rd place is the surprise combo of OJ Mayo, Mike Conley Jr, Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies.

6) 6) Of the starting 5 for the Western Conference All-Stars Amare Stoudamire has the worst +/- with a +87. While the Eastern Conferences worst +/- is Allen Iverson who is +21. Other than those 2 no starter is lower than +144.

7) 7) Was not surprised to see that a number of rookies were the worst players on their teams in terms of +/-. I already mentioned Evans and Flynn but there are others like DeMar DeRozan -82 and Jonas Jerebko -138.

You could literally mess around on NBA.com for hours looking at different player’s +/- and trying to ascertain information about them based on that number alone. Clearly the NBA is trying to become a bit more like baseball with the influx of stats and the dependence on them and really all it does is help the fans, GMs, owners and coaches to understand the game better.

If a player is -420 then that is a warning sign. If a certain bench player is leading his team in +/- with a +31, like Marco Belinelli for the Raptors, then maybe he needs more playing time.

+/- is one of the best stats out there because all it does is show how a player impacted a specific game. Was he a help or a hindrance? Is a guy going through a streak where he is consistently finishing as the worst +/-? Did a guy finish with a minus even though his team won huge? These are all things fans should pay attention to and coaches as well.

More stats never hurt.

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