Analyzing Plus/Minus

As we continue to breakdown the pros and cons of metrics in basketball, one number that I always gave a ton of respect to Is plus minus. When a player is on the floor is his team allowing more points than they score and vice versa. It allows for coaches to understand combinations and also allows even more for great websites to figure them for you. Keep in mind that when analyzing the analyzing, those teams who do vs. those who don’t have been better on the floor.

For those who don’t know, I’m an eye test guy combined with supporting numbers. I’ve helped division 1 programs and spend a ton of time evaluating talent. It’s a passion. I understand the need for metrics, but I believe they can be very misleading.

Plus/minus also made so much sense that most all NBA box scores online feature it today. Think about that. An addition to a tradition. Old school ewspaper people must have been forced to the emergency room due to hypertension.

But, like any metric, there can be flaws. For example, the Knicks made basically every single shot last night. That happens in the NBA. One night a team goes nuts and another team can’t hang. Al Jefferson killed the Knicks for 36 points inside and snagged 12 boards.

He was -33 for the game.

In 30 minutes, the metrically flawed Carmelo Anthony was +30.

Before the trade, the weak rebounding (in fan’s minds) combination of Felton, Fields, Gallo, Chandler and Stoudemire (at the FIVE!!) led the Knicks in +/- at a +59 for over 500 combined minutes together. Yet they clearly couldn’t compete with Miami or Orlando when both teams were completely healthy.

In an amazingly descriptive post, Dave Johns goes further: (finger point to Mike Pina at the awesome Buckets over Broadway)

The Dallas Mavericks—with their science-loving owner, Mark Cuban—were early adopters of adjusted plus-minus. But they made some crucial player personnel errors, especially in devising playoff lineups, because they didn’t fully appreciate the noisiness of the data, according to one NBA stats analyst who requested anonymity so that he could speak candidly about another team. Still, many NBA stats experts do use versions of adjusted plus-minus as part of their player evaluation system. Some front offices also look at Player Efficiency Rating to get a basic sense of offensive talent. Several NBA statisticians told me that they did not know of any franchise that relies on Wins Produced.

Johns ‘piece is far more about the Carmelo (aka star) effect in defense of efficiency pointing out that at last week’s Calculator Conference revealed that players don’t really overshoot and, like I’ve been saying, you’d rather a star take a bad shot than give up the ball and result in a lower percentage shot or turnover. Melo shooting can result in a Jared Jeffries (or STAT, or Turiaf, or Fields) tip back and thus another possession. If a team shoots near 50% then that would statistically result in a make.

If anyone questionably overshoots with low percentage shots it’s Amar’e who is trying to extend his game and range. If he can consistently bang down mid range shots, which we noticed all season before the trade, whether he is making more now with Melo or not, then the Knicks become that much more dangerous in the half court game and Amar’e becomes that much more likely, over time, to have his knees hold up. The eye test will tell you that Karl Malone turned into soley a pick and pop player after the age of 30 with SOME explosion,but was not the dunking machine he was in his 20s.

All in all, plus minus is a key stat and, to me, one that helps coaches shuffle and get set on a rotation. In defense (sorry) of Mike D’Antoni, he hasn’t really had the time to judge a rotation because of all the roster moves. When the Knicks settle in, they will be a handful come playoff time if the combinations and matchups set up for them.

That takes time.