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How Important is the Plus/Minus Statistic?

The plus/minus statistic

The Los Angeles Lakers just made a historic playoff run and won the 2020 NBA Championship. The Lakers won the championship less than two weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean the excitement has stopped. When reviewing the box scores for each game of the series, there are a few things to notice. One category to notice is the plus/minus statistic which is really unpredictable no matter the player.

How is it calculated?

The plus/minus is calculated based on different categories in the box score. This statistic does not factor in playing time but looks at how many points each player contributes to their team. For example, if a player has a +3 that means that the team is three points better every 100 possessions when that player is on the court. This may seem confusing but all the numbers are taken from the box score.

This statistic also takes into account the position of the player. For example, a block for a guard gives them a bigger impact than a block from a center. The statistics are all measured against the other players so that each player is rewarded for what they contribute to their team. The plus/minus is a stat where +10 is considered a James or Kobe Bryant-level player.

The plus/minus stat in the NBA Championship

The NBA uses this stat to measure a player’s efficiency. The question is: Does this stat actually give an accurate description of a player’s game. When looking at the box scores from the 2020 NBA Championship, it seems as though the plus/minus is all over the place for all players.

the plus/minus statistic


Courtesy of Jamie Valdez

In Game 6, LeBron had a rating of +18 with 28 points, 14 rebounds and one turnover. Then in Game 4, LeBron was rated -2 with 28 points, 6 turnovers and 12 rebounds. Obviously LeBron makes so much more of an impact when he is on the floor compared to on the bench. What the plus/minus stat does not take into account is LeBron’s presence on the floor. While LeBron may not score on every play, he may be pulling the defense away from the lane to create opportunities for his teammates. Just because LeBron had a -2 rating, does not mean that his impact was lacking during the game. 

Does it actually matter?

This is the main issue with this statistic. Even though LeBron is constantly making his team better while on the floor, it does not show up in the stat sheets or box score. This means that every once in a while, LeBron will get a minus rating for a game. Does this mean that the statistic is not a valid representation of the player’s efficiency?

The Lakers won an entire championship with players in the minus and players in the positive. Not every player will stuff the stat sheets every game but that doesn’t mean that they are not helping the team. I think that the plus/minus may be a stat that is not as effective for judging a player’s performance. The impact that a player has on the court goes way beyond the number of points, rebounds and turnovers.

All information gathered from basketballreference.com

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