What Is Plus Minus in NBA [Quick Answer]

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In the NBA, the Plus Minus statistic is a measure of a player’s impact on the game, represented by the difference in the points scored by their team while they are on the court, versus the points scored by their opponents. The higher the plus-minus, the better the player’s impact on the game.

If you are a basketball fan, you might have scoured a box score, came across something that shows Plus/Minus in the extreme right column and thought about what it meant? Well, many of us have a similar experience. So, what is plus-minus NBA?

Basketball is actually a game that is measured by multiple types of stats, such as traditional stats, advanced stats, and tracking stays. It is possible to break each of these stats into offensive or defensive statistics. So, we can say that the NBA is a league of stats. 

If you are a casual fan, you might be well aware of the traditional stats that include points, assists, blocks, rebounds, etc. However, stats like Plus/Minus can be quite nebulous, and although it is a vital category, you may not understand it very well.

In the following sections, we will be outlining and explaining what is plus-minus NBA, how it is measured, and how important it is to the NBA – that will be helpful for you to understand it all in an easy and effective way.

What Does The Plus/Minus Metric Means?

The Box Plus/Minus (+/-) or as some call it BPM in short, is basically a metric that is based on the box score used for calculating the contribution of a player to the overall score of the team when they are on the court.

What Is Plus Minus NBA

The Plus/Minus metric is purely based on the box score. Moreover, there is not any certainty of telling the context regarding what an individual player has done for having that contribution. 

While all the players have their individual Plus/Minus rating, the statistic technically gets influenced by the entire team, and the offensive and defensive performance of the team.

Actually, the +/- stat was started in hockey and not in basketball. In the case of hockey, the Plus/Minus stat is called goal differential. It was introduced by the Montreal Canadiens of the NFL in the 50s, and the other teams started to follow it afterward. In 1967-68, the NHL started to track the Plus/Minus stat officially. 

In the case of the NBA, it has begun to show the +/- stats in the box score officially from the 2007-08 season. However, it was already tracked by 1973. Utilization of the Plus/Minus stat can help in determining the best three, four, or five-man lineups for each team. 

Beginning with the basic BPM (Box Plus/Minus) statistic, basketball stat-heads have been seen to come up with some more Plus/Minus metrics like ADM (Adjusted Plus/Minus), DPM (Defensive Plus/Minus), RPM (Real Plus/Minus), etc. In this article, we will only discuss the basic Plus/Minus stat.

How Is It Calculated?

After you have gained a finer understanding of what the Plus/Minus metric is, and what it sets out for measuring, it is equally vital to evaluate the way it is calculated. 

An interesting fact about the Plus/Minus statistics is that although there are multiple categories of the box score, it does not care about any of them. It only depends on the overall score. 

For instance, if a player went into a game that is tied and left with the team up by three, they will have a rating of +3. Contrarily, if a player goes into a tied game and then leaves when the team is down by five, their rating will be -5. 

You then have to take that and extrapolate it out to every 100 possessions for getting a whole Plus/Minus. If an individual acquires a total +5 rating, it will mean that the team is five points better for every one hundred possessions that player is present on the court. 

How Important Is It?

When learning about Plus/Minus, it can be critical to understand the importance it holds. Some people might like to put a significant amount of stock into the rating, however, the stat does have some flaws. Most remarkable is the intense attention on the statistic sheet. 

There can be instances when a player may not come up with any significant stats, and yet they help the team in winning the game. For example, Kawhi Leonard acquires one of the lowest Plus/Minus ratings on any all-star, however, he has been very critical to the late success of the Clippers. 

It is solely due to the fact that the stat assumes every individual is even. In addition, it does not count for external factors. When a superstar goes into a tied game and the opposite team makes a significant amount of shots, their Plus/Minus metric will go down even though the scoring goal may not be the fault of the star player.

+/- can become a remarkably useful tool, however, it is crucial to remember that it does not exist in a vacuum. You are required to have context, along with some critical statistics, for it to provide an exact read regarding whether an individual is actually changing the game when they are on the court, or not.

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How Is Plus/Minus Determined In Basketball And In The NBA?

The Plus/Minus helps in determining how well a team is performing when a particular player is on the court. That gets determined by measuring the difference in the score when the specific player enters the game and when they leave the game. 

What Is Plus Minus NBA

As the basketball players are allowed to come in and out of the game independently, each one of the differences made in that particular timespan gets added over the totality of the game. The outcome in the Plus/Minus statistic of an individual player in the overall game. 

Still didn’t get a clear idea? Okay, let us give you an example: Let’s assume the Bucks are playing a game opposite the Lakers. Now, it is assumed that every player has a starting +/- of 0. 

On the very first offensive play of the game, Wesley Matthews drives, meets a double team, and kicks it to an open Rayjon Tucker in the corner who scored a three-pointer. So, now the score is 3-0. It means that each of the five players of Bucks on the court has a +/- of +3; contrarily, all the players of Lakers have a Plus/Minus of -3. 

Now, it is the turn of the Lakers. Malik Monk runs pick and roll with Carmelo Anthony; Carmelo slips the screen and Malik throws a lob to get an easy score. The Bucks are still in the lead with 3-2. 

It means, all the five players of Bucks on the court acquire a +/- of +1. All the players of the Lakers during this period acquired a Plus/Minus of -1. And it will roll from that point. 

When an individual player is subbed out, their +/- rating stops and later continues again when they sub in. Hence, when someone says, LeBron James with a +/- of +5 at the very end of a game, it means that the Lakers have been able to outscore the opponent team by 5 points when LeBron is on the court.

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Frequently Ask Questions:

1. Is +/- important?

The answer is yes as well as no. Though the stat is potentially useful in its own way, it is not the quintessential element of statistics. 

It is true that in the majority of the cases, the top players are more likely to have higher Plus/Minus rankings than the low-performing players, but there are several other factors that remarkably contribute to that score. Fundamentally, in some cases, it can be misleading.

2. Who Has the Best +/- in the NBA?

There is no player in the present NBA who acquires a better +/- than Stephen Curry. He has an excellent ranking of 7.18, and no one can create an impact on the overall performance of the team in a similar and equally effective way as the deadly sharpshooter. 

3. Can +/- Be Misleading?

Due to the fact that it is totally based on statistics, it is not perfect by any means. 

An individual may gain the ability to put up exceptional stats or become very much helpful to the team, and still not acquire an impressive Plus/Minus because of some other situations. Moreover, it is always very critical to look at the individual statistics surrounding Plus/Minus. 

Hence, it is possible that Plus/Minus becomes misleading.

4. Who Had the Highest Plus/Minus in NBA History?

Highest Plus/Minus in NBA History (All-time):

PlayerPlus/Minus
Michael Jordan9.22
LeBron James8.94
Chris Paul7.59
Magic Johnson7.54
David Robinson7.48
Larry Bird6.89
James Harden6.88
John Stockton6.83
Kawhi Leonard6.81
Kevin Durant6.74

Highest Plus/Minus in NBA History (Overall for a single season): 

PlayerYearPlus/Minus
Draymond Green2015-16+1073
Stephen Curry2015-16+1023
Stephen Curry2016-17+1015
Micheal Jordan1995-96+980
Stephen Curry2014-15+920
Scottie Pippen1995-96+899
LeBron James2008-09+871
Draymond Green2014-15+839
Klay Thompson2015-16+836
Draymond Green2016-2017+820

To Wrap Things Up

Gaining a proper understanding of what is plus-minus NBA, how it works, and whether it is important or not – might seem quite tricky in the beginning; however, the overall concept becomes very simple and easy once you get a hold and completely understand how it all works together. 

Though the stats do have some flaws when you look at it as it is and alone, learning and understanding what it actually means and how it gets calculated will allow you to develop a deeper understanding of the game. 

If you are a casual fan, for getting to the next level of the fandom, it is required for you to know the answer to the question: what is plus-minus NBA? And now that you know it, you might gain the ability to evaluate the contribution of your favorite players and the other members in the overall performance of their team. 

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