Using Adjusted Plus/Minus to Determine Your Most Valuable Player

When our boys basketball team was informally asked who they thought was the team’s best player, most guessed the two teammates with the highest shot attempts per game.  Statistically, both selections were incorrect.  The most valuable player, in the category most important to the coaching staff, plus/minus, was their center.  

Plus/minus is simply the point differential while you are on the court.  Our team was considerably better when the center played and though his points per game average were lower than the other two, his field goal percentage was way higher, showing that player’s better efficiency.  Combined with his defensive stats, this was the coach’s most valuable player.

Using Hoopsalytics, we looked at each player’s plus/minus, normalized for a full game (28 minutes in our season). For example, a player with a +5 who plays half a game, would have a real plus/minus of +10 if he played a full game. Likewise, a player who is at +3 for just one quarter, would have a +12 if he played the entire game.

Here’s how this looked in Hoopsalytics:


Another factor to consider is “coat-tailing” – whereby a stronger and a weaker player are paired together, and the weaker player’s plus/minus looks better due to the presence of the other player. To combat this, you can exclude one or more players, and see how the stats change.


Finally, you may need to exclude players with few minutes, as the sample size may not be an accurate representation of their overall effect on the team.

With this insight, we immediately re-directed our game plan and his center’s touches went up as the team found its balance and rhythm.  We played both high-volume shooters on the White team, creating connected action between the two in pick and roll and pick and pop situations, resulting in better plus/minus for each and a higher free throw rate for the White team.  The center played on the Blue team, surrounded by more pass and cut type players.  As both teams started practicing more together, the flow of their units improved greatly.

The change at mid-season, due to video study and statistical analysis, allowed the whole team to flourish and play its best ball down the stretch and into its last game of the year.  That under-stated MVP, the center, along with three of his Blue team members, were a combined +71 for the final game of the year, a 57-44 victory.

Your most important player can be your glue guy, the one who makes everyone around them better, keeps the mood and energy up.  Or your effort player – the one who will dive for loose balls and “D” up and shut down your opponent’s best player.  It could be your best rebounder – if you can’t clear the glass, your team will not be successful.  All of these players are needed and really, really important.

But your Best Player? Your Most Valuable Player?  It depends on the roster and the mission and a whole lot of other things, but most importantly it’s what the coach wants ultimately from his team. Generally, that is team-oriented, winning basketball. 

If one of your players scores 28 points a game and no one else breaks double digits but the team loses by an average of 12 points a game, that high scorer may be important but where is the value if the team consistently loses? 

 And if your 28 ppg. player has a -12 +/-? Then it’s time to re-evaluate.

I’d rather have a team with five scorers in double digits, my team with a positive +/-, and wins in the column and banners on the wall.

When we get our teams to buy into positive +/-, when we get our players, with statistical analysis and video support, to understand how their approach to the game affects wins and losses, everyone benefits. Most kids focus on the offensive side of the coin – especially how many points they score – but getting buy-in on defense is critical for your overall success.  I’d bet dollars to donuts your outcomes will be better, from team-wide contributions to positive plus/minus, to winning.


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Category: Analytics