The controversial plus/minus (+/-) stat that the NBA lists in all its box scores is well-intentioned. It’s supposed to account not only for the obvious contributions a player makes during a game, but also for intangibles a player performs — ironically, those little things that aren’t in the box score, but which impact the game’s outcome.
(Example: a player performing a good box-out that enables a teammate to get a defensive rebound is a plus for the team, but there is no individual record of the box-out accomplishment.)
The NBA plus/minus stat seeks to solve for these missing data points and to measure the overall effectiveness of a player by simply accounting for how the player’s team does while he is in the game. But for all its alleged value as a metric that levels the playing field, so to speak, the plus/minus often turns out to be as misleading as the sometimes misleading stats it is meant to augment.
Below is an example of a game in which Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez proves that the plus/minus stat might be laughed out of the gym once and for all.
Last night the Bucks beat the Washington Wizards 123-113. In that game Brook Lopez played just under 28 minutes. He shot 10-of-13 (77%) from the field, including 1-of-2 from three-point territory, grabbed 12 rebounds, had SIX blocks, three assists, a steal and a single turnover. Lopez was listed in the box score as a MINUS 7 (-7).