A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Looking at Nash’s Crazy +/- Numbers

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With Phoenix Suns making a huge trade I wanted to take a moment to talk a bit about Steve Nash in terms of +/- statistics.  The Suns made the trade because of dissatisfaction with the way the team is playing, and with a sub-.500 record that’s understandable.  While I’ve yet to hear many people talking about the Suns’ struggles as a reflection on Nash, neither am I hearing Nash getting much attention in the MVP-sense.  I understand that to some degree as I currently don’t have him in my POY top 10, but it should be a hard decision for people.

According to basketballvalue.com, Nash is currently #1 in the league in Adjusted +/- for the year (and for the last two years combined actually).  His rating is +29.14, there are only 5 guys total in the league with a rating north of +20, and the other guys (Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol) are all on much more successful teams.  Most people reading this blog probably have the general understanding that adjusted +/- means roughly how much better the team does with you compared to without you after making some statistical adjustments to reduce noise.  But what does it mean when a guy on a mediocre team does well by this metric?  How do you compare him to guys on great teams?

There’s no clear cut answer to this, but I think it’s helpful to look at some raw +/- to get a more concrete feel for things.  nba.com has raw +/- numbers, i.e. how much in total your team has outscored opponents with you on the court over the season, and here’s how the Phoenix Suns look right now:

1. So Nash is at over 100, and 8 of the 9 other rotation players have a negative.  Stunning these are the guys Nash is out there with, and when he’s with them the team is still doing great, but virtually to a man, things are going terribly when Nash is out.

2. The only other positive rotation player is Frye, and he’s just barely above zero.  Nash’s lead over his nearest teammate is 95 points, which is the biggest gap between a team leader and his teammates of anyone in the league (Dirk is 2nd with an 81 point lead).

3. In case you’re wonder how a +109 net stands up, well to some degree it’s modest.  Dirk’s at +255 for example.  But check out some elite point guards on more successful teams:

Deron Williams, +51

Derrick Rose, +106

Russell Westbrook, +21

Chris Paul, +117

It becomes pretty easy to make the case that Nash is only ranked below these other point guards in MVP races because of how bad his teammates are.

Now, with all this said, I don’t have Nash in my top 10 right now.  The truth is I’m not entirely convinced by the metrics I’m showing here myself, with one major reason being that Nash has missed some time, and that doesn’t come into the above line of reasoning at all (and clearly it needs to fit in somewhere).  What I am adamant about is simply that when you look at these results, it should make your jaw drop.  You should be dang impressed with Nash, and you should consider that truly, the only thing keeping Nash from leading a contender is a decent supporting cast.  I don’t know whether the Carter & Gortat trade will do the trick, but I think it’s worth a shot.

Written by Matt Johnson

December 19, 2010 at 1:40 pm

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