KU basketball team's plus-minus rankings paint an interesting picture
Statsheet.com has put an interesting new feature up: plus-minus rankings to go along with every college basketball box score on its site.
For those of you unfamiliar the plus-minus statistic, it simply keeps track of a team's net score when a certain player is in the game.
Here's an example: KU defeated Texas A&M by five on Monday, but during Marcus Morris' 20 minutes on the court, KU outscored A&M by 14. Marcus' plus-minus, then, was +14 for that game.
Plus-minus is a interesting stat that tries to help determine how valuable a player is to his team when he's on the floor.
Before we go any further with our analysis, though, it's important to note the plus-minus stat has lots of limitations. For one, it doesn't take into account the teammates that are on the floor with a certain player. For example, if a player only gets in during mop-up time, his plus-minus statistic might not be impressive because his teammates aren't that impressive.
Plus-minus also doesn't take into account the competition. In a game against Colorado, Sherron Collins might have trouble scoring against a tough defender like Cory Higgins. Meanwhile, Cole Aldrich might have more of an edge inside because of his height advantage.
These two factors (teammates and competition) aren't taken into account with plus-minus, so the statistic isn't perfect by any means.
Still, I thought it would be interesting to see how the plus-minus numbers have turned out during Big 12 play for this year's Jayhawks.
For each player, I compiled their plus-minus statistics for the 11 games of the Big 12 season.
To put everyone on more equal footing, I then went back and calculated each player's plus-minus statistic per 40 minutes of game time. That way, we could compare Jayhawks that don't have equal playing time (like Collins and Tyrel Reed, for instance) against each other easily.
Calculating plus-minus per 40 minutes also allows us to have an "average" score. KU's scoring margin in Big 12 play is 12.4. Therefore, an "average" KU player, over 40 minutes of game time in Big 12 play, would have a plus-minus of +12.4.
Before we get to the results, I want you to predict for yourself who the leaders are on the team in the plus-minus per 40 minutes category during Big 12 play.
In other words, which players seem to be on the floor when KU plays its best against Big 12 opponents?
Here's a random picture so you can think without cheating.
OK, here are the results.
KU plus-minus per 40 minutes during Big 12 play (11 games)
1. Marcus Morris +18.08
2. Tyrel Reed +16.94
3. Brady Morningstar +16.39
4. Cole Aldrich +14.37
Average KU player +12.4
5. Markieff Morris +11.42
6. Sherron Collins +10.86
7. Xavier Henry +10.17
8. Tyshawn Taylor +8.18
9. Jeff Withey +4.13
10. Elijah Johnson -7.06
11. Thomas Robinson -15.47
Once again, I think it's important to point out these are raw plus-minus numbers. There are many factors that these numbers cannot take into account (though I still think this list is worth looking at).
Here are some things that stood out to me.
• Brady Morningstar has been called a glue guy, a role player and a dozen other clichés that try to convey the concept that his contributions go beyond statistics.
His tremendous plus-minus per 40 minute number above (+16.39) would seem to suggest that all of our instincts about Morningstar could be true. The Jayhawks, in all likelihood, are a better team when he's on the floor.
This, of course, brings up the Morningstar-Taylor, who-should-start debate.
In the GameDay Cram Session, I said the switch to starting Morningstar was the right move at the right time for KU coach Bill Self. And I'm not backing off that, even though Morningstar's plus-minus per 40 minute stat above is more than double that of Taylor's (+8.18).
Coaches have to try to get the best out of their players. Sometimes, it takes a coach being tough on players to pull out their potential (see Morris, Marcus). Sometimes, it takes a bit more coddling.
To me, Taylor plays his best when he is confident. And he is confident when he is starting.
Morningstar doesn't need to start to play well. For Taylor, hearing his name before the game might actually make a difference and help him to play at a higher level.
Either way, I expect we'll still see plenty of Morningstar.
• The plus-minus above once again shows just how valuable Marcus Morris has been for this team. If only conference play was being considered for Big 12 awards, Marcus Morris would probably have the best argument out of any Jayhawk to earn first-team all-conference recognition.
• Placing second on the list above is an impressive feat for Tyrel Reed (+16.94), and I think it speaks most to his defensive improvement. Reed has always been a threat to score, but this season, he's been much more active when guarding opposing players.
• Cole Aldrich's number is about what I'd expect (+14.37). Again, we shouldn't overlook the impact Aldrich has for KU defensively.
• OK, let's get to the elephant in the room. Collins is below the team average in plus-minus per 40 minutes? Yes, the stat is limited and yes, it's not perfect. But still, shouldn't KU be better than average at outscoring Big 12 opponents with its preseason All-America guard on the floor?
The last two games haven't helped Collins' plus-minus numbers. Against Iowa State, KU was +7 during Collins' 37 minutes on the court, but the Jayhawks were also +7 during the three minutes that he wasn't on the floor.
Against Texas A&M, KU was +3 in Collins' 35 minutes and +2 in the five minutes without him in there.
Collins recent shooting slump could be a factor as well, but it still seems like the point guard's plus-minus should be a bit higher than what it actually is.
• Xavier Henry's number (+10.17) isn't too surprising. For a while, his poor shooting seemed to affect the rest of his play, which might be a reason his plus-minus is lower than some other players.
• To be fair, Thomas Robinson and Elijah Johnson's plus-minus numbers are based on a small sample size (49 and 17 conference minutes, respectively). If you're a KU fan, I think you still would at least like to see those guys break even during their minutes in there.
• In case you were wondering, Morningstar posted the highest Big 12 single-game plus-minus ranking for KU this season, registering a +30 in the Jayhawks' home victory over Texas Tech. Reed and Robinson tied for the lowest Big 12 single-game plus-minus ranking this year, as Reed posted a -12 in 10 minutes at Kansas State, while Robinson recorded a -12 in eight minutes at Nebraska.