NBA Game Predictor⎯Estimate Player Impact With Box Plus/Minus Metrics

Jayson Tatum, Celtics, NBA
Mar 17, 2024; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) looks on from the bench against the Washington Wizards during the second half of the game at Capital One Arena. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is a statistical enthusiast’s dream and there are so many numbers, averages, and player metrics to analyze after each game. This is what adds an extra layer of depth to the league and is how we compare current players with past legends like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain. 

One metric, BPM (Box Plus/Minus) can be used in several contexts, from predicting match outcomes to betting on individual players, which is especially useful with the March madness betting season on the horizon. 

In the guide below, I’ve taken a look at what this stat is, what it means, and how it can be used to improve your game predictions.

What is Box Plus/Minus?

Box Plus/Minus was developed by Daniel Myers, and it is one of the most commonly used metrics to analyze individual player performance on an NBA team. You can find a detailed breakdown of BPM at Basketball Reference. In short, it aims to measure how successful a player is, their impact when they are on the court, and how they contribute to the team’s overall effort. Some key factors include

  • BPM is based on a per-100 possession basis
  • The NBA league average is 0.0
  • A positive BPM means the player performed better than average
  • A negative BPM means the player performed worse than average

This score is based on a range of statistics, such as their box score, position, and the team’s overall performance. Therefore, oftentimes, each player on a losing team will have a negative BPM regardless of how well they played as an individual. It’s important to note that BPM isn’t about playing time either, so someone who plays more minutes will not automatically have a higher BPM.

To give you some practical advice, I have listed some of the BPM scores and what they are generally related to for an entire season

  • -2.0 BPM is typically a rotational bench player who has limited minutes
  • 0.0 BPM or league average is usually an average stater or maybe a really good sixth man
  • +4.0 BPM is usually expected from All-Star caliber players
  • +8.0 BPM is what we can expect from the league MVP, like Joel Embiid
  • +10.00 BPM and we are getting into peak legend status, like 2014-5 LeBron James

How Can You Use BPM for Game Predictions?

The great thing about BPM is that because of its reliability and the way it’s developed, it is pretty useful for looking at player performance and judging what they will do in upcoming games.

For example, perhaps Anthony Davies has been averaging a huge positive BPM in his last five games and the Lakers’ next game is against the Detroit Pistons. You can see that he is in good form from the BPM averages and because they are playing a relatively poor team like the Pistons, you could predict that he will have a monster game with high points and rebounds.

That’s the key point of BPM⎯it should be used as an accompanying tool if you want to place bets and try to improve your game predictions and it shouldn’t be the only factor. For example, in the above example, maybe Cade Cunningham has also been averaging a positive BPM over his last five games. That’s fantastic, but you still wouldn’t put money on the Pistons to beat the Lakers!

Therefore, I like to use Box Plus/Minus as an additional metric to judge player performance, which then helps me look at upcoming matches and see if, despite historical records, one team has a better chance of winning than usual.

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