Daniel Myers recently released a new college basketball statistic on Basketball Reference designed to evaluate "basketball players' quality and contribution to the team." Box Plus/Minus (BPM) measures the per-100-possession impact of a player relative to the NCAA average. Thus, if a player can be expected to add five points per 100 possessions to his team’s total output, his BPM would be 5.0. BPM goes about determining that value by using available box score data and a team’s overall performance to create a singular measure of player value. Each statistic is assigned a weight and then plugged into a formula to determine the final BPM number.
BPM has been used to calculate player value in the NBA for the past few seasons, but is only now available for college hoops. There are obviously a few limitations to BPM as there are with any single measurement designed to determine player value. First, since it is only based on box score statistics, BPM cannot account for things like defensive positioning or communication. Second, the college values are determined using NBA weights because there is no simple way to derive those numbers for college basketball, but as Myers says, "a rebound is still a rebound." Finally, as there are with any statistic, there will be outliers like players who don’t take many shots, but make them when they do while filling up other areas of the stat sheet. Travis Releford is a good example.
Basketball Reference currently has data available for the past five seasons, so I thought it might be fun to examine the top five seasons for Kansas during that time frame. As you’ll see, BPM likely correlates pretty closely to the players you would have considered the most productive Jayhawks during that time. Let’s handle them in reverse order.
5. Marcus Morris (2010-11) — 11.2 BPM
4. Markieff Morris (2010-11) - 12.3 BPM
The other Morris twin, Markieff, put together a slightly better season than his brother on the same team in 2010-11. Kieff benefits from a more balanced BPM rating due to his high defensive rebound rate and solid rim protection. He was not asked to produce as much offensively as his brother, but still managed a 6.7 offensive BPM in part due to his impressive 42.4 percent 3-point shooting.
3. Jeff Withey (2012-13) - 12.6 BPM
The top three players on this list showcase just how valuable rim protection is in college basketball and how blessed Kansas has been over the past few seasons with quality shot blockers. Jeff Withey’s senior year is the third best BPM season of the past five years. Witney was one of the nation’s five best shot blockers with a block rate of 13.7 percent.
2. Jeff Withey (2011-12) - 13.8 BPM
Withey's junior season was actually more productive. He led the country in block percentage, turning away an incredible 15.3 percent of opponents’ field goal attempts. His slightly higher offensive rebound rate also helped contribute to the higher BPM on a team that lost in the finals of the NCAA Tournament.
1. Joel Embiid (2013-14) - 14.9 BPM
The best season for a Kansas player in recent history is a bittersweet one. Joel Embiid’s 14.9 BPM 2013-14 season ranks as the fourth best season overall in college basketball over the past five seasons. Embiid combined a great defensive presence with an impressive set of post moves to produce this incredible BPM. He rebounded 27.3 percent of opponents' misses while blocking 11.7 percent of their shots all while posting a true shooting percentage of 65.5 percent. Embiid’s impressive numbers certainly give credence to those who argue the Jayhawks would have won the 2014 NCAA Tournament had he not suffered through end of the season injuries.
BPM is definitely not the end-all, be-all of player evaluation tools, but it does provide a nice statistical measure to help show the value of particular players over the course of a season. This list is dominated by big men who fit well into Bill Self’s offensive scheme and the top of the list shows the value of rim protection in college basketball where taller players can exploit their height advantage against opponents that lack NBA size. If you’re interested in checking out this season’s BPM rankings, you can visit the Kansas team page on Basketball Reference. One interesting note is that Brannen Greene may be on the way to breaking Marcus Morris’s offensive BPM record this season.