Nebraska Forward Brady Heiman Enters Transfer Portal
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Behind the Box Score: Nebraska’s Wild Plus/Minus Swing

April 01, 2019

The 2018-19 basketball season is officially in the books and over the coming days, there are some numbers I want to dive into. Nebraska’s season went off the rails after a promising 11-2 start, but it wasn’t just because of Isaac Copeland’s injury. Things were trending south well before the senior forward was lost.

So the following is just going to be data with context. There won’t be a ton of commentary from my end; you can draw your own conclusions on what really went wrong and why.

First look is at box plus/minus. Minutes played are listed in parenthesis. 

  Nonconference Big Ten Postseason
G Glynn Watson Jr. +218 (342) -132 (699) -1 (200)
G James Palmer Jr. +230 (330) -103 (735) -1 (200)
F Isaac Copeland +200 (337) +22 (277) n/a
G Thomas Allen Jr. +151 (297) -92 (579) n/a
F Isaiah Roby +128 (261) -96 (660) -6 (172)
G Nana Akenten +74 (171) -46 (189) n/a
F Tanner Borchardt +81 (134) -52 (431) +4 (151)
F Brady Heiman +107 (123) -32 (119) -3 (15)
G Amir Harris +51 (88) -58 (180) n/a
F Thorir Thorbjarnarson +33 (64) -35 (117) -31 (123)
G Johnny Trueblood +7 (29) +23 (34) +33 (139)
G Justin Costello +12 (23) +3 (5) n/a

Some notes:

>> On a per-40 minute basis amongst the rotation players in the nonconference, freshman forward Brady Heiman had the most positive impact on the court. Nebraska was nearly 35 points better per 40 minutes with Heiman on the floor. Second was Palmer (plus-27.9), followed by Watson (plus-25.5), Borchardt (plus-24.2), Copeland (plus-23.4), Harris (plus-23.2), Thorbjarnarson (plus-20.6), Allen (plus-20.3) and Roby (plus-19.6). Sophomore wing Nana Akenten had the lightest impact in the nonconference, at plus-17.3 per-40. 

For context, Nebraska outscored opponents by an average of 25.6 points per game in the nonconference.

In Big Ten play, Nebraska's best performer by that same metric was Copeland. Nebraska was 3.2 points per 40 minutes better with him on the floor. Seeing as Copeland only played nine of 20 conference games though, it might be best to look at that with a grain of salt.

For everyone else (again, not factoring Trueblood or Costello in for obvious reasons), Borchardt was the best of the bunch. Everyone who played was a net negative after 20 games, which makes sense because the Huskers were outscored by an average of 5.8 points a night in Big Ten play. Nebraska, though, was only outscored by 4.8 points per 40 minutes when the reserve-center-turned-starter was on the floor. Palmer was again second (minus-5.6), followed by Roby (minus-5.8), Allen (minus-6.4), Watson (minus-7.6), Akenten (minus-9.7), Heiman (minus-10.8), Thorbjarnarson (minus-12) and Harris (minus-12.9).

>> Over the first nine games of conference play (the games Copeland was healthy for, meaning Nebraska had its full starting lineup), Copeland was head and shoulders above the other four starters. Roby had the second-best plus/minus over the first nine games at plus-9, followed by Palmer at plus-2. Both Watson and Allen were minus-11 on the court.

In total over those nine games, the Huskers were outscored by five points. 

>> Another plus/minus metric we can look at, calculated by, takes an "estimate of the offensive and defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team."

Isaiah Roby 2.2 5.9 8.0
Isaac Copeland 4.7 2.2 6.8
Glynn Watson Jr. 4.6 0.8 5.3
Tanner Borchardt 2.6 2.6 5.3
Thomas Allen Jr. 2.8 2.0 4.8
James Palmer Jr. 4.2 0.4 4.5
Johnny Trueblood 0.8 2.9 3.8
Amir Harris -1.8 5.2 3.4
Brady Heiman -0.4 3.4 3.0
Thorir Thorbjarnarson -0.9 3.6 2.7
Nana Akenten 1.1 -0.9 0.2
Justin Costello 2.3 -2.4 -0.1

 *In several instances, the offensive and defensive numbers don't directly add up to the overall number in the far right column, just know multiple decimal points and rounding were involved for the calculation. These numbers come directly from

Most efficiency metrics are unkind to Akenten but this one is particularly unflattering. Your sixth man being a net-negative defender for the season while contributing little on offense is hard to overcome.

Meanwhile, Borchardt's contributions are looking better and better. 

>> The three youngsters off the bench — being Harris, Heiman and Thorbjarnarson — can clearly defend. That's reflected in this table and in game tape. The lack of offensive contributions will hurt going forward, though, unless serious progress is made in their first offseason with new head coach Fred Hoiberg.

Harris came on strong to end the season — finding ways to slip backdoor for easy lay-ins or attacking off the dribble — but he didn't attempt a single 3 on the season. Going forward, especially without Palmer and Watson to space the floor, defenses will pack the paint against him and keep him away from the rim. Until he develops an outside shot, it will be difficult for him to play with other non-shooters, which is what Heiman (29 percent from the charity stripe, only one triple taken) and Thorbjarnarson (34 percent from the field) both are. 

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