Why The NBA Draft and Team General Managers Are Wrong To Focus On Height and Wingspan

vertical jumpI have often written about the size and height of NBA players or basketball players in general since I have been a rather big basketball fan for a very long time. Maybe one of the reasons I have become so obsessed with the issue of height and how to possibly become taller and increase height was is from my childhood watching so many super sized humans play the game of basketball. Someone once said that all that basketball really is, is a bunch of “tall sweaty millionaires running up and down a court”

Clearly the sport of basketball is dominated and represented by a group of people whose bodies don’t look anything like the normal sized humans which most of us are accustomed to. While I am fascinated by how humans reach large stature, I prefer to watch basketball games that are good. I would definitely want to watch a game that is played by highly skilled and talented players than tall statured individuals who can barely even move.

When I look at something like the NBA draft and see just how much emphasize NBA team managers put on the measurements like height for prospective NBA players, I want to slap my face with my palm since it is clear that being big is not enough, and should not be the main thing that basketball managers should focus on when selecting players. I wrote about this issue in the post “Is Being 7 Feet Tall The Fastest Way To Get Rich In America?”. The article I had copy and pasted showed that if a guy is over 7 feet tall, he has over a 17% chance that he would get selected to play in the NBA. This shows just how crazy the numbers work out for a person who happened to win the genetic lottery and ended up taller than 99.99% of his peers. Here is the problem with the NBA draft and all of the team managers who are so crazy about focusing on the issue of height and wingspan.

I understand that the rim of the standard basketball hoop is 10 feet tall, and that being closer to the height of the hoop means it would be easier for one to put the ball through the basketball. However, I would say that these days height should mean less and less. Almost every single NBA player not only has the ability to touch the rim, but dunk the ball. This means that nearly every single professional basketball player can reach at least 10′ 8″ , which is the distance off of the ground to account for the height of the rim and the thickness of the ball.

While it may be that some professional basketball players who play the point guard position is just around 6 feet, almost everyone in the league can can at least touch the rim and dunk. If the rim height is not going to be raise, and almost every one can reach and dunk the ball, why do we need to have taller players, who reach over 7 feet tall?

There are some players like Yao Ming who barely need to even jump to reach the rim because they are so tall, and their height actually becomes a huge problem. What is noticed from analyzing the career of players over 7′ 3″ is that they don’t play very long because the amount of weight on their knees and other joints is so high that injury plagues their basketball career. Many of the biggest big men have had severe knee problems like Andrew Bynum and Greg Oden. This means that over a certain height, the extra height would actually be a huge disadvantage.

The current record for the highest reach of any basketball player that I am aware of is by Dwight Howard who managed to touch the incredible height of 12 feet 6 inches (source). Dwight’s official NBA height is 6′ 11″ with a reach of 9′ 2.5″. If he can touch 12 feet and a half, that means that he managed to get off of the ground 3 feet and 3.5 inches. In comparison, the retired NBA center Shaquille O’Neal had a jumping reach of 12′ 5″ when he was tested early in his NBA career.

This ability to jump higher is one trait which I feel is much more important than one’s height. The higher one’s vertical jump is, the more likely that another player’s short will be blocked as they release the ball.

15 years ago, when Michael Jordan was the king of the league and winning three peats of championships, someone was asked to design the perfect basketball body and they used the measurements of Michael Jordan, at 6′ 6″, 220 lbs with insanely large hands.

Compared to Kobe Bryant, it is stated often by the Coach Phil Jackson that the key physical advantage Jordan has over Kobe was the size of his hands. (source) Those hands were the size of baseball mitts and could pick up the basketball easily with one hand. From my own playing days, I know for a fact that larger hands means much better control of the ball and how you want it to spin. I would say that hand size i one of the biggest, most critical factors that most team managers should start to really take into consideration. When we look at the reason why say Rajon Rondo has been so versatile as a player even though he is 6′ 1″ is because of his larger hands.

Now in 2013, when analysts are asked to design the perfect basketball player’s body, they have changed the dimensions to that of Lebron James measurements at 6′ 8″, 250 lbs, with 9.5″ hand length. (Interestingly Britney Griner has  a hand size slightly larger than Lebron James)

Now we all know that weight is a variable that can change a lot, so let’s ask ourselves just about height alone. Assuming that the official height of these two players are correct, does it mean that the ideal body for the NBA player has increase by 2 inches over the last 15 years? Or does it mean that the best player consistently rated by analysts today just happened to be 2 inches taller than the guy who was considered the best player in the league 15 years ago?

We have seen enough draft flops like Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, Greg Oden, Michael Olowokandi, who were definitely tall and scouts felt that their extra few inches in height could compensate for their rawness and lac of basketball skills. It is true that one can’t teach “height” but it is also well known that one can’t teach better coordination, how to change the habitual movements of people, and how to change a person’s way of dealing with stressful situations very easily. Andrew Bynum may be 7 feet tall, and even 7′ 1″ from some sources, but his wingspan is not very large in comparison to his height. (Interestingly Britney Griner has a arm wingspan that is longer than Andre Bynum’s at 7′ 3.5″).

These guys who might have been born and grew up always taller than other people their whole lives might NOT have the mental toughness to have the drive to push themselves. When a person is given a clear path to wealth and success based on a factor that they had no control over, like genetics and the resultant height, they might not work as hard and appreciate just what they have so they don’t try that hard. People have been talking about the mental toughness of Bynum and Dwight Howard and say that they still view everything as a game like little kids. These men with so much physical talent and gifts start to relie too much on their size advantage and don’t work as hard as the smaller guys.

To get the better, more perfect basketball player, I would actually suggest that one chooses the smaller player, who may not be the tallest guy in the room.

The factors that should be focused on are the following.

  • Arm Wingspan
  • Maximum Jumping Vertical Reach
  • Lateral Quickness
  • Hand Size (width & length)

The arm defense is important due to defense. The longer the reach usually translates to mean the more space that a person can defend and block off.

The maximum jumping vertical reach is also due to defense. The higher one can jump, the more likely they can block shots and intimate potential shooters.

The lateral quickness is important for offense and defense. For offense, lateral quickness means that a player can more easily change directions, while in defense it means that player can more easily change in reaction to player’s movements.

The size of the hands are the last component which I feel is important because it means that the player has better control of the ball that is in their hands. The control of the ball is increased.

These 4 elements are what I would say are the most important factors in a NBA draft, based on my own amateur opinion. Height should not be considered too much, if at all. Sure, a person being 4 inches taller than another person would probably be able to see over their heads and usually have longer arms but that is not enough to actually make a good player.

If a team really wanted to find the best players in a draft, look for players that have the highest grades of the following 4 qualities, and create a system on how to evaluate these traits, and not worry about height so much.

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