TrueHoop Network 2009-2010 Preview: In Defense of the Undersized guard

Size matters. I’m talking of course, about the relative size of small guards in
the NBA. How often are criticisms lobbed toward shooting guards on draft
night because of their inability to guard someone as tall as Kobe Bryant? The
only problem? You could be the size of Godzilla, nay, Mecha-Godzilla, and still
struggle to guard Kobe Bryant. Meanwhile, true shooters with better skills are
being ignored in the name of a few measly inches. So we decided to take a look
at the production of small guards in the NBA and how they ended up, inch by
inch, in 2008-09.

Offensive and Defensive ratings of qualifying small guards by height

Using offensive and defensive ratings (points per 100 possessions produced
and allowed), we get a fairly clear view from the chart below of how muddled
this picture is. According to convention, the red bars should go up while the
black bars go down as the players’ height increases.

Instead what we see is the biggest offensive advantage for qualified small
guards 6-foot-1, while players 6-foot-4 suffer disadvantages. So while players
6-foot-3 definitely struggle at the NBA level, the absolute most you can say
is that there is no strong relationship between size and production. We see a
similar effect when we look at a variety of measures, including John Hollinger’s
Player Efficiency Rating.

This speaks well for a lot of players who are often dismissed as being too small
to play small guard. This group includes Ben Gordon, Raymond Felton, Jason
Terry — all top-notch players who are often considered liabilities because of
their size. Still, there are certainly caveats here as well.

For starters, only 16 percent of players that qualified for our analysis were
shorter than 6-foot-3. The majority of small guards (43 percent) are between
6-foot-3 and 6-foot-5. So the sample size is much more stable for the larger
guards. Future analysis should take a more historical look at the role of height in
small guard production. But for right now, I’d think twice before dismissing the
“undersized guard.” Because at this level, there’s probably a good reason he’s
made it to the NBA.

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.