NBA HD: Winging it with Length

The NBA draft is approaching.  Prepare for the cliches and buzzwords.

Freakish.

Tremendous.  Upside.  Potential.

Ceiling.

Length.

You’ll hear that last one probably the most. Length. Why do we care about length?  Well, extra length gives players advantages within a variety of basketball actions; deflections, live rebounds, and getting shots off requires extension above the opponent, to name a few.

Today’s post looks into the length of this year’s crop and who has notably long or short arms for their height.  It would be amusing to think of it the other way around but we don’t. This guy has the arms of a 6’2″ guy but he’s 6’8″!  He’s a giant!

Before we dig in, let me first say that Jonathan Givony’s Draft Express is our best friend and our valuable resource around draft time.  You can get all sorts of historical player measurements there.  I should also mention that they just started publishing advanced stats for college basketball.  Amazing stuff happening at Draft Express.

Anyway, the first thing I did was calculate the proportional wingspan of a player relative to his height using the prospect measurements dating back to 2000.  I used a regression to predict wingspan from player height (WITHOUT shoes on) with a sample of 916 NBA prospects.

Here we see a pretty strong linear relationship between player height and wingspan.  Want to know what your NBA prospect wingspan should be? Take 98.5% of your height in inches and add about 5.5.  My wingspan should be about 76 inches long.

Who has the longest go-go gadget arms of players that actually got drafted? Let’s take a look.

Oh my, the stars!  Not a very inspiring list, eh? Jason Maxiell had the most “freakish” arms as he’s one of those guys who can touch his knees without bending over.  Fingertip to fingertip, he is 10 inches longer than head to toe.  All told, his wingspan is about six inches longer than we’d expect and proportional for a 6-9 guy.  His extra wingspan is partly responsible for his rebounding rate we’d typically see from a center.

The rest of the list has some big time busts who may or may not have been overrated by their length.  Saer Sene got drafted 10th overall, Fred Jones 14th overall, and Shelden Williams 5th.  As we saw in Game 6, freakishly long arms cannot guarantee a successfully converted dunk in the biggest game of your life (right, Shelden?).  Marvin Williams, the second overall pick in 2005, sits just outside this list as his wingspan was 4 inches longer than we’d expect.

Some other notable extra wingspans: LeBron +0.5″. Thabeet +0.6″.  Durant +3.3″.  Beaubois +4.0″.

Let’s head over to the short arm prospects or as I like to call them, the capital T’s (just look at a capital T).  These guys have shorter arms than we’d expect given their height.

Martynas Andriuskevicius played only 9 minutes in his NBA career, way back in 2005 but he deserves a shot out here.  His arms were over six inches shorter than we’d expect given his 7’1.25″ height.  In reality, he has the wingspan of a 6’6″ guy.  Yes, observant reader, Fred Jones has a longer wingspan than Marty Andy.  For your information, he grabbed four rebounds in 9 minutes which translates to a crisp 17.8 rebounds per 40 mins.  Sample size be damned.

We have some pure shooters (Redick, Kapono) as well as some truly undersized point guards (Maynor, Jordan).  Redick relies on his hops more than most shooters since he wasn’t gifted with long arms. He got away with it in college but he’s taking threes at a much slower rate in the NBA, granted, for several different reasons.  Perhaps one of them is that he has the arms of a 6-footer.

Some notable curbed wingspans: Jon Brockman -3.7″, Chris Kaman -4.1″, Stephen Curry -3.0″, Jared Dudley -3.2″

While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and pull up the go-go gadgets arms and T’s of this crop of 2010 prospects.  First, the long arms:

And the T’s:

Looks like I’ve snooped out the market inefficiency that Coach K has been exploiting for years.  Short armed scorers.

In the future, expect some application of these measurements to NBA production to test their significance in predicting professional success.

Seth Carstens