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NBA True Height Index

by David Lewin, 6/27/06

NBA Statistical Analyst Dave Lewin Tyrus Thomas
plays taller?
Ever wonder how teams missed Ben Wallace? I did. From what I can tell it was fairly simple. Wallace measured at 6'7 in pre-draft workouts. Teams looked at that and thought, "That's small forward size?" When you look at Wallace as a small forward you see a good defender who might lack quickness and definitely lacks the ability to shoot from outside of 8 feet. Of course in reality Wallace didn't have small forward size. People don't block shots or shoot with the top of their head, they do it with their hands, usually while jumping. Wallace's long arms and great leaping ability allowed him to play like he's 6'10, not ideal size for a center, but definitely reasonable. Four Defensive Player of the Year awards later teams have realized that it is more important how tall someone plays than how tall they measure.

One way to see which players play bigger than they are is by looking at wingspan. In fact this is why you will hear the phrase, "He has great length" 857 times during the draft on Wednesday. This is better than ignoring wingspan, but it doesn't capture the whole picture.

Different people have different proportions, some have long arms, others have short arms. This is why wingspan is necessary to supplement height when measuring a player. Players also have different percentages of their height from their shoulders up. For example Shelden Williams has a very tall head. This is wasted height. It turns his impressive wingspan into a very average standing reach. This is my point. Standing reach is better than wingspan. In fact it is the best one measurement of a player's true height.

Still, standing reach can be improved upon. It takes time to extend one's arms. If two players have an equal standing reach, the one who is taller will play taller because it take him less time to extend his arms, because his eyes will be higher allowing better vision, and because his head will obstruct his opponents vision. My True Height Index (THI) considers this, giving some consideration to height, and also including vertical leap, in addition to standing reach. It is scaled to come out equivalent to standard height for a player with normal proportions. Listed are a player's height (with shoes), True Height, and the difference. Positive difference denotes a player who plays taller than he is, negative a player who plays shorter than he is. Everything is listed in inches, because it's a pain in the ass to convert to feet.

NBA 2005-06 Draft Top Prospects

(Listed in rough order of projected pick range)
  Projected Pick True Height Index Height
(with Shoes)
 Tyrus Thomas Top 6 83.6 80.25 +3.32
 The biggest gainer. Some questioned his size after he measured at under 6'8 without shoes, but  his long arms and jumping ability allow him to play at almost 7 ft.
 LaMarcus Aldridge Top 6 83.4 83.25 +0.11
 Good wingspan, but below average jumping ability. Plays about his size (6'11).
 Adam Morrison Top 6 79.2 79.75 -0.54
 Average athleticism and below average wingspan cause him to play closer to 6'7 than his listed  height of 6'8. Doesn't really matter, he's big enough to play the 3.
 Rudy Gay Top 6 80.1 80.00 +0.07
 Measured at 6'8, plays at 6'8. As with Morrison, height is not really a concern.
 Brandon Roy Top 6 79.0 78.25 +0.75
 Long arms and excellent jumping ability allow him to play at 6'7. This ability to defend the 2 or 3  will come in handy.
 Randy Foye Top 10 75.3 75.25 +0.04
 A true combo guard at 6'3.
 Simmons, Cedric 7-15 83.1 81.50 +1.64
 Comparisons to Ben Wallace seem justified, at least in terms of length and jumping ability.
 Rodney Carney 7-15 79.6 77.75 +1.89
 Long arms and superior jumping ability make up for his shorter than expected pre-draft  measurement.
 Ronnie Brewer 7-15 80.9 78.75 +2.11
 You will hear this guy described as long on draft day. Can defend three positions, as he plays  nearly 6'9.
 Patrick O'Bryant 7-15 85.4 84.00 +1.36
 A legit 7 footer, his 9'5 standing reach is the best in this draft (with Sene). Too bad he has  Michael Olowokandi written all over him.
 Shelden Williams 7-15 79.9 80.50 -0.57
 Long wingspan is canceled out by his tall head.
 Saer Sene 12-25 85.9 84.00 +1.93
 If you don't like to hear people talk about "tremendous upside potential" cover your ears when  Sene gets picked. Plays nearly 7'2 due to his 7'8 wingspan.
 J.J. Redick 12-25 74.8 76.75 -1.96
 Some guys are "long", and some guys are "short". Redick is short. Plays only about 6'3 as  opposed to his measured 6'5, does not bode well for guarding the 2 at the next level.
 Hilton Armstrong 15-30 83.2 82.25 +0.96
 Classic lanky shot blocking center type. Length makes 6'11, big enough to play the 5.
 Jordan Farmar Mid/Late 1st Round 73.9 74.00 -0.14
 Allan Ray Late 1st Round 75.4 74.25 +1.11
 Maurice Ager Late 1st Round 77.4 76.50 +0.93
 Pops Mensah-Bonsu Late 1st Round 81.5 81.00 +0.50
 Eric Hicks 2nd Round 80.3 77.50 +2.79
 David Noel 2nd Round 78.4 78.00 +0.36
 Marco Killingsworth 2nd Round 79.1 78.75 +0.32
 Paul Millsap 2nd Round 80.3 79.25 +1.04
 Eric Williams 2nd Round 81.1 80.75 +0.39
 Terence Dials 2nd Round 80.4 81.00 -0.57
 Steve Novak 2nd Round 78.2 81.25 -3.04
 Matt Haryasz 2nd Round 82.1 83.00 -0.86
 Keydren Clark 2nd Round 70.9 70.25 +0.68
 Gerry McNamara 2nd Round 70.6 72.50 -1.93

Any players who are missing (Bargnani, Boone, etc) are missing because they didn't get measured at pre-draft camp. Steve Novak must have really short arms, but I hear he's one hell of a shooter. Those two things might be related (see Redick, Morrison, McNamara) or maybe its just a white guy thing. Allan Ray might be able to play the 2 in the NBA. Eric Williams definitely has the size to play the 4. Eric Hicks has some long arms.

About the Author:
David Lewin is an 18 year old student at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. His interests include basketball, basketball statistics, football, and football statistics. Even though he doesn't score well on the True Height Index some think he has "tremendous upside potential" as a writer and basketball analyst. He can be reached at

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