For many young basketball players, never hitting that big growth spurt can derail dreams of playing in the NBA—especially if they dream of crashing in the post alongside the likes of Dwight Howard or Marc Gasol.
But several players have overcome their short statures to carve out fruitful NBA careers. Spud Webb (5’7”) and Nate Robinson (5’9”) even proved that little guys can throw down and win the Slam Dunk Contest. So to honor the “height-challenged” players in today’s league, we’re counting down the top 10 players who never quite grew to be taller than six feet.
We used each nominee’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) as a guide to determine these rankings, then took some minor liberties if a player’s body of work during his career outweighs a negligible difference in PER. The interactive graph below shows the 12 nominees we considered.
Note: The interactive graphs included below will automatically update and might not reflect the statistics stated in the article, which are updated through Feb. 22.
The new starting point guard on Philadelphia’s freshly anonymous roster is Isaiah Canaan, a former Murray State standout and D-League All-Star. Canaan was acquired by the 76ers along with a second-round pick (naturally) in a deadline deal with Houston for K.J. McDaniels.
Canaan filled in quite well as Houston’s starting point guard early on this season while Patrick Beverley was injured. He basically shot fire on three-pointers above the break (41.3 percent this season) while averaging 12.6 points and 2.3 assists in 28.4 minutes over nine games. The Rockets didn’t miss a beat with Canaan in the lineup, going 7-2 during that stretch, and overall allowed five fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor.
But the end of 2014 wasn’t kind to the former second-round pick, who sprained his ankle in late November and found himself mostly without a rotation spot once he returned.
Fortunately for Canaan, one team’s spare parts is Philly’s starting lineup. He’ll get all the playing time he can handle under Brett Brown.
Jameer Nelson used to be the second option on an NBA Finals squad for Orlando, and he provided some value for Dallas in their pick-and-roll heavy offense earlier this year. But the star of Saint Joseph’s near-perfect 2003-04 squad is in the twilight of his career, something that has become quite clear during his stints in Boston and Denver this season.
Nelson’s PER has steadily declined since his excellent 2008-09 campaign in Orlando, from 20.6 all the way down to 10.2 this year. He possesses a player option for next year at $2.8 million, which will in all likelihood be exercised. Otherwise, he’d be hard-pressed to find a deal for more than the veteran’s minimum ($1.4 million this season).
Aaron Brooks has been a revelation for the Bulls this year, as Chicago is 6.0 points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the floor. He’s shooting a career-best 44.5 percent from three-point range, tied for the fourth-best mark in the NBA among qualified players.
Brooks is a very weak scorer at the rim and can be a liability on defense, but overall, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has to be thrilled with the returns Chicago has gotten from the minimum-contract signee.
After a three-year stint in Minnesota, J.J. Barea returned to Dallas in October and is having his best season since the Mavericks’ 2011 championship run. In fact, by PER (15.7), the diminutive guard is enjoying his best season, period.
Barea’s overall per-game scoring numbers are down, but he’s been better on defense and has dramatically cut his turnovers. The Mavericks offense has struggled a bit to incorporate Rajon Rondo into coach Rick Carlisle’s scheme, so Barea’s familiarity with the team has been an important constant.
D.J. Augustin hasn’t lived up to his potential as a former top-10 pick. But aside from a ghastly 10-game cameo with the Raptors last season, he’s proven himself as a passable backup point guard during his seven seasons in the NBA. And that’s exactly why Oklahoma City made sure to acquire him in the Reggie Jackson trade last week.
Augustin had logged a career-worst 32.7 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc this season with the Pistons, but his 37.3 percent career mark indicates that might have been more of a result of Detroit’s space-challenged offense—as does his 4-for-8 start with the Thunder.
It seems as though the former Texas star will get his fair share of work behind Russell Westbrook. Augustin led the Thunder with 30 minutes during his second game with team on Sunday night, albeit in a blowout over Denver.
Many pundits lamented Sacramento’s decision to replace the departed Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison in the offseason. But Collison has performed better than anyone expected, putting up career-high marks in scoring (16.1 points per game) and PER (17.7) while shooting well from the corners. He’s also shown surprising efficiency in the restricted zone (60.7 percent) for someone who’s 6-feet tall and 175 pounds.
At 5’9”, Isaiah Thomas is currently the shortest active player in the league. He was also the very last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft. And he was just traded to the Boston Celtics less than a year after inking a modest four-year, $27 million contract with Phoenix last summer. So it’s fair to say he’s been overlooked during his professional basketball career.
Nevertheless, Thomas has absolutely been a worthy starter since the day he entered the league, posting a PER of at least 17.5 during each of his four seasons. He had to come off the bench for Phoenix this year with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe already in the starting lineup, even though the Suns were more than five points per 100 possessions better with Thomas on the court.
The decision by the Celtics' Danny Ainge to acquire Thomas could prove to be a genius stroke. For the small price of Marcus Thornton and what should be a late first-round pick (owned by the Cavaliers) in the 2016 draft, Boston acquired a bonafide scorer who could form a perfect balance with defensive whiz Marcus Smart for years to come.
In his first game with Boston Sunday night, Thomas scored 21 points in 25 minutes against the Lakers before being ejected with 5:03 left in regulation.
3. Ty Lawson, Nuggets
Ty Lawson isn’t enough of a force to be the first scoring option on a playoff team, but he’s done his work to push Denver into the playoffs this year.
The speedy North Carolina product is nearly averaging a double-double for the first time while playing 36.7 minutes a night for the Nuggets, who absolutely collapse on offense without Lawson. Denver scores 107.3 points per 100 possessions with their pint-sized point guard, compared to 95.1 without him.
2. Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Kyle Lowry was always good when he played for Houston for three-and-a-half seasons, but the Philadelphia native and former Villanova standout has escalated his play to a new level over the past two years in Toronto.
Even with DeMar DeRozan injured for most of this season, Lowry has led the Raptors to the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference. He was deservedly rewarded with his first All-Star berth this season.
Most of the plaudits in the East this season have gone to the Hawks and suddenly-hot Cavaliers, but Toronto is just as legitimate of a championship contender.
Paul is simply the most invaluable member of the Clippers—more irreplaceable than Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and perhaps coach Doc Rivers. When CP3 is playing, L.A. scores an astounding 117.9 points per 100 possessions. Without him, that figure falls to a pedestrian 102.4.
As usual, Paul’s efficiency is above-average from just about every shooting zone this season, while his PER (24.4) is eighth-best in the NBA and the highest on this list. That mark is actually a bit below his stellar career average of 25.5—but that just proves that no matter how short a player is in the league, they can build the highest of standards to abide by.
PointAfter is part of the FindTheBest network, a research website that’s collected all the information about Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it.
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