NBA Draft Questions: Does Height Matter for Point Guards?
Taller players always have an leg up against shorter players in basketball. The ability to shoot over shorter defenders on offense and tower over smaller opponents on defense gives players a distinct advantage on both sides of the ball, particularly in the post.
Point guard is the one position where players seem to have success without a distinct height advantage. Some of the greatest point guards to ever play the game were 6'2" or shorter. John Stockton is 6'1", Allen Iverson is 6'0" and the consensus best point guard in the league today (and also best according to nERD), Chris Paul, is only 6'0" as well.
With that said, the NBA draft is all about upside. Players with superior size and athleticism are often valued higher than smaller players with more polish. While NBA scouts may know less about Dante Exum than other point guards, his elite height (6'6") and quickness have him as the number one overall point guard on most teams' boards. Specifically, Exum is rated way higher than shorter guys like Tyler Ennis (6'2") and Shabazz Napier (6'1"), who we have already seen perform on the big stage. You can learn more about Exum from Brandon Gdula, by the way, here.
But, in the end, are short point guards as successful in the NBA as taller point guards? Let's take a closer look.
Where Have They Been Drafted?
I will get into the success of short point guards versus tall point guards later, but first I want to dig a little deeper into how these players are being valued on draft day. Here is a list of all of the point guards drafted over the past three years that were 6'2" or shorter:
As you can see, just 12 point guards who are 6'2" or shorter were drafted in the past three years. Additionally, only three players on this list were drafted in the top 10 - Trey Burke, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette - and all three of these players were All-American performers in college.
Although few of these players were selected within the first 10 picks, 8 out of these 12 players were selected in the first round. This could simply be a coincidence, but it also could be directly tied to the fact that many NBA teams use their second round picks to take players with tremendous upside rather than players that could have an immediate impact on the court. Greater physical tools often means greater upside, which may be why we see more physically imposing players selected later in the draft.
Now, let's see where point guards who are 6'3" or taller were selected:
The first thing that jumps out is that this list includes a lot more names. There are 19 point guards 6'3" or taller that were drafted in the past three years (compared to the 12 shorter players that were drafted). Also, these taller guards were valued significantly higher than those with a height disadvantage.
Of these 19 taller point guards, four of them were drafted in the top 10, including the 2011 number one overall pick, Kyrie Irving, and the 2013 number two overall pick, Victor Oladipo. Additionally, 10 of these players were drafted in the first round compared to the eight shorter guards drafted in similar position.
How Effective Have They Been in the NBA?
NBA teams may view taller point guards as hotter commodities, but does this height advantage translate to results on the court? Here's a list of the 10 point guards who were drafted in the past three years with the highest 2013-2014 nERD:
Only four of the point guards drafted since 2011 - Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving and Cory Joseph - had a positive nERD score in the 2013-2014 season, three of which were 6'3" or taller. In addition, four of the top five players on this list were at least 6'3" tall, Thomas being the only exception. With that said, four out of the five remaining players on this list actually measured in at 6'2" or shorter, making the top ten an even split.
The numbers tell a similar story when you look at some of the players with lower nERD scores. Let's take a look at the top two point guards selected in last year's draft.
Michael Carter-Williams went from being the tallest point guard drafted since Greivis Vasquez in 2010 to winning NBA Rookie of the Year. Although he did put up some prolific numbers which earned him that distinction, his nERD was an abysmal -8.1. Trey Burke, the 6'1" point guard who was drafted just two spots before the former Syracuse star, posted numbers that were good enough for fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, yet he similarly had a horrible nERD of -8.0.
What Does it Mean for This Year's Draft Class?
It's certainly a small sample, but when you look at the results from the past three classes of point guards, height seems to have much more of an impact on where individual players are selected rather than their success on the court. This bodes well for the draft prospects of Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton, but doesn't necessarily mean that they will outperform Tyler Ennis and Shabazz Napier in the long term. If Exum goes to the 76ers at number three overall he will certainly be making more money than Ennis and Napier who project to go in the second half of the first round, but he will also be in a less-desirable on-court situation.
All five of these players are outstanding prospects with tremendous talent. Will they all be All-Stars? Probably not. But I think it's safe to say there are many more important factors which will determine their level of success than how tall they are.