The first thing we notice in an athlete in any sport is size. Well before determining whether a player is talented, first impressions boil down to one visceral reaction – one comment. “Look at the size of that guy!” Whether that refers to a person’s size or height, it’s almost always going to be the first thing players, personnel, and fans alike will notice. Height is a physical trait that’s impossible to ignore, especially true for basketball players since the entire game relies on a player’s ability to reach a 10-foot hoop. Despite the importance of height in basketball, the NBA seems to treat height like an immeasurable guessing game.
Reading an “official” height in a player profile is often as legitimate and trustworthy as a daily horoscope. Athletes across the league, from point guards to centers, openly laugh about their listed height. Just looking at the height discrepancy between a player’s listed height at the college level to when he enters the pros is enough to question the legitimacy of how accurate the measurements really are. When it comes to point guards around the league, the designation of being 6’0 on paper can be nothing more than a bit of eye candy to ease the worries of an assumed mismatch. With the ever-increasing height of the average NBA player in the league, some smaller players prove that skill trumps any given physical “advantage” that comes with height.
15 Avery Johnson
Avery “The Little General” Johnson has had a stellar basketball career. As his nickname would suggest, Johnson was not exactly the most physically imposing guy on the court. Standing at 5’10, Avery Johnson had to rely on his smarts to beat opponents on the floor, which is exactly what he did throughout his incredible 16-year career as an NBA player. Ten of those years were spent in San Antonio where Johnson arguably left his greatest mark as a player. In the 1998-99 season, he helped lead the Spurs to an NBA Championship.
The Little General didn’t just get his nickname by being the shortest guy on the court, he earned it with his knack for leadership. The Spurs recognized all AJ had done for the team and retired his No. 6 jersey in 2007. Johnson’s proven leadership translated to the next level, as he spent six years as an NBA head coach, earning the title of “NBA Coach of the Year” in 2006, and now coaches at the D-1 level.
14 D.J. Augustin
D.J. Augustin is listed as a 6’0 point guard that leaves many scratching their heads when seeing him on the court. In pre-draft measurements, Augustin was listed at 5’10 without shoes on, and even with shoes on, still doesn’t quite make the cut for 6’0. Despite being undersized, the Texas Longhorn product has carved out a nice career for himself. Before leaving for the NBA in 2008, Augustin was considered one of the top point guards in the nation in his two years at Texas. His freshman year was a constant highlight reel, as he played alongside fellow freshman Kevin Durant.
Augustin had high expectations entering the NBA Draft, going as the ninth overall pick to the Charlotte Bobcats. The undersized point guard had his work cut out for him, playing for a Bobcats team that provided essentially no support and consisted of a roster that was forgettable, to say the least. After playing his first four years in Charlotte, Augustin has become quite the journeyman, playing for seven teams in eight years.
13 Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson is another supposed six-footer that draws the question, “wait, really?” when trying to wrap our heads around how that makes sense. Nelson is listed at 5’11 without shoes, but has the physique of a running back to make up for what he lacks in height. He’s also got some serious all-around skills that make him a lethal player. In his senior year, Nelson and St. Joseph’s teammate Delonte West led the Hawks to an absurd 27-0 NCAA record.
Nelson proved that he was fully capable of taking his skills to the next level. Nelson is a seasoned NBA veteran, playing in the league for 12 years now. In his first 10 seasons (all with the Magic), Nelson helped lead Orlando to six straight playoff appearances and one NBA Finals. Since being selected an All-Star in 2009, Nelson has continued to show that he’s an NBA caliber guard and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
12 J.J. Barea
J.J. Barea may be the most laughable attempt at passing for 6’0. Seriously, even Barea laughed about his listed 6-foot height, claiming “I’m 5-10 on a good day.” Point guards are notoriously estimated as being shorter than they really are as they’re surrounded by giants, but even when standing alone Barea barely passes for short. Pre-draft measurements list Barea at 5’10 without shoes, which still feels like a few inches too much. However, that hasn’t stopped the small guard from competing at the top level throughout his career.
The Puerto Rican point guard has continually proven that height isn’t everything. From humble beginnings at the largely unrecognized Northeastern University, Barea went undrafted in the 2006 NBA Draft. Fast-forward ten years later and Barea is still playing at an elite level. All seven seasons that Barea spent with the Mavericks have resulted in playoff appearances including a championship with Dallas in 2011. When it comes to backup point guards, the little guy is as trustworthy as they come.
11 Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson is on a long list of high-caliber NBA players who also call themselves Tarheels. The UNC product won an NCAA National Championship in 2009 with a star-studded cast of future NBA players. Lawson’s teammates clearly prepared him for the next level, as he played alongside Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, and Tyler Zeller.
Lawson is listed at only 5’11, but relies on his explosive speed to keep defenders on their toes. From 2009-15, Lawson spent his first six NBA seasons with the Denver Nuggets where he continually produced. Some of his top stats came in the 2013-14 season when he put up some of his best numbers, averaging 17.6 points, 8.8 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. He has been a force of nature in the league thus far, and looks to fill a huge gap with his new team (Sacramento Kings) left behind in the wake of Rajon Rondo’s departure.
10 Calvin Murphy
Calvin “The Pocket Rocket” Murphy is the type of player short athletes (relatively speaking) hope to be just like. The 5’9 point guard is legendary in every regard right down to his epic nickname. Before Murphy made a name for himself, he was an extremely talented baton twirler. Yup, you read that right. Back in his home town of Norwalk, Connecticut, Murphy brought home three State Championships for the unique talent. Then he dominated basketball.
Calvin Murphy spent the entirety of his 13-year NBA career with the Houston (originally San Diego in his rookie year) Rockets from 1970-83. Murphy was unstoppable, averaging 17.9 ppg, 4.4 apg, and 1.5 spg for his career. The 1979 All-Star’s incredible contribution to the game led to the Rockets retiring his No. 23, and a well-deserved induction into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Murphy is still a familiar face in Houston where he works as an analyst for the Rockets.
9 Damon Stoudamire
Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire shot lights out throughout his 13-year NBA career. The 5’10 point guard made history as the first player ever selected by the Toronto Raptors (seventh overall) when the team was first established back in 1995. Stoudamire certainly didn’t disappoint. Mighty Mouse proved that height isn’t everything by earning Rookie of the Year in 1996 as he narrowly missed averaging a double-double with 19.0 ppg and 9.3 apg. It’s fitting to mention that Stoudamire is the shortest player to ever win that award.
Mighty Mouse spent the majority of his career with the Portland Trailblazers where he made six of his seven career playoff appearances alongside fellow teammates – and NBA greats – Scottie Pippen and Rasheed Wallace. Despite dealing with a number of injuries throughout his career, the little guy played with a lot of heart as evidenced by an incredible 11,763 total points. Stoudamire’s playing days may be over, but his basketball career isn’t over yet. Since retiring, the former point guard has coached both at the NBA and college level, and is entering his first year as head coach at Pacific University.
8 Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker is listed at 6’1, but don’t let that fool you. At the NBA Draft Combine, Kemba was measured at 5’11.5 without shoes. He may be small, but he plays with some big heart. The Bobcats’ star point guard staked his claim as one of the most clutch players in basketball while he was still in college with the UConn Huskies. Walker was the face of March Madness as he seemingly won the 2011 NCAA National Championship single-handedly with his coveted ankle-breaking step back, buzzer beaters, and leadership well beyond his years.
Many were unsure how undersized Walker would fair in the NBA, but the UConn shooter has translated his game to the pros seamlessly. Thanks in large part to his leadership, the 2015-16 Hornets tallied their most wins (48) since the 1999-2000 season (49). Things look to continue improving with Kemba at the helm; the young point guard produced a career high 20.9 ppg last season and he looks like he’s only getting better.
7 Anthony “Spud” Webb
Spud Webb is up there with some of the most iconic names in the NBA despite being one of the shortest to ever play at the highest level of the game. Listed at just 5’7, Spud Webb’s 12-year career has been an inspiration to little guys around the world with big dreams. With such a small stature, the journey to play pro was not an easy one. Despite an absurd high school career that boasted 26 ppg, Webb’s size was too much to look past for a D-1 offer. Webb was undeterred and played at the junior college level where he led Midland College to a National Championship in 1982. That stellar play earned him a scholarship with D-1 North Carolina State University. In 1985, Webb was selected by the Atlanta Hawks where he spent a majority of his career. It was in 1986 when Spud Webb officially became a household name, becoming the shortest player ever to compete in, and win the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
6 Nate Robinson
Nate Robinson is a behemoth that stands at just 5’9. The 21st overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft has changed the game when it comes to athleticism. Robinson posted solid numbers throughout his 11-year career, but it was his insane highlight reel of vertical displays that made him a legend. The undersized point guard made his rounds playing for eight different teams, providing a spark off the bench with countless impact plays. One of the most memorable in-game plays during his career occurred in 2006 at a home game with the Knicks when he met the 7’6 Yao Ming and elevated to stuff him at the rim. That jaw-dropping display of athleticism was only a sign of more great things to come. Nate Robinson continually stunned players and fans alike by setting the bar high with a record three NBA Dunk Contest titles in 2006, 2009, and 2010.
5 Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas has been a solid point guard in the NBA since being drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 2011. The 5’9 point guard is as talented as they come on the offensive end, but constantly had question marks surround him due his lack of size. It wasn’t until being traded to his third team – from the Phoenix Suns to the Boston Celtics – that fans, players, and coaches around the league fully understood just how talented of a player they had in Thomas.
Isaiah Thomas, aptly nicknamed “The Little Guy” by Celtics announcer Tommy Heinsohn has proven that he’s one of the most elite players in the game despite his unassuming height. Thomas made his first All-Star appearance in the 2015-16 season after averaging 22.2 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.1 steals per game. The lefty shoots lights out, and though it’s a legitimate question as to whether he can even touch the rim or not, defenders know they have their work cut out for them any time he’s on the floor.
4 Earl Boykins
Earl Boykins is the second shortest player in NBA history, standing at a mere 5’5. Boykins first entered the league in the 1998-99 season with the New Jersey Nets. The Nets were the first of ten teams to make the little guy a spot on the roster, the last team being the Houston Rockets in 2012. Ten teams is an accomplishment in its own right – Boykins has literally played for 1/3 of the NBA.
If there wasn’t actually video footage of Boykins, he’d sound like some sort of mythical legend. Forget 5’5, weighing in at only 135 pounds, it sounds like all the doors in the arena needed to be closed just so Boykins wouldn’t blow away. Rumors of his freakish genes were a constant from his apparent 44-inch vertical (which makes sense since he could dunk) to supposed ability to bench press over 300 pounds. Boykins was truly an NBA treasure.
3 Chris Paul
Chris Paul is a 6’0 point guard that is, shocker, not actually 6’0! The NBA Draft Combine lists Paul at 5’11.75 without shoes. The Wake Forest product hasn’t needed to height to shine throughout his entire basketball career. CP3 made headlines back in high school when he put up an incredible, and touching performance. Days after his grandfather died at the age of 61, Paul honored him by scoring 61 points.
At Wake Forest, CP3’s dominance continued as he single-handedly led the team to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen his freshman year. Since being selected fourth overall by the New Orleans Hornets in the 2005 NBA Draft, Paul has maintained his status as one of the best players in the game. CP3 was awarded Rookie of the Year in 2006, and he hasn’t looked back. Paul is a nine-time All-Star, six-time NBA assists leader, four-time NBA steals leader, and six-time All-NBA First Team amongst many other honors.
2 Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues
Muggsy Bogues is the shortest player in NBA history, standing at just 5’3. The fact that he was ever even able to get looks from scouts at the professional level speaks worlds about how talented he truly is. Though there may not be many, every inch of Muggsy oozes basketball right down to his nickname. When he was just a kid, Tyrone was dubbed “Muggsy” thanks to his knack for stealing the ball – clearly, it’s stuck ever since.
After Bogues graduated from Wake Forest, he was selected 12th overall by the Washington Bullets in the 1987. The star point guard went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA. Bogues spent a majority of his career with the iconic Charlotte Hornets team where he played alongside fellow legends Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever managing to beat out Bogues for shortest NBA player, but then again it’s tough to wrap our heads around how Bogues defied expectations himself.
1 Allen Iverson
Allen “The Answer” Iverson is listed as a 6’0 point guard (and 6’1” on more forgiving charts), but that does a disservice to the recently inducted Hal of Fame player. AI’s true height may be shrouded in mystery, but it’s no secret that the official designation is an exaggeration. Early in his career, AI skied up to the rim for some jams that looked almost inhuman. The 76ers star made up for his “frail” physique with unmatched confidence. Iverson reinvented the game with his incredible handles and hardnosed attitude. He was the bad boy of the NBA and could back up his trash talk on any given night. Highlights were a guarantee. From crossing up Michael Jordan to the infamous step-over stare down against Tyronn Lue in the NBA Finals, AI’s play was legendary. The first overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft was an enigma through 14 seasons: 11-time All-Star, two-time All-Star MVP, four-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, Rookie of the Year (1997), and MVP (2001) were some of the many 2016 HOFer’s accolades.