Increasingly, future NBA players are being selected not based upon their talent, but based upon their potential. One of the greatest markers that show a player’s potential is not only their skill and athleticism, but their size, and more specifically, their wingspan.
Every year, draftees and potential waiver pick-ups are measured, scrutinized, and analyzed at the NBA combine. Often times, it is this data that can make a player on the fence a NBA player versus a future European player. Paul Pierce recently said that if he was entering the draft today, he is not sure if he would even be drafted. If you look at Pierce’s specs, he doesn’t exactly stand head and shoulders above your typical NBA player. Pierce has average height for a small forward. He has always been an average athlete at best. When you look at him, he doesn’t have the muscles and length of other players at his position, such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Pierce is average by NBA standards. In fact, he might even be below average when it comes to speed. Yet, he's an NBA Champion, one of the best Boston Celtics to ever wear green and white, and is a first ballot Hall of Famer.
The 2014 draft class was supposed to be one of the best classes in recent memory. Yet, none of these rookies are even close to being the type of franchise player that Paul Pierce was when he was a rookie. But what these rookies were drafted on was potential, not immediate impact. The possibilities of drafting and developing a player with the length of a Giannis Antetokounmpo are just too tantalizing for teams that are bad and in need of future superstars. Sure, there are one or two players every draft that could potentially change a franchise, but if you’re never selecting in the Top-2, why not take a gamble on a player that could be a potentially Top-2 player one or two years from now?
From a purely metrics point of view, you cannot teach someone how to be 7-feet-tall, but you can teach them how to shoot. With that said, who are some of the players today with the longest limbs and wingspans in the NBA?
15 Tyreke Evans – 6’4” With 6’11” Wingspan
A few years ago, I was at a movie theater and Tyreke Evans was sitting behind me. After the movie was over and we exited the theater, I got to size up Tyreke side-by-side. The fact that a guy with his length is able to play point guard is downright scary. His limbs were so long, it looked like he could tie his shoes without bending over. So far this season, Evans is average 15.0 points per game, to go along with 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game.
14 John Henson – 6’11” With 7’5” Wingspan
How can you not scream, “Go, go, gadget arms” any time you watch John Henson play basketball. Henson has a standing reach of 9’4” and is all arms and legs. His limbs are so long, it makes his face and torso look small. If Henson’s game can catch up to his body, he will become one of the premier shot blockers in the league. On the season so far, he's averaging 1.2 blocks per game in only 12.8 minutes.
13 Eric Bledsoe – 6’0” With 6’8” Wingspan
Eric Bledsoe may look like a running back with his size, speed, and muscles, but when you look at his arms, you understand why he is an NBA player. Bledsoe has freakishly long arms for a player that is 6’0” without any shoes on. But despite his lack of size, his wingspan allows him to finish in the paint. So far this season, the 24 year old point guard is averaging 14.2 points per game and 5.5 assists per game.
12 DeAndre Jordan – 6’11” With 7’6” Wingspan
DeAndre Jordan is the perfect example of a player that was drafted because of his potential and not because of his size. Jordan has always been a terrific athlete and his 7’6” wingspan make him look like he is a 7’0” footer when he is not. As a result, Jordan has become one of the most intimidating players in the paint and one of best rebounders as well. He's proving that so far this season, as he's averaging 11.5 rebounds blocks per game and 2.2 blocks per game and ranks in the top 5 in both categories.
11 DeJuan Blair – 6’6” With 7’2” Wingspan
The fact that Dejuan Blair is still in the NBA is a miracle. Blair dropped in the 2009 draft because he had no anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) in either of his knees. Five years later, Blair has defied science and continues to fill a niche specific role in the NBA. A part of the reason why Blair doesn’t need ACL’s is because he has a standing reach of 8’11”. Blair is your typical undersized power forward and center, but his wingspan and his girth allows him to get away with the inches that he gives up.
10 Kawhi Leonard – 6’7” With 7’3” Wingspan
The Claw is now a household name after winning the NBA Finals MVP. Kawhi has pretty good size for a small forward, but what really sets him apart is his wingspan and the size of his hands. Basketballs often look like volleyballs in his hands. It is one of the many reasons that make him a tremendous defender. He can give space on defense, so defenders don’t drive by him, yet, he can recover the ground he gives up because of his outstanding length.
9 Kevin Durant – 6’9” With 7’5” Wingspan
You may have seen Kevin Durant in the movie Avatar. He is that long and that gazelle-like. Durant has a standing reach of 9’2”, which is shocking for someone that is supposed to be a small forward. He is slender, but even when he is backed down on defense, his length more than makes up for it. The Thunder will be hoping to get back their freakish superstar sooner rather than later, so they can climb back into postseason contention.
8 Anthony Davis – 6’10” With 7’6” Wingspan
Anthony Davis has a standing reach of 9.0 feet. His IQ and length are the explanation for why he is the best defender and shot blocker in the NBA today, not to mention one of the best perimeter defenders as well. It is no coincidence that Davis is number one in blocks, with 3.5 per game, and number two in steals this year. with 2.2 per game. As Davis continues to improve, the sky is truly the limit with this young superstar.
7 Giannis Antetokounmpo – 6’9” With 7’3 Wingspan
The scary thing about the Greek Freak is that he is still growing. When he was first drafted, he was listed at 6’9”, but in reality he is probably closer to 6’10.5” today, which likely means that his wingspan has grown along with his height. Giannis has now entered into the Bucks starting line-up and the exciting news is that his development is going at a very fast rate. If you're a fan of the Bucks, there's a lot to be excited about with this young forward.
6 Rudy Gobert – 7’1” With 7’9” Wingspan
Rudy Gobert has the longest standing reach out of anyone in the NBA with a reach of 9’7”. Gobert can nearly grab the rim without even jumping. To make it even more unfair, he is pretty athletic for his size. It is the reason why he is quickly becoming one of the best shot blockers in the NBA today. At this point in the season, he's averaging 1.5 blocks per game and 4.6 rebounds per game. Not spectacular, but still decent for the second year player.
5 Alexis Ajinca – 7'1” With 7’9” Wingspan
Alexis has bounced around the league quite a bit for the past six years, but what keeps him around is his standing reach of 9’4.” He is not the most athletic guy in the world, but when he gets vertical, he is one of the tallest people in the league. Seven footers are rare in the league, so players like Ajinca will always have a place in the NBA
4 Larry Sanders – 6’9” With 7’7” Wingspan
Larry Sanders has sort of fallen off the map over the past two years with his on the court and off the court problems. However, what landed Sanders his mega-contract was the fact that he was a bonafide shot blocker two years ago. Sanders has one of the best wingspans in the NBA right now, so if he can get back on track and stay out of foul trouble, he can get back to where he was before. On the year, he's averaging 1.7 blocks per game, which is a shade below his career average of 1.9 blocks per game.
3 Bismack Biyombo – 6’9” With 7’6” Wingspan
Bismack Biyombo was one of those players that was drafted more on potential that current talent. Today, Biyombo still hasn’t reached that talent level, however, he is still a decent defender due to his wingspan. Biyombo has a standing reach of 9’3,” which enables him to blocks shots from pretty much anywhere on the court. So far this year, with the re-branded Charlotte Hornets, he's averaged 1.5 blocks per game.
2 Elton Brand – 6’8” With 7’6” Wingspan
Brand may no longer be brand new, but one thing that he still has despite his lack of athleticism is his wingspan. Brand has a standing reach of 9’2,” which at one point, enabled him to become of the best shot blockers in the NBA when he was younger. Today, Brand is at the end of his career, but he is still a very serviceable rebounder in the paint. With a career average of 1.8 rebounds per game, Elton Brand has had an impressive career after being drafted first overall.
1 Bruno Caboclo – 6’9” With 7’7” Wingspan
You may not know who Bruno is, but neither did most people when he was drafted by the Toronto Raptors. This young kid was drafted solely on potential. He has a giant wingspan of 7’7” and he is also very athletic for his size. Additionally, Bruno has a decent and serviceable jump shot, so if he can bring everything together some time in the next couple of years, the Raptors can draft and stash him on their team without sending him to Europe.