You will often hear basketball pundits state that a player has great length. When they mention length, they are not talking about a players height, but more so his wingspan. A person’s wingspan is the measurement from the tips of one finger to the other. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man depicts the ideal human as having a wingspan equal to his height, but this was based off a human that was 5’5. The average modern human being is said to have a wingspan 2 inches greater than his height. The average NBA player will have a wingspan 4 inches greater than his height.
Wingspan is a key measurement because it allows a player of a lesser stature to compete with players who may be physically taller than them. Take a look at the great defenders in the NBA, and the one common thread you will find in all of them is an impressive wingspan. Whether it be to reach for a block, getting into passing lanes, or poking balls away, extra length is a determining factor for a great defender. On the offensive side, superior wingspan allows a shooter to have less shots contested, as he can get the ball further away from a defender.
Great wingspan measurements comes from players of all heights. An elite wingspan is considered as a measurement that is 6.5% greater than the player’s height. Great height does not necessarily equate elite wingspan. Take for instance Yao Ming, who stood an impressive 7’6, but his wingspan was actually smaller than his height at 7’5 inches. Then you have a player like Dwyane Wade who is 6’5, but has a wingspan of 6’10. That is 6.5% greater than his height. The following top 15 will look at the most impressive wingspans in NBA history.
15 Jason Maxiell
Jason Maxiell was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in the 1st round of the 2005 draft. This year marks his 10th year in the league, and by all accounts, he's had a relative unspectacular career. What does stand out is Maxiell’s stature. He is a 6’6 player, and he's held his own thanks to a 260 pound base and a 7’3 wingspan. The 7’3 wing span is 11.5% greater than his height. This ratio is one of the higher percentages for players who have played in the NBA. Maxiell shows how an undersized player can keep pace with taller guys when they possess elite wingspan.
14 Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard is one of the premiere big men of the modern area, but stands at only 6’10. Howard makes up for his height with an elite wingspan that measures 7’5. That is 8.5% greater than his height. Howard has used that wingspan to become an elite rebounder and shot blocker. He is also the youngest player to reach 1,000 rebounds, and each benchmark from that point through to 9,000 rebounds. His shotblocking prowess is also noted as he has led the league twice in this category, and has a career average of 2.2 blocks. Howard is also the only player in league history to have won Defensive Player of the Year in three consecutive years. His elite wingspan has allowed him to dominant the game over the last 10 years, and he has carved himself out a Hall of Fame worthy career.
13 Bismack Biyombo
Bismack Biyombo was selected 7th overall in the 2011 NBA draft by the Charlotte Bobcats at the tender age of 18. He was a raw athlete out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, having only picked up the sport at the age of 16. The reason the Bobcats took a risk on this extremely raw player was due to his freakish wingspan. Biyombo stands 6’8, but has a wingspan that stretches out to 7’6. To put that into perspective that is only one inch shorter than Shaq's wingspan. Biyombo has been playing center for Charlotte over the course of the past 3 years, and at 6’9, is one of the smaller centers in the league, but the wingspan more than makes up for the height deficiency. At the age of 19, Biyombo averaged 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes and showed some promise. Unfortunaly he's had a difficult time keeping pace with the speed of the NBA, and his limited offensive game has come to light. He is still young, and could be molded into something, but as it stands now, the Bismack Biyombo experiment is teetering on bust status.
12 Tayshaun Prince
Tayshaun Prince broke out in the Detroit Pistons championship run of 2004. Prince was never a skilled offensive player, but has been one of the best perimeter defenders of the last decade. Standing 6’9, Prince has a 7’2 inch wingspan, which appears even greater due to his rail thin physique (some people claim his wingspan is closer to 7’6). His length gives nightmares to the NBA’s best on a nightly basis as he would be frustrating the likes of Kobe, Melo, and LeBron. When in his defensive stance, Price looks almost impossible to get around, and his long arms allow him to play off players while contesting every shot. Prince will not go down in any record books, but ask some of the games best who the toughest defender they faced is, and Tayshaun Prince’s name will be be right up there.
11 Jerry West
This entry could be part of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Wingspan data is something that has only been recorded precisely over the last couple of decades. Any data prior to that is not a guarantee, and much of it is urban legend that grew a life of its own. One such case is the legendary Jerry West. The NBA logo features a silhouette of Jerry West, and that player does appear to have rather long arms. The most accurate reports found that West had an 81 inch wingspan, which would translate to 6’9. West only stood 6’2 which would make his wingspan 9.5% greater than his height. West was known for his extremely quick jump shot, and when coupled with his length, it formed one of the deadliest jump shots in NBA history.
10 Kevin Durant
The four-time NBA scoring champ is a player who uses his impressive wingspan to gain an advantage on the offensive side of the court. Kevin Durant stands 6’10 and has a 7’5 wingspan. That wingspan is the same size that the 7’5 Shawn Bradley had. Durant is what is referred to as a hop shooter, something rare for a player of his height. The hop shooting style allows him to get his shot off very quickly, and what makes Durant special is his point of release. With his added length, Durant is able to get the ball in a position that is very hard to defend. When Durant drives the lane, his length allows him to finish with greater success, and have less shots contested. Durant is one of the 6 members of the 50-40-90 club. This is a player who has shot 50% from the field, 40% from 3 point land, and 90% from the line. What is so impressive is that he has maintained those percentage despite the heavy volume of shots he takes. Durant is a prime example that elite length, when combined with elite skills, make a truly special player.
9 Anthony Davis
In only his third year, Anthony Davis is already one of the league’s biggest stars. On the opening night of the 2014 season, he went for 26 points, 17 boards, 3 steals, and 9 blocks. A big reason for those 9 blocks can be attributed to his gargantuan wingspan. Davis stands 6’10, and, at the 2012 pre-draft combine, was measured to have a 7’5 wing span. A recent promotional poster out of New Orleans shows Davis with a 7’7 wingspan. This has lead some to believe that he is still growing, while most believe it is just a case of the Pelicans stretching the truth a little. What is not a stretch is that Davis is a premiere athlete, with an incredible wingspan. That athleticism when combined with his physical attributes is going to reign terror over this league for many years, and it is going to be an utter joy to watch.
8 Elton Brand
Elton Brand is entering his 16th year in the NBA this season with the Atlanta Hawks. Brand was the #1 overall pick in 1999 out of Duke. At 6’8, Brand is undersized as an NBA power forward, but has made up for it with a giant wingspan that measures 7’5. That is a 12% increase in wingspan from his height. It is that length that has sustained Brand’s career. During the 2000’s, Brand was one of the better rebounders and defenders. He led the league in rebounds twice and during the 2000’s he averaged 10.2 rebounds a game. Brand was a great post defender and shot blocker, as he averaged 2 blocks a game from 2001-2008. Brand thwarted the pre-draft analysis that claimed he would be too small to have a sustainable career in the NBA.
7 Kawhi Leonard
When Kawhi Leonard took home the NBA playoff MVP, he became the second youngest player to do so, as only Magic Johnson (who did it twice before the age of 23) did it younger. Despite not being as tall as the Lakers legend, Leonard is just as long. Leonard is only 6’7, but possess a gigantic 7’3 wingspan, which is a full 8 inches longer than his height. Remarkably Leonard’s wingspan may not be his freakiest attribute, as that would go to his hand size. Nicknamed “The Claw,” Leonard possess a hand spread that measures 11.25 inches, which is bigger than Wilt, Shaq or Bill Russell. It seems like Leonard is only starting to scratch the surface of what he can do with such freaky physical attributes. He has seen his points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and field goal percentage increase in each of his first three seasons in the league. As the big three start to fade out in San Antonio, Leonard will become the face of the franchise. With his freakish physical attributes, the future seems in very good, and large, hands.
6 Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen is one of the most versatile players in NBA history. Pippen could pass like a point guard, rebound like a power forward, and score like a shooting guard. But, his biggest skill was his defense. Scottie Pippen stood 6’8 inches, but had a wingspan of 7’3, which is modest in comparison to some of the other players on this list, but Pippen used that length to its full extent. Playing in the shadow of the greatest player in NBA history is a daunting task and people will always wonder how much of Pippen’s success was due to Jordan. The reality is that Pippen did a lot of things that made Jordan a better player. One of those things was being a relentless defender. Pippen used his incredible length to cover the best player on a nightly basis and whether they were a forward or a guard didn't matter, as Pippen had both the size and quickness to match up with anyone. In his career, he averaged 2 steals a game and was named to the all-defensive team 10 out of 17 years he was in the league. When you factor in the rest of his all around game, it is no surprise he is one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players.
5 Alonzo Mourning
Alonzo Mourning had a decorated NBA career as a seven-time all-star who had two Defensive Player of the Year awards and one NBA title. Coming into the league, many pundits wondered if Mourning could be a starting center at only 6’9. What Mourning lacked in height, he made up for with a massive 7’6 wingspan. That length helped him become one of the most prolific shot blocker in league history. In 1999, when he won his first Defensive Player of the Year, he had an insane 3.9 blocks a game. Mourning has the most blocks in NBA history for a player under 7’0 feet tall with 2,356 (11th on the all-time list). Mourning was blessed with God given length, but it was his heart and passion for the game that ultimately made him one of the best that ever stepped on an NBA court.
4 Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain is part of many extraordinary tales and finding accurate data on the legendary big man is no small feat. What we do know is Chamberlain stood about 7’1, while his wingspan is up for debate. The smallest report records it at 7’8, while the largest account has it at 8’4 inches. At either end of the spectrum, the measurement would be considered elite. With Wilt being the most dominant force of his era, it lends to the theory that his wingspan was truly elite. There are a couple of pictures showing Wilt out stretched, and he certainly looks to possess a wing span in the range of 8’0. There is no denying the greatness of Wilt Chamberlain and a superior length was a major reason he was unstoppable. What that actual measurement was, we may never know.
3 Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo is currently one of the best point guards in the league. It seems every time he steps on a court he is a threat for a triple double, and a lot of that can attributed to his ridiculous wingspan. Rajon Rondo only stands 6’1, but has a wingspan that stretches to 6’9. That is an 11% increase on his height. That length has made him one of the best point guard defenders. He is a four-time All-Defensive team member, and he led the league in steals in 2009-10. On the offensive side of the ball, Rondo like to drive with a scooping layup. His extra length allows him to keep the ball away from incoming defenders, making for some spectacular finishes. Rondo also poses very large hands at 9.5 inches long, and 10 inches wide. To put that in perspective, his hands are larger than that of Lebron James. Rajon Rondo's length at the point guard position makes him a one of a kind player.
2 Kevin McHale
Kevin McHale was one of the best players of the 1980’s. Along with Larry Bird, and Robert Parish, McHale formed the most dominant front line in NBA history. In his own right McHale was one of the league’s great. Charles Barkley has been quoted saying McHale was the best player he ever played against. McHale stood 6’10 and was reported to have a colossal wingspan that stretched to 8’0. That would have been a 17% increase on his height. One report claims McHale could tie his shoes without having to bend over. McHale is known as one of the best post players in NBA history due to his great footwork and arsenal of moves. Former NBA coach Hubie Brown had this to say about McHale: "He was totally unstoppable because of his quickness, diversification of moves and the long arms that gave him an angle to release the ball over a taller man or more explosive jumper." Kevin McHale has gone down as one of the 50 best NBA players of all time, and is probably the best example in NBA history of how length can be used to dominate on both ends of the court.
1 Manute Bol
Everyone knows that Manute Bol was the tallest player in NBA history, but he also possessed the largest wingspan. While standing 7’7, Bol’s wingspan was an unheard of 8’6. Even when considering his height, the wingspan is still 12.1% large than his body. Despite many people’s belief, Bol was not solely a freakshow, as he sustained a 10 year NBA career, playing for 4 different teams. He was one of the best shot blockers in NBA history and a lot of that, obviously, had to do with the enormous wingspan. Chew on these numbers for a moment. In his career, Bol averaged 3.3 blocks a game, in just 18.7 minutes. Per 48 minutes that number would be 8.6 blocks a game and the next closest to him is Mark Eaton at only 5.3. Bol is 15th all time in blocked shots with 2,086, but he did that in only 11,698 minutes. To put that in perspective, number 10 is legendary Robert Parish and he put up only 300 more blocks than Bol in his career, but it took him 45,704 minutes. That is 4x the amount of time it took Bol to put up roughly the same amount of blocks. The problem for Bol was his offensive game was non-existent. He is the only player in NBA history to have more blocks than points (2,086 blocks vs. 1599 points). If Bol had any type of offensive game to merit him more minutes, he would have set the blocks record so high that it would have never been touched. What he showed us is that truly elite stats can be produced by some with almost no talent, but insanely freaky physical attributes.