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How Height Plays a Factor in Professional Sports

In Editorials by Anthony Rezendes

Making The Difference in Height

Professional sports has recently been focused on measurements, whether it is weight or height or girth. Taller players or bulkier players have been the choice of general managers and owners. But this is not the case in every sport. For example, being a taller hockey player does not seem to be much of an advantage, while a taller baseball player only seem to offer a larger strike zone to the opposing pitcher. But when it comes to basketball and football, the matter of height has proven to be a deciding factor on offense and defense. It is not the height in and of itself, but the height advantage in combination with the players developed skills and talents that makes the difference.

NBA

Simply being the tallest player on the basketball court at one time was a significant advantage in basketball. As the game evolved into its present day form, a player’s height advantage can be somewhat negated by team defense and strategy. Just because a team has the tallest players does not mean they are destined to win the championship.

  • 10 Tallest Current NBA Players

     

    1. Sim Bhullar / 7’5″ / Sacramento Kings
    2. Roy Hibbert / 7’2″ / Indiana Pacers
    3. Rudy Gobert / 7’2″ / Utah Jazz
    4. Tyson Chandler / 7’1″ / Dallas Mavericks
    5. Marc Gasol / 7’1″ / Memphis Grizzlies
    6. Spencer Hawes / 7’1″ / Charlotte Hornets
    7. Timofey Mozgov / 7’1″ / Cleveland Cavaliers
    8. Meyers Leonard / 7’1″ / Portland Trail Blazers
    9. Alexis Ajinça / 7’1″ / New Orleans Pelicans
    10. Andrea Bargnani / 7’0″ / New York Knicks
  • Top 10 NBA Teams – 2015 

    (bold teams have one of the tallest ten players )

    1. Golden State Warriors
    2. Atlanta Hawks
    3. Houston Rockets
    4. Los Angeles Clippers
    5. Memphis Grizzlies
    6. San Antonio Spurs
    7. Cleveland Cavaliers
    8. Portland Trail Blazers
    9. Chicago Bulls
    10. Dallas Mavericks

The range of end of season records for the 9 tallest NBA players ranks from the best record in the league (Golden State) to the second worst record (Knicks). Obviously, the presence of a tall player is not an indication of a team’s success.

So why then is height such an important factor in the NBA? From an offensive perspective, a taller player can be matched up against a shorter player and simply shoot over the top of the defender. This requires the defense to switch and double team to help out the undersized defender, creating weaknesses in the defense.

When it comes to team defense, a taller player is an important force in defending the basket, particularly in the paint area. What scouts and general managers often look for are players who are all, but also have length. Many tall players have long arms, which enables them to cover more territory and create problems for shooters. It is easy to see that many times the difference between a shot that is successfully released and one that is blocked is literally a natter of inches.

NFL

Unlike the NBA, height in the NFL does not seem to be as important a factor to secure an advantage. But these are two different sports. The issue is how a height advantage at a specific position can translate into making a significant difference in a game. There are specific NFL positions where height can even be more important than talent.

Offense

Quarterback – the quarterback is by far the most important position in football. Football is a team sport, so having a great quarterback does not always guarantee a world championship. But there are unique features of the position where height is not an option but a necessity. The reason is that the quarterback needs to be able to see over the tall linemen. Though some offensive passing plays are designed to throw to a spot, the quarterback needs to be certain the defense has not changed their scheme. The only way he can do this is by seeing the whole field. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule but they are rare.

Wide Receiver – a tall wide receiver has a simple and obvious advantage. He can jump over the defender or out jump the defender for the ball and catch the pass. Consider Randy Moss of earlier years and Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. Having natural athleticism is nice, but height makes all the difference in many passing situations.

Defense

Defensive Linemen – this includes all defensive lineman positions because the advantage in height will allow them to see what the quarterback is doing and partially obstruct his field of vision. Taller players have longer arms, so that increases the possibility of partially or completely blocking a pass. Quarterbacks may have to adjust their throwing angle because they will have to throw over the top of the outstretched arms of a defensive lineman.

Safetys and Cornerbacks – like offensive wide receivers, height is an advantage but not as much as it is for the wide receiver. Thee reason is that while interceptions are nice, their primary defensive job is to prevent the opponent from catching the ball. A taller safety or cornerback usually cancels out any height advantage for the offense.

In Conclusion

Professional sport team owners and general managers look for taller players to create an overall team advantage. Height in itself has limited value, but at a specific position it can be a game changer, and in some cases is the difference between a player being selected as a draft pick or missing out altogether.