The Best NBA Player at Every Height

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IJuly 19, 2012

The Best NBA Player at Every Height

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    Who said that this is a league where only tall players can thrive?

    Well, it certainly helps to be tall. You have to imagine it'd be much tougher for players no bigger than 6'4" to make it to the league and then make their presence felt, compared to a 7'-tall player who simply needs to do nothing other than play with his arms extended like Robin Williams in that depressing Jack movie.

    Believe it or not, this league is diverse in the height department. You have players of all shapes and sizes, with players of every height reigning dominant. These players are able to establish their dominance because they recognize their abilities and utilize their size to their advantage, which is why you have seen guys like Muggsy Bogues and Earl Boykins in the NBA.

    While it certainly helps to be at least 6'5", anybody can make it in the NBA with enough practice and heart.

    We take a look at the varying heights in the league and select the top current players at each height.

Under 6': Ty Lawson

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    At 5'11", Ty Lawson is one of the few players in the league that stands under the 6' threshold.

    When you're that small and capable of thriving in the NBA, it essentially means you know how to utilize your physical traits to your advantage.

    Sure enough, that's exactly what Lawson has done by being able to weave in and out of traffic, fit in lanes where no other players could and finish around the slower, lumbering defenders near the rim. In three short years, the Nuggets' point guard has assumed a starting role and become a leading scorer on a playoff team.

    Lawson averaged career highs across the board last year, posting 16.4 points, 6.6 assists and 3.7 boards, while shooting 49 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc.

6': Chris Paul

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    There are so few players in this league that have an overall mastery of the game of basketball.

    Chris Paul is one of those players. He is the maestro of the offense and whatever he says goes. He's creating the plays from the top of the perimeter and when he can't find a proper play to facilitate his teammates, he has no trouble scoring himself.

    Paul is one of the few point guards who can score just as much as they pass and get away with it, because he's extraordinarily effective at both aspects. Even though he stands only 6', this is a player who knows how to play the game the right way and it shows every time he steps on the court.

    His defense is just as excellent as his offense. We're talking about a player who not only averages 19 points and 10 assists per for his career, but one that has also led the league in steals per game in four of the past five seasons.

    If you want to start a team, nobody is going to offer any argument against taking Chris Paul to build around.

6'1": Rajon Rondo

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    Rajon Rondo doesn't have the appearance of an All-Star, MVP-caliber player.

    To opponents, however, Rondo is one of the most feared players that they'll face.

    Despite having an inconsistent jumper and poor free-throw-shooting percentage, Rondo makes up for all of it with his ability to facilitate. Besides Steve Nash, you won't find a point guard as pure as Rondo, who can seemingly create plays in any type of situation under any type of pressure. The reason why the Boston Celtics can still be considered title contenders is mostly due to Rondo.

    You can give all the credit in the world to Kevin Garnett's defense or Paul Pierce's scoring ability, but those two aren't capable of playing as effectively without Rondo on the floor. Rajon makes the job on offense a whole lot easier for everyone on his team because he's capable of setting up plays simply by penetrating and attracting attention.

    And he's only getting better. He recently led the league in assists per at 11.7 and is continuing to make strides in the process to improve his jump shot.

6'2": Tony Parker

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    We can give all the credit in the world to coach Gregg Popovich for managing his team as well as he does.

    However, the San Antonio Spurs don't see nearly the same amount of success they've experienced over the past two seasons without Tony Parker. The 6'2" 2007 Finals MVP arguably had his best season last year after averaging 18.3 points, a career-high 7.7 assists and 2.9 boards per game, while continuing to make himself a feared presence from mid-range and inside the paint.

    That's the most absurd characteristic of Parker's game—he scores near the rim just as well as any power forward or center in this league.

    Parker is able to accomplish this because of an incredible understanding of angles and arcs, perfecting the floater, utilizing his creativity and timing when he's able to get the best possible shot off without having it swatted by the shot-blockers that surround him.

    No wonder the Frenchman finished fourth in MVP voting.

6'3": Russell Westbrook

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    This was a tough choice. Surprisingly, there happens to be a lot of quality players who also stand 6'3".

    It was tough to leave Derrick Rose out, but with the torn ACL set to keep him out until the beginning of 2013, it didn't feel right to exclude a player who is healthy, continuing to improve and just as good as Rose.

    It's probably something we won't ever see, but Russell Westbrook, as the focal point of the NBA's strongest defense, would produce similar results to what Rose did with the Bulls.

    Westbrook is a cut above the rest because of how incredible a player he is, despite only being 23 years old and having four years worth of professional NBA experience. He is coming off the best season of his career after averaging 23.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.6 boards per game, while just so happening to help lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to the NBA Finals.

    Westbrook scored a staggering 43 points in the Thunder's Game 4 loss.

    While some may focus all their attention on whether or not he is a point guard, we can all agree that Russell Westbrook is a dynamic player who has one of the brightest futures of any other young player.

6'4": Dwyane Wade

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    He doesn't play as if he's 6'4", and that's exactly why Dwyane Wade has two championships and a Finals MVP to his name in nine years.

    It also explains why he has dealt with so many injuries. Wade is so reliant on driving to the rim and clashing with shot-blockers that he has no choice but to endure a rough hit. More times than not, Wade is able to either make the layup or get to the foul line.

    However, Dwyane risks serious injury when he's driving full speed into the lane and attempting to draw contact from players who are much larger than him.

    Wade's jump shot hasn't been nearly as consistent as it formerly was, so it's only resulting in Dwyane taking it to the cup more frequently. Luckily for his sake, he has LeBron James and Chris Bosh on his team to lighten the load that he carried from 2008 to 2010.

    He recently had one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, but that can be attributed to injuries and the emergence of a more well-rounded LeBron James.

6'5": James Harden

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    James Harden might have thought the lights of the NBA Finals were a little too bright for his liking.

    Take it as a lesson learned and move on. Harden is only 22 years old and will have a long career that will be chock-full of opportunities like this past NBA Finals. When you're that young and playing at a level so high, it's normal not to be yourself and lose confidence when things aren't going your way.

    Putting all that aside, Harden has quickly become one of the league's most feared players because of his versatility. At 6'5", he's completely capable of playing at the 1, 2 or 3 and can hurt opposing teams as a distributor just as much as when he has a scorer's mindset.

    He mostly restricts himself to being a shooter, but he can slash to the lane and draw contact as well as any other guard.

    Winning the Sixth Man of the Year award last season, Harden averaged 16.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. It was career highs across the board for the bearded one, as he also shot a career-best 39 percent from beyond the arc.

6'6": Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant really does try to emulate Michael Jordan in many ways; even his height is the same as Jordan's.

    Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant, however, and the argument can still be made that he is the top player in the NBA. While I'm inclined to disagree with that idea, I could still easily see where the argument comes from. Simply put, Kobe Bryant is an outstanding player that should at least be considered one of the 15 best to ever play the game.

    Even in his later years, Kobe is still just as effective and prolific as ever. Despite dealing with injuries and being 33 years old, Bryant came percentage points away from winning a third scoring title after posting 27.9 points per game on 43 percent shooting from the field. The increased scoring came as a result of a need for offensive support following the departure of Lamar Odom.

    Because Odom left, Bryant stepped up to play nearly 39 minutes per night. It goes to show how mentally tough he is and that the heart and ambition which has driven him his whole career has never left.

6'7": Joe Johnson

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    A tough choice between Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. Either way, you can't go wrong with whoever is chosen as the league's top player standing 6'7".

    Johnson is the choice because he has age on his side and a solid rebound of a season after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign.

    After shooting an abysmal 30 percent and converting only 1.2 shots from beyond the arc the previous season, Johnson stepped it up in a big way by shooting 39 percent and converting 2.1 three-pointers per game.

    It was the best Joe had shot since 2007-08; he shot 37 percent or less in the three seasons that followed. It came as a result of a sense of urgency following an injury to Al Horford that kept him out the majority of the season. Even though the Hawks severely lacked size, Johnson, as well as Josh Smith, kept the Hawks afloat.

    At 6'7", Johnson is nearly impossible to defend when he's feeling it. He's one of the league's elite shooters from anywhere on the court, yet it has also hurt him because it has restricted him from improving his driving ability.

    At 31 years old, it's unlikely that he'll start driving more frequently.

6'8": LeBron James

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    An obvious choice as the best player to stand 6'8", LeBron James is coming off the most successful year of his career, from an individual and team standpoint.

    As an individual, James reinvented his image, one of perpetual humbleness, while continuing to play with exuberant confidence. The key to his evolution was creating consistency in the low-post—where James devastated defenders with his size and backed them down close to the rim—and his ability to pass out of double-teams to open shooters and cutters.

    James won a third MVP after averaging 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per, shooting a career-high 53 percent from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

    LeBron then took his talents to the postseason, where he would help the Heat recover from a 2-1 semifinals deficit and a 3-2 conference-finals deficit before moving on to the NBA Finals. From there, James and the Heat would defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games, with LeBron earning MVP honors after an incredible series.

    With a huge load off his shoulders, James should only feel more confident going into potential NBA Finals matchups in the future.

6'9": Kevin Durant

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    He's wiry thin at only 215 pounds, but it has done little to prevent Kevin Durant from being the next best thing to hit this league.

    Even though he lacks muscle, Durant makes up for it with speed, an unstoppable jumper and the unmatched length that allows him to finish over defenders when it seems impossible. Next to LeBron James, Durant is probably the last basketball player on this planet you want to give a first step to.

    Because Durant will finish. He doesn't appear to have the strength to throw it down with authority, but he does so with emphasis every time he gets to the rim.

    The only problem is that Durant doesn't drive as frequently as you'd want him to. Instead, he's a pure shooter that can hit shots from as far out as 30 feet and is incapable of missing anything when he's given any bit of breathing room. Even when he doesn't have breathing room, Durant can still hit anything from anywhere.

    At the age of 23, Durant is coming off his third consecutive scoring title after averaging 28 points. He also averaged a career high in rebounds (8), assists (3.5), blocks (1.2) and shooting percentage (.496). The only knock on his MVP-caliber season was the fact that he averaged 3.8 turnovers per contest.

    Kevin Durant will end up as one of the best players to ever inhabit the NBA when his career is finished.

6'10": Kevin Love

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    I can only imagine the sickly feeling the Memphis Grizzlies must have whenever they hear the name Kevin Love.

    The 2008 NBA draft was stacked with talent and Love landed in the Grizzlies' lap with the fifth pick. Instead of keeping him around, however, the Grizzlies immediately traded him, along with Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins and Mike Miller, to the Minnesota Timberwolves for their '08 draft pick, O.J. Mayo, as well as Greg Buckner, Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker.

    The Timberwolves unload Walker and Jaric and get arguably the best player out of the 2008 draft? Somebody knew something that we all didn't in the Timberwolves front office.

    Since then, Love has become one of the league's top rebounders and scorers from inside and out. In terms of his rebounding, Love led the league in rebounding in 2011, averaging 15.2 boards per game, which is the most anyone had averaged since Ben Wallace did it a decade prior. He finished second this past season, averaging 13.3 per game.

    His scoring is severely underrated. As well as he can score from inside, despite having a limited post game, he can also kill you from outside. Love shot 42 percent from beyond the arc in 2010-11 and an even more impressive 37 percent on 5.2 attempts per in 2012.

    O.J. Mayo recently walked as a free agent after two years of the Grizzlies attempting to trade him.

6'11": Dwight Howard

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    Since joining the league as a wide-eyed 19-year-old in 2004, Dwight Howard has absolutely shut down the painted area game in and game out.

    He's led the league in rebounds per game in four of the past five seasons, led the league in blocks per game twice and is a three-time recipient of the Defensive Player of the Year award—all deservedly won.

    Howard's defense is tops in the league amongst post players. Whether it's from the strong or weak side or defending one-on-one, Howard has earned the title of the league's most intimidating player for a reason. Not only does he have an excellent knowledge of how to defend without fouling, but he also happens to be supported by one of the scariest frames you'll see on an athlete in any sport.

    He's only listed at 240 pounds, but it's fairly reasonable to believe that Howard's body fat is nonexistent.

    Dwight's offense has often been criticized, but it's improved since working with Hakeem Olajuwon. Howard is attempting to incorporate a sweeping hook and better footwork into his game, and it's resulted in Dwight averaging 20 points per game or more over the past two seasons.

    He did shoot 49 percent from the free-throw line last year, however, after shooting 58 percent or better in every year prior. I have no answer, either.

7': Andrew Bynum

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    Here's to hoping that Andrew Bynum can maintain a good standing of health, because it sure is a sight to see what he can produce with consistent minutes.

    The 2011-12 season was the first time since 2006-07 that Bynum was healthy and able to play a large portion of the season. As a result, the Los Angeles Lakers' center averaged career highs in points and rebounding with 18.7 and 11.8, respectively.

    That's big news not just for the Lakers, but for the NBA in general. How often do you see centers in this era capable of performing well on both ends of the floor? You can vouch for Dwight Howard, but even he is greatly limited on the offensive end.

    Roy Hibbert is another option, but he, too, is also limited on offense because of his lack of aggression.

    Bynum is one of the few centers left who can utilize footwork to score and then defend with the best on the other end. If he was involved in any other offense that didn't include Kobe Bryant, we could easily see Bynum averaging at least 20 points.

    Perhaps that could occur, now that a pass-first facilitator like Steve Nash is on the team.

Taller Than 7'0": Roy Hibbert

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    Standing 7'2", Roy Hibbert is one of the toughest players to defend for obvious reasons.

    There aren't any players comparable in size who could defend Hibbert well enough. Most centers that are Hibbert's size (e.g., Hamed Haddadi and Hasheem Thabeet) are too slow-footed to contend with a guy who can score on a hook shot and a short jumper. Because he's a dual threat, Hibbert can make his presence felt at all times.

    The only problem is that he doesn't call for the ball enough. Not even against the Miami Heat when they were without Chris Bosh could Hibbert establish himself. I understand that they fronted him and had a defender shadowing him from behind. However, that shouldn't drastically affect a 7'2" player's offensive production.

    It's disappointing when you consider how talented of an offensive threat Hibbert can be. He should be the focal point of the offense in order to establish that low-post presence which is nearly impossible to defend. There's no reason Hibbert can't average 20 points per game.

    Still, Hibbert has improved yearly and most recently averaged 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game in his fourth season.

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