In the new NBA, success typically hinges on three-point shooting and stretching the court. As a result, long-armed players who can defend multiple positions and disrupt ball movement have become incredibly valuable.
But which teams are the longest? And how much difference does it make? I looked at every player's wingspan and height in the league to see how teams compared. Then I checked to see how much difference length made in defense.
I was able to find the majority of the data from the DraftExpress database, but there were still over 100 players without listed wingspans. I used Google in those cases, filtering through various news reports and scouting reports to determine the best estimate.
For the few players with no available wingspan measurement, I estimated their wingspan at the league average of 1.06 times their height.
But what is "average" length? Merely finding an NBA player's average length isn't quite accurate because different positions come with different lengths. So here are each position's average wingspan and height:
Combining the five averages, then, the average lineup is roughly 415 inches fingertip-to-fingertip.
Based on that, these are the longest teams in the NBA (clicking on the team name will show the combined wingspan):
Surprisingly, the Minnesota Timberwolves are the longest team in the league at 421.81 inches. Considering how much new head coach Tom Thibodeau loves exploiting length in his defense, that could be very interesting.
The Golden State Warriors might not have the deepest team at center since acquiring Kevin Durant, but it's striking that they're the third-longest.
The fact that the Milwaukee Bucks are only seventh-longest is startling. However, we're looking at the whole team's averages here, not just starters or longest feasible lineups.
At 408.06 inches, the Denver Nuggets are on the other end of the spectrum—nearly two feet smaller than the average Wolves lineup.
Here's what happens when we only look at the starters:
The Miami Heat are the longest starting team with Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside combining for 178.5 inches. The Utah Jazz are second with their frontcourt tandem of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors extending to 180.5 inches.
Now, let's look at height, which averaged out at 392.3 inches.
The team columns are in the same order as wingspan to illustrate the differences between the two measurements on any given squad:
Right away, one observation leaps out: While the Wolves will be an incredibly long team next year, they won't be the tallest. There, they sink to fifth. The Utah Jazz are the tallest team with an average lineup of 397.54 inches (meaning an average height of 6'7 ½" per player).
The Sacramento Kings are both long and tall, but they're probably not going to be very good. The Bucks are third. The Philadelphia 76ers are up there with all of their bigs.
The Boston Celtics are at the bottom of the ladder. At a stubby 386.29 inches, they're about two inches shorter per player than the Jazz. Interestingly, the Nuggets—who were at the bottom of the wingspan list—are closer to the middle of the pack in height.
Looking at height for just the starters, the Wolves jump back on top, while the Jazz sink to a tie for fifth.
Most franchises seem to have concluded wingspan is more important than height, but a few teams, such as Denver and Indiana, aren't as sold.
Pterodactyl vs. T-Rex
Which players have the highest wingspan-to-height ratios? And which teams have the lowest? Here's every player in the league. Use the drop-down window to select a team:
And here is the All-Pterodactyl vs. All-T-Rex team:
The "T-Rex" team is nearly 13 inches taller, but the "pterodactyls" have a plus 30-inch advantage in wingspan. And players like Kawhi Leonard, Bismack Biyombo, Taj Gibson and Eric Bledsoe are some of the best defenders at their positions, if not in the entire league. That would certainly indicate length can be a big edge.
Lineups and Defense
But how much difference does it really make on defense? Do the best defensive groupings have a length or height advantage? I looked at the top lineups in defensive rating at NBA.com, comparing their height and length. Scroll over the lineup to reveal the defensive rating:
Surprisingly, the top 10 defensive lineups were only an average of 391.21 inches tall and had a wingspan of just 414.51 inches. They're both about an inch short of the league average, which isn't what you would expect.
While this is just one factor in the increasingly sophisticated business of NBA defending, it's still telling. An elite defensive lineup doesn't need a lot of height and length.
However, while all the lineups don't necessarily have exceptional overall length, each of the top lineups seem to have at least one player with extensive length (Biyombo, Gibson, Whiteside, Andre Iguodala, etc.)
Still, length can't be viewed as a standalone virtue. It may help, but it doesn't guarantee anything.
Try It Yourself
Here's a tool that allows you to tinker with different lineups and find the longest combinations of players on your team. Use the various drop-down menus to choose a team, position, player or role. You can also use the radio button to see height, wingspan and weight of each lineup.
Maybe you want to see how the Bucks would look with a lineup of Thon Maker, John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker. The answer is 430 inches, or 35'10"! If they stood about two feet apart from one another, they would span almost the full width of the basketball court.
You can also determine the combined height, wingspan or weight of any lineup with the league's current players.
Compare them with the lineups at NBA.com to see whether the extra size paid off last year or the lack of it hurt them. If you find any intriguing results, feel free to share them in the comments section.