Ranking the NBA's 15 Greatest Players Ever Under 6 Feet Tall

Preston EllisContributor IApril 21, 2020

Ranking the NBA's 15 Greatest Players Ever Under 6 Feet Tall

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    In a land of giants, bigger isn't always better, as evidenced by this feisty crop of overachievers.

    It takes an indomitable will, fiery competitiveness and sneaky-good athleticism to overcome this specific set of shortcomings, but these 15 NBA athletes under 6'0" have plenty to spare.

    We've picked our favorites, spread out over 70 years, and ranked them based on their Hall of Fame credentials, career achievements and performances in individual seasons. 

15-11: Brevin Knight, Spud Webb, DJ Augustin, JJ Barea, Fred Scolari

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    15. Brevin Knight

    Career Totals: 5,342 points, 4,481 assists, 1,785 rebounds, 1,229 steals

    Best Season: 12.6 points, 8.8 assists, 3.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals

    A first-round pick in 1997, this 5'10" defensive dynamo led the NBA in steals as a rookie while compiling a near double-double over 80 games. His 8.2 assists per game ranked eighth in the NBA and helped earn him a spot on the All-Rookie first team. A stable presence in the backcourt across 729 career games, Knight would finish top-10 in assists and steals in four and three different seasons, respectively. 

           

    14. Anthony "Spud" Webb

    Career Totals: 8,072 points, 4,342 assists, 1,742 rebounds, 922 steals

    Best Season: 16.0 points, 7.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals

    Despite standing just 5'6", Spud stepped into the 1986 Slam Dunk contest and shocked a crowd likely there to see defending champion and human highlight reel Dominique Wilkins. 

    Webb was more than just an All-Star Weekend afterthought, however, playing 814 games across a 13-year career. A dynamic score-and-dish man, he put up double digits in scoring for five consecutive seasons while distributing 5.6 or more assists per game in each. 

          

    13. D.J. Augustin

    Career Totals: 8,439 points, 3,427 assists, 1,630 rebounds, 518 steals

    Best Season: 14.4 points, 6.1 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals

    The Orlando Magic's sixth man journeyed across eight franchises in nine seasons before finding a home in Florida, where he started for portions of the past three seasons. A double-digit scorer for much of his career, the 5'11" guard is on pace to hit 8,500 points and 3,500 assists in his career if the full 2019-20 season, currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, is played out.

    Fans' lasting memory may be Augustin's Game 1 buzzer-beating three-pointer against the eventual NBA champions in 2019, but there is still time for this 32-year-old floor general to add to his legacy. 

            

    12. J.J. Barea

    Achievements: NBA champion

    Career Totals: 7,387 points, 3,257 assists, 1,743 rebounds, 330 steals

    Best Season: 11.3 points, 5.7 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 37.1 percent from three

    J.J. Barea's floater became one of the most devastating weapons during a 2010-11 postseason run that saw the Dallas Mavericks shock the NBA with their eventual six-game victory over the Miami Heat. Barea would score 32 points on 23 shots to go along with 10 assists in the final two games.

    The fearlessness that brought him an NBA championship has seen him score nearly 7,400 points across 828 games. It also earned the 5'10" guard a wicked elbow from a frustrated Andrew Bynum, who, like many others, couldn't stop this tiny terror. 

             

    11. Fred Scolari

    Achievements: Two-time All-Star, two-time All-BAA

    Career Totals: 6,014 points, 1,406 assists, 857 rebounds

    Best Season: 14.6 points, 4.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds

    A 5'10" frame, a blind eye and a deaf ear couldn't stop "Fat Freddie" Scolari from putting together a Hall of Fame career in just nine seasons across the late 1940s and early '50s. 

    Oddly enough, those physical traits weren't the most distinguishing part of Scolari's game. Like Rick Barry's two-handed granny toss, Scolari's unconventional shooting style turned heads. Reaching down to his hip before going all the way up and above his head made for one of the more unique forms the NBA has seen. 

10. Ty Lawson

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    Career Totals: 6,977 points, 3,316 assists, 1,506 rebounds, 636 steals

    Best Season: 17.6 points, 8.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals

    Although he only enjoyed a brief run of success, Ty Lawson was one of just three players from 2011-15 to record 20.0 points and 6.5 assists per game with at least a 50.0 percent effective field-goal percentage, joining Stephen Curry and Chris Paul

    In his prime, Lawson was an explosive scorer (single-game high of 37 points) who shined come playoff time despite losing all six career series. The 5'11" guard's most productive postseason came against the Golden State Warriors in 2013 when he averaged 21.3 points and 8.0 assists, including 35 points and 10 assists in a two-point Game 3 loss. 

    A series of alcohol-related arrests abruptly ended his Denver Nuggets tenure, and he couldn't find much success with the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers or Sacramento Kings before falling out of the league after his age-30 season. Lawson, who once led Denver to a 57-win campaign, should have climbed even higher on this list, but his overall contributions still earn him a place. 

9. Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues

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    Career Totals: 6,858 points, 6,726 assists, 2,318 rebounds, 1,369 steals

    Best Season: 10.8 points, 10.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals

    The smallest athlete in NBA history, 5'3" Muggsy Bogues carried more than enough size to make a lasting impression on his opponents, even earning himself a place among the Monstars in Michael Jordan's Space Jam.

    While Bogues made up one of the NBA's most exciting young trios with Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning during his time with the Charlotte Hornets, he may have proved even more pivotal at home, as chronicled by ESPN's Michael Graff

    But on the court, Bogues was far more than an astonishing sight gag.

    Selected 12th in the 1987 NBA draft, he had an exceptional career, finishing first among this group in assists (23rd all-time), first in steals and fifth in win shares. Bogues remains the Hornets' franchise leader in both assists and steals. 

8. Avery Johnson

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    Achievements: NBA champion

    Career Totals: 8,817 points, 5,846 assists, 1,751 rebounds, 1,007 steals

    Best Season: 13.1 points, 9.6 assists, 2.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals

    This fiery spark plug followed a 16-season playing career by coaching the Dallas Mavericks to three consecutive 50-plus-win seasons, including one NBA Finals appearance. He may be best known for his game-winning and series-clinching shot in the 1999 Finals, which helped earn Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs their first NBA title. 

    Johnson, though only 5'10", served as a prototypical floor general.

    While he never took more than 10.8 shots per game, never scored 30 points in a regular-season outing and had a small stature that only allowed him to average a career high of 2.5 rebounds per contest, he racked up assists like few ever have (39th all-time). His veteran leadership also made him a valuable cog in the playoffs, where he played over 2,800 minutes and contributed across the board. 

    Johnson's combination of games played (1,054, first among sub-6'0" players) and win shares (56.5, third) makes him one of the most important members of this group. 

7. Michael Adams

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    Achievements: One-time All-Star

    Career Totals: 9,621 points, 4,209 assists, 1,900 rebounds, 1,081 steals

    Best Season: 26.5 points, 10.5 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 2.2 steals

    This 5'10" gunslinger led the NBA in three-point attempts for four consecutive seasons and averaged 14.7 points, 6.4 assists and 1.7 steals throughout his career, a respectable set of numbers at any size. In fact, those three averages put him in a group of just eight players (minimum 650 games), seven of whom are or will be Hall of Famers (sorry, Baron Davis). 

    A forward-thinking floor spacer, he earned a then-NBA record with 79 straight games featuring a converted three-point shot, a record now owned by Stephen Curry (157). 

    Adams' most notable season came in 1990-91 when he averaged a spectacular 26.5 points (sixth), 10.5 assists (third), 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 steals (seventh). He'd earn his first and only All-Star appearance the following year with the Washington Bullets.

    Only 27 players in NBA history have managed to better his career numbers in points, assists, steals and three-pointers made. 

6. Isaiah Thomas

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    Achievements: Two-time All-Star, One-time All-NBA

    Career Totals: 9,508 points, 2,599 assists, 1,288 rebounds, 464 steals

    Best Season: 28.9 points, 5.9 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 0.9 steals

    That he briefly found his old form with the Washington Wizards comes as a relief for fans of this overachieving point guard.

    No, Isaiah Thomas never got to "bring out the Brinks truck" due to a labral tear in his hip that ultimately stole the burst he needed to be an elite scorer. The Boston Celtics, in particular, will remember the King in the Fourth's most productive season as 2016-17 when the 5'9" terror finished third in scoring (28.9 points per game) while shooting demonstrably better than Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who finished ahead of him on the points leaderboard. 

    Three-point shooting could still grant him a place in the NBA, though he's a free agent after the Wizards traded him to the Los Angeles Clippers, who waived him three days later. He was shooting 41.3 percent from three on 4.7 attempts per game before that series of transactions (11th among players taking at least four attempts per game). 

    Thomas will never return to his peak level, but he may still climb a few notches higher on this list. 

5. Dana Barros

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    Achievements: One-time All-Star, One-time Most Improved Player

    Career Totals: 8,901 points, 2,837 assists, 1,609 rebounds, 740 steals, 41.1 three-point percentage

    Best Season: 20.6 points, 7.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 46.4 three-point percentage

    Circumstance forced a slower trajectory for Dana Barros' career as he spent his first four years riding the pine behind Gary Payton, playing 20 minutes per game or less in each season. 

    Once he received an opportunity, Barros seized the reins, earning Most Improved Player and an All-Star nod during his second season with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1994-95. 

    Barros was one of the game's most lethal snipers, shooting a league-leading 44.6 percent from three in his third year after coming a fraction away from the exclusive 50/40/90 club in his second. The 5'11" guard's streak of 89 consecutive games with a converted three-pointer held until Kyle Korver topped it in 2013. 

4. Terrell Brandon

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    Achievements: Two-time All-Star

    Career Totals: 9,994 points, 4,407 assists, 2,174 rebounds, 1,142 steals

    Best Season: 19.5 points, 6.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 37.3 three-point percentage

    After three years carefully watching four-time All-Star Mark Price from the bench, this 11th overall pick made his presence known by leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to 11 consecutive wins while Price was injured. The veteran was traded to the Washington Bullets that offseason, and the Cavs made their 5'11" guard the full-time starter. 

    After that, Brandon became a portrait of consistency, recording at least 12.4 points, 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals during each of the remaining eight years of his career.

    He earned two All-Star nods and was even touted as the NBA's best point guard by Sports Illustrated's Richard Hoffer in 1997. Two seasons later, Brandon was shipped from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he and Kevin Garnett helped lead the team to 50 wins in 1999-00.

    Only 45 players in NBA history have managed to amass as many points, assists, rebounds and steals, a tribute to his solid 11-year career.

3. Slater Martin

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    Achievements: Hall of Fame, Five-time NBA champion, Seven-time All-Star, Five-time All-NBA

    Career Totals: 7,337 points, 3,160 assists, 2,302 rebounds

    Best Season: 13.6 points, 5.9 assists, 3.6 rebounds

    One of just two Hall of Famers in our class, Slater Martin contributed to five NBA championships, tallied seven All-Star invitations and made five All-NBA teams across his 11-year career. 

    The Hall rarely recognizes scoring options as inept as Martin. He managed to shoot over 40 percent from the field just once in his career and averaged double digits in only five seasons despite taking nine or more shots in nine.

    However, scoring wasn't his responsibility. The 5'10" Texas product was charged with facilitating for other great stars of his era like George Mikan and Bob Pettit. 

    As inconsequential as he may have been at filling the rim, he was just as devastating a defensive stopper. Take it from former Boston Celtics point guard Bob Cousy, per David Barron of the Houston Chronicle:

    "Once [the Celtics] developed an identity as a team and myself as an individual, guys would come out of the locker room, and you could tell that the coach had given them a 'stop Bob Cousy' speech and the saliva would be dripping from their mouth. They would be all over me in the first half, but that kind of focus can wear off. With Slater, it never wore off for 48 minutes."

    Martin has more than enough accolades to earn the top spot, but we can't move him higher due to the lack of trackable data at our disposal.

2. Damon Stoudamire

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    Achievements: Rookie of the Year

    Career Totals: 11,763 points, 5,371 assists, 3,039 rebounds, 953 steals 

    Best Season: 19.0 points, 9.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals

    Mighty Mouse, as Damon Stoudamire was dubbed, earned Rookie of the Year honors in 1995-96 after joining Oscar Robertson as one of two players to finish with 19 points and nine assists per game in an inaugural year. He improved upon those numbers in his second season by posting 20.2 points and 8.8 assists per game, the only player to post such marks during the 1996-97 campaign. 

    The 13-year pro turned in a solid career across four franchises with more than 11,000 points, 5,000 assists, 3,000 rebounds and 900 steals, becoming one of just 36 players to hit all those marks.

    After starting his career with the Toronto Raptors, Stoudamire saw his role reduced with the Portland Trail Blazers. But the 5'10" guard would continue to score in double digits, which he did in 10 of his first 11 seasons. 

1. Calvin Murphy

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    Achievements: Hall of Fame, One-time All-Star

    Career Totals: 17,949 points, 4,402 assists, 2,103 rebounds, 1,165 steals

    Best Season: 20.4 points, 7.4 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 1.9 steals

    This Hall of Fame jitterbug used his incomparable first step, elite ball-handling skill and jaw-dropping athleticism to set records that would last nearly half a century for the Houston Rockets. It wasn't until 2018 that James Harden eclipsed his single-game point total (57), and he surpassed Murphy's career assists for the franchise (4,402) in 2019. 

    Murphy was a high-volume scorer, as evidenced by 11 straight seasons with 1,000-plus points and a 17.9 points-per-game average over 1,002 career contests. But far from a specialty player, the 5'9" guard dominated on both ends, playing tenacious full-court defense when not attacking the basket on the offensive end. 

    He scored 25.6 points per game in 1977-78, which would put him sixth in today's NBA, ahead of Brandon Ingram, Donovan Mitchell, Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum. Each played in the 2020 All-Star Game. 

    Murphy is second all-time in points, assists and steals in Rockets history. 

              

    Stats via NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Cleaning the Glass and ESPN unless otherwise noted. 

    Preston Ellis covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@PrestonEllis).