Does Height Matter in Basketball?

Height is one of the most important factors that determine how well you perform as an NBA player.

Being taller than everyone else on your team will give you a huge edge over them when it comes to playing basketball at its highest level.

When discussing this topic, many people point out that taller athletes naturally have better vertical reach and therefore they should be able to jump higher than shorter opponents.

However, there are other physical characteristics that make up for height disadvantages such as strength and agility.

In fact, some argue that these two attributes outweigh height when looking at overall player performance.

What this means is that…

Height does not necessarily matter in basketball because the presence of other physical attributes like strength, speed and agility contribute greatly towards good athlete performance in the sport.

In this article we’ll discuss three main points about basketball height advantages in regards to shot accuracy, player effort/energy expenditure, and momentum transfer.

By exploring all aspects of this topic, you’ll gain valuable insight on whether or not height truly does matter in basketball, which may even help you come to your own conclusion on the subject.

Does height affect performance in basketball?

It turns out that while being taller may offer you certain benefits early during game play (i.e. blocking shots, picking up rebounds, etc.), in general it doesn’t provide enough of a competitive edge to justify favoring taller players over those with longer arms and legs.

Let’s explore…

1. Taller players can take more accurate shots because of their closeness to the hoop

how height matters in basketball - closeness to the hoop

The first reason why basketball height differences translate into significant advantages is due to the way opposing defences guard each individual position.

For example, if you’re guarding Kobe Bryant (a 6’7″ shooting guard) then the defender next to him is likely going to be significantly smaller than someone like Dwayne Wade (6’8″).

This gives short defenders much less room to operate since they won’t be afforded any space near the paint where most offensive rebounds occur.

So, by having a larger frame, taller players tend to get closer to the rim without needing to travel very far.

Taller players also have a natural tendency to elevate their bodies slightly above the defensive keystone which puts them in a superior position to catch passes from behind the arc.

Because of this, they end up getting even closer to the rim, which again allows them to create more driving lanes towards the net.

If you’ve ever watched Michael Jordan shoot, he often elevates his body several feet off the ground before releasing the ball which helps keep defenders away from his path.

As a result, taller players are naturally better equipped to find open spots near the hoop where they can receive pass fakes or dump offs.

It makes sense that height would help with shot accuracy, right?

Well what about guys like Kevin Love (6’11”), Dwight Howard (7′), Chris Paul (5′) and Blake Griffin (6′?), who don’t need to lean forward quite as far to launch bombs down-court?

Yes, they still benefit from extra inches but it’s certainly not as drastic of a difference.

The reason why they aren’t affected nearly as severely stems back to the same principles discussed earlier.

They already possess great upper body power so they only need to stretch further to release the ball.

Therefore, they can afford to maintain good balance and control throughout their movements, which means they can avoid sacrificing too much speed to generate separation between themselves and the defence.

Furthermore, they typically have greater range on their jump shots compared to their counterparts who play below them.

So, in conclusion, height definitely plays a role in determining which positions are best suited to dominate on the court.

While taller players might excel at scoring from beyond the arc, shorter players usually fare better defensively and around the rim.

These facts combined suggest that height isn’t necessarily a requirement to become successful at either spot.

Rather, it simply provides another tool that enables you to succeed at both ends of the floor.

2. Taller players use less force to propel the ball into the basket

how height matters in basketball - less force needed to take shots

As mentioned previously, taller players do indeed have a slight height advantage over their shorter counterparts.

On average, a 7′-0″ player has 1 inch more shoulder width than a 5’10”-0″ player.

With this added distance, taller individuals are capable of pushing harder against the rim and generating more velocity on their drives.

Generally, taller players require approximately 50% more total energy to dunk than their shorter counterparts.

Although taller players require more total force to drive through the hoop, they only need half the actual mass to complete the task!

What this tells us is that although height offers you a small advantage, it actually takes away from your ability to produce maximum kinetic energy.

Now imagine yourself trying to push a giant boulder across the beach using nothing but your arm muscles. You’d probably fail miserably unless you had super human strength to boot.

This concept carries over perfectly to the world of sports. Since taller players naturally have more mass to begin with, they have a distinct disadvantage when competing against their shorter counterparts who are lighter.

One thing to note though, heavier players generally have stronger lower body musculature which translates into increased athleticism.

And with this extra muscle support, they can apply more torque to launch hard dunks instead of relying solely on brute strength alone.

Also, remember that while weight obviously affects kinetic energy output, size can also affect momentum transfer.

Take LeBron James (6’8″, 250 pounds).

He generates tremendous amounts of force with every step, yet he rarely gets anywhere close to running circles around his teammates.

Why?

Simply because his stature offers little additional value compared to his competitors who are taller and weigh considerably less.

3. Taller players expend less energy

how height matters in basketball - taller players expend less energy

Another big factor that contributes to player performance relates directly to the previous section.

When comparing player movement patterns, we discovered that taller players could cover more distance per unit time while shorter players were forced to run farther to stay ahead of the opposition. Think about this idea for a moment.

Do you know how fast you move whenever you walk or run?

That rate is determined by your stride length.

Your stride length depends entirely upon how long your leg bones are relative to your torso.

In other words, your height.

A person with extremely long legs would have a relatively large stride length compared to someone with short limbs.

Now if you consider the scenario described previously, think about how much energy it requires to sprint or jog long distances.

Each footstep places considerable strain on our muscles, especially our quadriceps. There’s no doubt that shorter players are faster runners and sprinters than taller ones.

But the truth is that their pace and endurance levels are drastically limited compared to taller players.

Imagine watching two football teams lined up opposite each other.

Their respective quarterbacks stand at roughly 6’5″.

Both men throw the exact same pass to receivers standing within six yards of each other.

Which quarterback do you think would last the longest on the field?

Which guy is giving it his absolute all to win the game?

We all know the correct answer.

Because taller players have longer arms, their stride lengths are inherently bigger than their shorter counterparts.

Plus, they have a wider base of support which reduces stress placed on their joints.

Consequently, they’re able to run farther, faster, and with greater efficiency than their shorter peers.

Another interesting side effect of this phenomenon is that taller players seem to be more prone to injury than their shorter counter parts.

Partially explained by the fact that taller athletes must endure significantly more collisions with the ground per hour than shorter players.

What’s a good height for a basketball player?

The optimal height for a professional NBA player is seven feet.

Historical data provided here concludes that this height level provides players with the best balance of easy hoop shooting without losing the all-important agility and skill that’s needed for performing well in other aspects of the game.

HeightNumber of College PlayersNumber Making NBA LevelPercentage Making NBA Level
5 Feet 0 Inches200.00
5 Feet 1 Inch000.00
5 Feet 2 Inches100.00
5 Feet 3 Inches7Muggsy Bogues14.29
5 Feet 4 Inches700.00
5 Feet 5 Inches14Earl Boykins7.14
5 Feet 6 Inches47Spud Webb2.13
5 Feet 7 Inches12400.00
5 Feet 8 Inches277Isaiah Thomas0.36
5 Feet 9 Inches62160.97
5 Feet 10 Inches1439100.69
5 Feet 11 Inches1496221.47
6 Feet 0 Inches3047311.02
6 Feet 1 Inch3379571.69
6 Feet 2 Inches4452861.93
6 Feet 3 Inches48671102.26
6 Feet 4 Inches49401162.35
6 Feet 5 Inches52781462.77
6 Feet 6 Inches52071352.59
6 Feet 7 Inches52461653.15
6 Feet 8 Inches47661643.44
6 Feet 9 Inches33681815.37
6 Feet 10 Inches19341336.88
6 Feet 11 Inches98610510.65
7 Feet 0 Inches5087214.17
7 Feet 1 Inch176158.52
7 Feet 2 Inches7379.59
7 Feet 3 Inches2314.35
7 Feet 4 Inches600.00
7 Feet 5 Inches4125.00
7 Feet 6 Inches4250.00
7 Feet 7 Inches300.00

As you can see from the data which was compiled from 1985 to 2019, the taller you are then the greater your chances of being selected to play in the NBA were.

Of course until up to a certain height before that probability tailed off.

Clearly, this means that if you’re looking to play basketball at a professional level in the future, try not to grow excessively tall!

Is being short a disadvantage in basketball?

For all intents and purposes, height absolutely does NOT matter in regard to basketball player performance.

Sure, your odds of making a layup or dunk increase with height but it barely registers in comparison to other variables that influence success.

Remember, you’ll never hear a player say “Oh man, I wish I was 6’5”!

Most professional athletes understand this principle instinctively and adjust their training accordingly.

Don’t fall victim to the trap of believing that height determines success in basketball.

Instead, focus on improving your skills and increasing your athletic capacity through strength training, practice, and proper nutrition.

Should you have found this post interesting, also check out our write-up on why basketball players are tall, as well as our article on whether basketball games can end in a tie.

About Content Man

Content Man is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of.