Six Best ‘Little’ Big Men
For some frontcourt players, height just isn’t an issue.
In college many of them were known as “tweeners”: too small to play in the paint consistently, but not versatile enough to venture out on the perimeter. Others were physically dominant frontcourt performers who scouts said might lack the athleticism or explosiveness to handle the rigors of life on the block in the League. Whatever the reasons may have been, these “little big men” continue to make a home for themselves in the NBA be it with fantastic physical attributes, constant hustle or a high skill level.
What constitutes an undersized big man, though? First there is the issue of size—a rather subjective factor to examine. For the sake of this list, the cutoff was made to include all post players listed at 6-9 or shorter, given that the traditional NBA big man has always been in the general realm of 7-0.
How, then, to determine if a frontcourt player is a post player? Dirk Nowitzki will forever be listed as a power forward but he certainly isn’t a post player by any stretch of the definition. The second factor to determine eligibility for the list then was that at least 50 percent of all the players shots attempts had to come in classic big men situations, these being posting up, offensive rebounds, the pick and roll and moving without the basketball in the paint.
With those two factors standing as the prerequisites for eligibility, here is a look at the best undersized 4s and 5s in the League.
The Knicks frenetic power forward has played like a man possessed on the glass ever since he first broke into the League four years ago. Lee is a tremendously efficient player, shooting nearly 57 percent from the field for his career, who gets a huge percentage of his points off of sheer hustle and effort in the lane. He runs the pick and roll extremely well, showing great instincts in regards of knowing when and where to cut after setting his screens.
Lee has the benefit of being an above average athlete with an excellent wingspan and his quickness allows him to execute well against bigger players. Above all else, what gets Lee on this list is his tireless effort on the glass. Despite lining up many nights as a center the former Florida Gator is hauling down nearly 12 rpg this season in 35 minutes of action, putting him near the top of the League in that category.
The smallest player on the list at just 6-7, Maxiell’s game is absolutely huge compared to his frame. Due to his playing time the fourth year player’s numbers aren’t overly impressive, but when adjusted to a 48 minute pace he is averaging a double-double for the year. Maxiell is an unbelievably aggressive player who rarely takes issue with going through would be defenders to get to the rim. His back to the basket game isn’t very polished but he has good instincts when in the paint. Maxiell is a surprisingly good post defender given the constant mismatches he is faced with on the block. He has excellent overall strength makes him tough to back down and his freakish length allows him to block his fair share of shot attempts in the lane.
While Horford may be a tad undersized for the post, you would never guess it based off the play of the Hawks center in his year and a half at the professional level. His numbers haven’t shown a tremendous improvement from last season, but he has become a more efficient scorer while drastically improving his passing game. Horford’s game is still very much developing as he primarily turns to his left shoulder at this point, but his face up abilities have been a nice wrinkle to his offensive game. Like all the players on this list he hits the offensive glass extremely hard and posts good defensive numbers thanks to his constant effort.
The Boston Celtics lucked out tremendously when they acquired Powe who has become of the better back up power forwards in the NBA. His per minute averages in nearly every major statistical category are off the charts for his position, but the Green Machine loves him because of his strength and toughness inside. Powe has great hands inside and is a very good finisher around the rim due to his soft touch and phenomenal wingspan. His post game could use a little more finesse as he often tends to simply bull his way to the basket, but given his role as a backup for Kevin Garnett, Powe has more than earned his paycheck in Boston.
Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap
The Jazz not only seem to have a liking for undersized bigs, they have a great eye for them as well. Boozer needs almost no introduction; since leaving Duke as a player who was “too small” to make it in the NBA, he has blossomed into one of the best big men in the game. Even if he has been injured for the better part of the season, it would be an injustice to leave him off this list.
Even though Utah is looking forward to the return of its biggest star, Millsap has certainly made his absence much more bearable than it could have been. In just his second season and seeing heavy minutes, the barely 6-8 forward is posting nearly a double-double average. He moves very well without the basketball, executing excellent cuts around the basket on a regular basis resulting in open looks. Currently Millsap ranks in the top 20 in the NBA in PER, rebounds per game and is third overall in offensive rebounds per game at a whopping 3.9 per contest.
So there you have it, six of the NBA’s best at what they do; little men trying to make it in a giants’ world. After compiling this list there were some surprise omissions based on the criteria outlined above. Udonis Haslem was probably the most unexpected absence; after all, the Miami forward has been a steady presence in the frontcourt for years. Over one third of Haslem’s shot attempts this season have been of the catch and shoot variety, however, making him more of a perimeter oriented player than the others listed above. Tyrus Thomas also seemed like another potential selection for the list, but so much of his game is about driving to the basket and finishing in transition rather than battling down low.
Regardless of who should or should not have made the list though, the individuals that were listed are proof that players don’t always have to meet the physical stereotypes of their position in order to make an impact.