Monthly: The Return Of The “Little Man”?

January 30, 2017 |  by  |  Articles

Basketball is a tall mans game. It’s always been. And in the NBA, Centers are often the most coveted of any position. Centers like Shaq, Hakeem, Kareem Abdul Jabar, and Wilt Chamberlain (to name a few) represent some of the greatest and most dominant players in NBA history, which explains why there’s been a lot of excitement about how the “big man” has finally returned to the NBA over the past two seasons. Seven footers who are actually mobile, and healthy, not to mention those with any type of skill, are the equivalent of the “holy grail” in today’s game. But what about the “little guys”.

Right now, every franchise’s dream is drafting the next Joel Embiid, Karl Anthony-Towns, Demarcus Cousins or Anthony Davis, but how about the next Isiah Thomas? Isiah, who back in 2011 was drafted dead last in the NBA draft, is now regarded as one of the best point guards in the league if not one of it’s top players overall. In hindsight, would any team draft him in the Top 10 if they had another chance at it?

Probably not.

Remember it was just two years ago that Isaiah was traded from the Suns to the Celtics for basically peanuts (Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick) along with a 3-year contract only paying him around 2 million a year.

Talk about a steal.

Now compare Thomas deal to Anthony Davis newly signed 127 million 5-year contract around the same time. It’s now 2017 and both players are All-Stars starters, however, Thomas’ is leading his Celtics to a much better record than Davis’ Pelicans.

If we’ve learned anything watching Thomas with the Celtics last post season and so far this 2016-17 season it’s that size doesn’t matter…. well, it’s not everything at least. Short players can dominate the game just like their bigger/stronger even 7 foot counterparts. As the saying goes, “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight….”

So can the little guys get any love? Thomas might be having a break out year, but still, on average players his size aren’t appreciated enough in the NBA. Those talented enough to make it to the highest level of basketball are often underestimated and even overlooked if not for simply being short in stature, but also the fact that they’re so little in number. This is probably because they have a harder time getting drafted, staying on one team or even in the league as a whole. Players under 6 feet are just as scarce in the NBA as those over 7 foot, but unlike the “big men”, short players have much more to prove and face many obstacles just to be accepted in the game because their height.
Considering the odds they face just making it to and staying in the NBA, those that succesfully stick around long enough to actually make a career for themselves should be celebrated.

This might be the sentiment of those who nominated 1990′s Hornets Point Guard Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues for the lastest Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class. Muggsy played an unimaginable 13 years in the NBA despite being only 5’3 – to this day the shortest player ever to play in the NBA. That alone is worth a HOF nomination, if you ask me. Not to give him a pass or anything for being short, but what he did is definitely impossible in todays game. We will never see another player like him. His impact on the game for shorter players is unmeasurable.

Because of their height alone Muggsy and 1986 Slam Dunk Champion Spud Webb (pictured above) were novelties in their era, but their game made them trailblazers for many smaller NBA players to come. What they accomplished 10-15 years ago opened doors for shorter players we’ve seen since.

When considering the NBA linage of great little men a few names come to mind such as 2-time All Star Terrell Brandon. Another is 1996 Rookie of the Year Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudemire who was basically Kyle Lowry for the Raptors 20 years ago. I can’t forget Eastern Michigans own, Earl Boykins either. Despite never being drafted, the 5’5 guard is the shortest player since Muggsy to play in the NBA and even holds the record for being the shortest player in NBA history to score 30 or more points. In his best season, Boykins averaged 14 points a game.

Lastly, there’s none other than 5’8 Nate “The Great” Robinson who needs no introduction to todays basketball fans. He’s been holding it down solo representing for the vertically challenged ballers whether it be dropping buckets, winning dunk contests or entertaining his fans with his “State Of Nate” Youtube documentary series. On the court Nates been a staple in the NBA for as long as I can remember, 11 years to be exact and with about 10 different teams! Coincidentally with his 2016 exit from the NBA to play in Isreal, there has been a rise of a new crop talented little guys to enter the league. A few I feel the need to shed some light on.

First off, just to clarify by “little guys” I’m not talking players like Isiah Thomas (the Piston), Chris Paul or even Allen Iverson who often get the label. Even smaller guys Ty Lawson and Kemba Walker wouldn’t be included either. To be part of my little man club you gotta be 5’10 and under. Currently they are a few of these individuals (not named Isaiah Thomas) in the NBA, who I think have potential to be around a long time. I’ll start with former Kentucky Wildcat star and 2nd round Phoenix Sun draft pick, Tyler Ulis, who stands at only 5’9 weighting only 150 lbs. In limited minutes, the rookie has had a few impressive games and shown an understanding and feel for the game well beyond his years. But this is expected for any player with more than one year under John Calipari.

Blink and you might miss 2016 Cavs draft pick, Kay Felder, in coach Tyrone Lou’s rotation. Getting playing time on the reigning World Champion Cavs is tough, but the 5’10 Detroit, Michigan native has made the most of the time he has seen on court and shown potential… but not enough to land the Cavs back up Point Guard spot just yet. Not to say he doesn’t have the talent or hoop pedigree to make it in the NBA. Check out this special VICE Sports feature on the Oakland University scoring machine below.

Lastly, one of my favorite “little guys” to watch since his Baylor days is recent Dallas Mavs pick up, Pierre Jackson. After being drafted in 2013 to the 76ers, an achilles injury during Summer league derailed his NBA career momentarily. During the 2015-2016 season Jackson would return to the game, bounce around the NBA D-League a bit before playing overseas briefly. In 2017 fresh out another (more successful) stint in the D League Jackson would finally get his long awaited NBA debut and just last week was awarded his first start, which was pretty impressive to say the least.

Full disclosure, I don’t expect any of the guys listed above to become All-Stars like Isaiah Thomas, but anything is possible. They definitely do have a chance at making it far even in todays NBA, and thats saying a lot in a league where, in all honestly, most wouldn’t think players under 5’10 could still compete. Hopefully, this new generation of “little guys” will keep the tradition of began by Muggsy Bogues and Spudd Webb alive for years to come.