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What makes a good NBA player? (part 1)

Hi again!

Today I will explore what physical attributes contribute to a successful NBA player. When we watch basketball, we sometimes hear the announcers and analysts talk about stats like wingspan, height, and hand size. How do these attributes contribute to a good player? Are there any that are particularly important? For this part one, I have scraped data from to look at the distribution of physical attributes from the 2010-2017 NBA combine. To use my simple data scraper, check out my github:, or email me for a tutorial (scraping data from can be pretty tricky).

First, I distill the data on these pages (!?SeasonYear=2010-11) to the relevant features, such as by calculating a hand area feature in place of hand length and hand width (units are Imperial, pounds, inches, and inches^2).

Now let's plot a notable correlation:

Wingspan vs. height: both given in inches, red line guides the eye for a linear wingspan=height relationship.

Two things jump out when we look at the players' wingspan versus their height: 1) they are linearly correlated, and 2) NBA players systematically have much longer wingspans than their height. The average adult man, according to this study, has a wingspan that is ~2.1 inches longer than their height. NBA players, on the other hand, have wingspans that are nearly 5 inches greater than their height. Some players have wingspans that are over 8 inches longer than their height! These players include: DeMarcus Cousins, Hassan Whiteside, Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, and rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell. Based on the caliber of these players, the wingspan-to-height ratio seems like a good predictor of NBA success, but there are also players with high wingspan-to-height ratios that are not All-Stars, such as Lazar Hayward and Dexter Pittman. What other attributes contribute to the success of those particular All-Stars? I hope this introduction has whetted your appetite!

In the next parts of this series, I will examine what these unique physical attributes correspond to on the hardwood. In the next part, I will explore other measures such vertical leap, and quickness. Stay tuned!

Additional notes:
There weren't any other notable correlations from this data set. Weight and body fat are loosely correlated, as expected. Weight and height are also correlated with hand size. In looking at hand size, Kawhi Leonard jumps out as having large hands for a shorter player. Some analysts have attributed that to his success. There are only a couple of other drafted players who have similar physical attributes to Kawhi Leonard, like Royce White and Noah Vonleh. Royce has battled mental health issues, which has kept him from having a real chance to prove himself. Noah Vonleh is 22, and has only recently been given some significant minutes. It will be interesting to see how he develops as a player. 


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