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How to: Survive and Thrive as an Undersized Player


You are never too small to ball


For those of us not blessed with height or size, we are often asked why we even bother to play a giant’s game. It is assumed that your chances of success increase along with your height, but many great players have proven that this is not necessarily the case. With that being said, smaller players do have to carve out a niche for themselves.


Within the NBA, the shortest players tend to possess unparalleled mastery of one aspect of the game. The first name that comes to mind is Isaiah Thomas, who has made a living off his ability to get buckets off drives and pull-up jumpers. With his understanding of angles, deadly hesitation moves and crafty finishing, he is able to keep the defense guessing, unable or unwilling to play him close. Another way to score is through supreme athleticism, as with the 5-foot-9 Kay Felder, who is able to finish above the rim with his 44-inch vertical and explosive first step.


More conventionally, many small players are great playmakers. Tyler Ulis is a calm and composed floor general with the court vision to match. This is enhanced by his ability to get to wherever he desires through his ball-handling. Although he rarely shows off with complex maneuvers, his handles are sharp and allow him to blow by his defender with ease if they press him close. These small players tend to be fast as well. Isaiah Taylor of the Cleveland Cavaliers is so quick that his small stature makes him even harder to get to, turning into an advantage for him.


As these speedsters age, they need to pick up easier ways to score. Darren Collison and Ty Lawson have evolved into deadeye catch-and-shoot threats from downtown, making up for reduced speed. In addition, small guys can be very pesky on defense, making it hard for the ball-handler to look for teammates or a shot, or even to put the ball on the floor. Ulis is intensely competitive despite his frame, and Gary Payton II has shown the potential to be a solid contributor defensively as well.