Reporters, media personalities, coaches and even former players often like to compare NBA basketball back in the days to how the game is played today. We could say that the general consensus is that today’s NBA basketball is faster, quicker and that the players are bigger, stronger and more athletic. Since we can’t put players from the 90s in their prime on the floor to play against current NBA teams, we have to find another way to compare players of different eras. One way to go is to analyze predraft measurements results. While it is true that players’ bodies do develop after working with professional NBA trainers and coaches, there are certain physical characteristics that don’t really change, such as height or length. You probably remember what Red Auerbach said: “You can’t teach height!”
To provide valid answers to the question, we analyzed all available predraft measurements data available on DraftExpress webpage. We classified players into groups to enable relevant comparisons and not to make conclusions based on small samples. The following groups were created and later compared:
- Positions: C, PF, SF, SG, PG;
- Time periods: 2000 or earlier, 2001-2005, 2006-2010, 2011-2016.
The final sample size was made out of 660 players, drafted between 1987 and 2016.
We then checked how height (in shoes), weight, wingspan, maximum vertical and sprint time of drafted players changed over time (basketball position based). Since the samples for time period 2000 or earlier were very small for certain measurements, we did not include them in for all stats.
We can see that there are very little differences in height of drafted players over time. Additional analysis revealed that there were actually no statistically significant differences.
We can see that there are very little differences in weight of drafted players over time. It seems like players are on average lighter nowadays than they were more than a decade ago, but additional analysis revealed that the differences were not statistically significant.
Except for slightly shorter wingspan of centers, there are little and statistically not significant differences in measured wingspans of drafted players over time.
Again, there seem to be certain observable differences over time, but additional statistical analysis revealed that differences in maximum vertical by position are not statistically significant over time. We find it quite interesting that there are almost no differences in average vertical leap between PGs, SGs and SFs.
This time it actually looks like players are getting slower over time, but the differences in sprint times are still not statistically significant due to high variability of predraft results. This could also be attributed to small samples, so it only makes sense to compare all players of all positions in different periods of time, properly weighted so that there would be equal numbers of all positions represented in each of the time period samples.
The results of our analysis of all players, no matter their positions, are pretty much the same as the results for individual positions. We did not observe any statistically significant differences in height in shoes, weight, wingspan, maximum vertical and other measured physical characteristics, such as height without shoes, standing reach, agility, body fat or no-step vertical. The only statistically significant difference was in sprint times – in predraft measurements between 2011-2016 drafted players were actually slower than those drafted in 2010 or earlier. It is true that there are less and less top draft picks participating in predraft camps and combines, but we still believe that overally the results are fairly representative.
Nevertheless, we have to say that the results are rather boring, however they still serve their purpose. Now we can say with confidence that just before they start with their NBA careers, draftees are physically no superior to those drafted 10, 15, 20 or even more years ago. But it would be very interesting to investigate how certain physical characteristics change once they start training and practicing in a highly professional sports environment.