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"That guy is really long!" How often do you hear or read that from basketball announcers and writers. In this article, I will attempt to present a clear picture of length and how it applies to a number of past and present NBA players. In the NBA, if you are talking about length, you actually mean a combination of height and wingspan (WS). A more important number is wingspan differential (WD), the comparison of wingspan to height.

The top four Celtics in wingspan (WS) are , from greatest to smallest, Aron Baynes, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. All have listed WS's at just over, or just under, seven feet. So why are Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart featured in the photos. They have the greatest wingspan differential. Where do Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum come in? We already know that Gordon Hayward and Al Horford can do it all, so I won't focus on them. Here it is. Many of our readers may not need all of the height/wingspan numbers, so I will avoid most of them.

Rozier came in with a WD of 1.080. It actually was a virtual tie with Smart at 1.079 differential. Those numbers are terrific. L.J. Peak had a WD of 1.07, and Brown came in at 1.06. All four of these Celtics come in with elite wingspan differentials of 1.06 or greater. That is important. Here is some analysis from Marcus Smart on the subject, via NBA's Marc D'Amico:

“The thing about [length] is guys, until they put their arms up, they don’t look as long,” Smart said following Tuesday afternoon’s practice. “Like (Jayson) Tatum – he’s one of those guys. He’s just standing in front of you and you’re like, ‘OK,’ and then he puts his arms out and his wingspan is crazy and he starts getting deflections that normal guys probably couldn’t get.”

First of all, I suspect that Jayson may have grown a bit since his Draft Combine measurements of 6'8.25" (height) and 6'11" (wingspan). But for now, Jayson Tatum gets a WD of 1.03. Even though he is taller than Brown, his wingspan is less. Al Horford has a 1.04 differential. So in reference to Marcus' quote on Tatum, Jayson has a large wingspan (WS) but not a large wingspan differential (WD). But he also has height, athleticism, physique and determination. Quite a package. No one can find a wingspan on Daniel Theis, so for now I will estimate it at 6'11", giving him a WD of 1.03. By the way, will we call his three-pointer a Theis Thrice? Sorry.

For comparison, Rajon Rondo and Kevin McHale have freakish-category WD's . Rondo comes in at 1.11, and McHale at an insane 1.17, meaning his wingspan is 17% greater than his height. Danny Ainge used to say Kevin looked like the Frankenstein monster. I calculated Avery Bradley's WD at 1.06 (elite). If you could put a lot of height, wingspan and differential in one package, you would have one hell of a player. Anthony Davis comes in at 6'10.5" tall, 7'5.5" WS and 1.11 WD. Great numbers when you link them to his stats, athleticism and mobility.


So much for numbers. What does this all mean? Some observations. The WD numbers for Rozier and Smart show, in part, why they are excellent defenders. It allows them to defend taller players. That is why wingspan differential is important. Terry's number, and Brad Stevens recent comment about the NBA going smaller at the guard position, indicate to me that Rozier may be with the team longer than I anticipated.

Marcus has already proven that he can guard almost anyone. Peak can hang around just because his last name can be used by pun-crazy announcers and writers (like me) in so many ways . Aside from that, L. J., with an elite WD, can probably defend three positions. One of our readers made the comparison to former Celtic Don Chaney. That would be good enough as a defender in a backup role.

The ideal NBA defender is tall, athletic, determined and gifted with a large wingspan. That would be Tatum. He just needs time. You can't always get the height but wingspan can negate, to a large extent, lack of height. So can athleticism. An athletic, determined defender that has decent size for his position and a substantial wingspan differential (Rozier, Smart, Brown, Peak) can virtually stifle the opposing team's offense.

I believe that is what Marcus Smart saw at Celtics practice. I'm sure Marcus did not see that in Shane Larkin who comes in with a WD of 0.99. Yes, less than one. His wingspan is less than his height. That simply makes me admire him even more. It shows what a superb athlete this kid is.

So, do the Celts have enough athleticism and length to compete against the strongest teams in the league? The numbers tell me that they certainly do. Here is NBA's Marc D'Amico's take on the subject:

Boston could very well have players 6-foot-7 or taller starting from shooting guard on down to the center position. There are fewer than a handful of teams in the league that can make such a claim – Golden State, Milwaukee and Toronto come to mind – and no one enjoys facing those teams.

Add the C’s to that list, because in Boston, the view will consist of a bunch of arms and hands, and of very few open lanes.

There is nothing that needs to be added to that. The Celtics will be one of the teams that opposing teams want to avoid. Long, athletic and dedicated to defense. That is an earmark of what a Celtics team should be. Pretty exciting.

Terry Rozier photo via Michael Reeves/Getty Images
Marcus Smart photo via Rick Bowmer/Associated press

Tom Lane 10/06/2017 10:35:00 AM Edit
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