Fattest and leanest NBA players - Quick look at body fat and performance

The link between weight, body fat and performance is often poorly-understood, so consider this a quick and interesting lesson. Do you recognize the basketball player in the photo to the left? Probably not, since he never got to play in the NBA.

His name is Chris Marcus, a 7'1", 300-lb., 23.1% body fat college player. Anyone remember James Lang, Dexter Pittman, Darrell Johns and Marco Killingsworth? They were in the high-teens and low 20's with regard to body fat. The extra baggage may have played a role in their anonymity among out readers.

How about names you might recognize. Eddie Curry (16.5%) and DeMarcus Cousins (16.4%) are known players who came in high on the scale at the NBA Draft Combine.

Let's look at this year's Combine measurements. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the leanest at a remarkable 3.00%, followed by Bruce Brown at 3.75%. Grayson Allen (5.55%), Donte DiVincenzo (5.00%) DeAnthony Melton (5.20%) and Trae Young (5.35%) were all at the low end.

Jontay Porter took "honors" at the high end at 13.85%, followed closely by Omari Spellman at 13.75%. Most of the measurements were in the 4-7% range.

How does this stack up with the average-Joe-on-the-street. I am sad to relate, after conducting many thousands of measurements, that Joe of today is probably going to be 25% or more, and therefore in the clinically obese category. The athlete range is 6-13%, and as you can see, pro basketball players generally fall at the low end of the range.

If I can get my non-athlete clients into the fitness range (14-17%) in today's society - AND KEEP THEM THERE - I feel really great, and so do they.

I have measured (via skin-fold calipers) big guys with low body fat and "thin" guys with a high percentage. Visually, I can make a close guess, but I never can be sure until the calipers are applied. Yabu would be such a big guy with (relatively- compared to Joe-average)) low body fat, even at his Summer League level.

Photo of author
With men, it is usually about the abs (stomach). If I look at a photo of Jaylen Brown without a shirt, I know that the abs measurement will be in the single digits (less than 10 millimeters), and maybe less than five. Almost every guy carries the bulk of his fat in the stomach area. But some do also carry it in the chest or thighs.

So this article got started with the confusion relative to Guerschon Yabusele and my articles concerning his physique. My guess is that his present body fat percentage is less than Spellman's 13.75%. The point is that if Yabu moves so well at 10% body fat, he will do even better at 6%. He needs to get back there to be at peak performance.

Another of many lessons learned while conducting fitness challenges, including upper arm circumference. I told the clients that beat me on the arm-circumference challenge that they had fat arms - and most of the time I was telling the truth - so I instituted an arm-definition contest, whereby the arm size (circumference) was divided by the triceps (upper arm) fat measurement.

The idea was to compete with a sizable arm with very little fat. I didn't lose often after that and still don't at age 74. When you are running things, you can manipulate factors to your advantage. Below is a tweet showing Guersch in 2016 at 6% body fat. He has plenty of time to get back there before the regular season begins.

Follow Tom at @TomLaneHC

Photo via fadeawayworld.com
Jaylen photo via Instagram
Tom's photo via Linda Lane