On the Celtics Green boards we are discussing Big Baby and how much he might be worth. In the discussion it was mentioned that because of his undersized label, he may end up being a bargain. Manchvegasbob made this statement:
One should never underestimate the heart of a "Big Baby", and there's so much more to being able to play in the paint than just being tall. Tall is under-rated. Ask Charles Barkley, Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
It got me thinking about how size really doen't matter and sometimes an "undersized" player can really excel at his position.
I have been hearing that Leon Powe is undersized since we drafted him. I have read that Big Baby is undersized. I have read that Perk is undersized as a center. But what consitutes undersized? Can they play the 4 and 5 and get the job done? Does a player have to be 7' to be a good center or power forward and a good rebounder? The answer is no. There is a rich history in the league of players who were considered undersized and who dominated. It is heart and desire that makes the difference.
Charles Barkley was listed at 6-6, but probably actually closer to 6-4 and he played power forward as well as anyone, often dominating players half a foot taller. There are four players in NBA history who have compiled at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley. He averaged 11.7 rebounds for his career. Barkley made up for his lack of size with heart and determinaton. Maybe I should say his lack of length, because like Big Baby, he definitely had size.
Bill Russell dominated the center position at 6'9". He led the Celtics to 11 championships over his career as player and coach. He averaged 15.1 points per game and an amazing 22.5 rebounds per game over his career. He played with great intensity and his desire to succeed drove him forward.
Dave Cowens was another 6'9" center who dominated at his position because of his work ethic and heart. He led the Celtics to championships in 1974 and 1976. Playing in the era of Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Wilt "the Stilt" Chamberlain, and "Pistol Pete" Maravich, Cowens didn't possess the flash and glitz of those high-profile superstars. Instead, it was Cowens' consistency, work ethic, unselfishness, versatility and energy that established him as one of the most solid and respected centers in recent NBA history. An unlikely hero in a sport dominated by men of greater size and natural ability, Cowens relied on hustle and heart to achieve NBA greatness. His determination helped to resurrect a Celtics dynasty presumed dead after the departure of legend Bill Russell. He averaged 17.6 ppg and 13.6 rpg over his career.
Celtics big man coach, Clifford Ray is yet another 6'9" center who dominated at his position. He played 10 years in the league and is credited by Robert Parish for having influenced his game more than anyone else. Ray led the Warriors to a championship in 1975. Over his career, he averaged 7.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. He has become one of the best big men coaches in the league and is credited with developing many of the big men in the game today including Dwight Howard and has played a big role in the development of Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe and Big Baby Davis.
Ben Wallace is also a 6'9" center who dominates on the defensive end. He isn't known for his scoring but can change a game with his defensive play and rebounding. Although he is slowing down somewhat in recent years, he has averaged 6.2 points, 103 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game over his 12 year career.
Elvin Hayes was another 6'9" center who dominated at his position. He averaged 21 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game over his 16 year career. Hayes was one of the most talented forward/centers every to play the game in spite of his 6'9" stature. It was his aggressiveness especially on the defensive end and his work ethic that helped to make him great. He is another 6'9" center to lead his team to a title, which he did in 1978 with the Bullets.
Wes Unseld was 6'7" but made it into the Hall of Fame as one of the NBA's best forward/centers in spite of his size. Like Big Baby, Leon, and Perk, he was a very strong player and built his reputation on his relentless rebounding and bone-jarring picks. Over his career he averaged 10.8 points and 14.0 rebounds per game. Along with Elvin Hayes, he led the Bullets to the 1978 championship and was named the Finals MVP.
Finally, Dennis Rodman is listed at 6'8" but in reality, was closer to 6'6". He is arguably one of the best rebounders in NBA history. He led the league in rebounding a record 7 consecutive years. He was a dominant defender and rebounder snd did it with desire and hard work. Despite often being matched at a height disadvantage, he became one of the most dominant rebounders in NBA history, and was also a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged 7.3 points and 13.1 rebounds per game for his career.
All of this brings me to the conclusion that rebounding and defense are mostly desire, heart and hard work. Each of the players mentioned above is an example of just that. Leon Powe is listed at 6'8" but has a 7'2" wingspan. His long arms and leaping ability allow him to play a lot bigger than his 6'8". It would be hard to find a player who works harder than Powe (unless it would be Perk). His desire and intensity allow him to out rebound players who are taller.
Kendrick Perkins is 6'10" and has been called undersized for a center. He has a 7'4" wingspan that allows him to play bigger than his listed height. Perk works very, very hard and has the desire to get every rebound and block every shot. He came into the league directly from high school and it takes awhile for centers to develop but despite a lack of playing time and various injuries, Perk has improved from year to year. Perk's desire and work ethic has helped to make him a dominant man in the middle as is evidenced by his ability to play Dwight Howard pretty much evenly in the playoffs this year.
Now we come to Big Baby who is also undersized at 6'8". But after stepping into the starting lineup for KG, he proved that he can play in this league. He has a good work ethic and is very motivated to be the best he can be. He worked hard on his jumper this past off season and that became a big weapon for him in the playoffs especially. He has a chip on his shoulder and is ready to work hard on his body and his game to make an impact in the league.
If Dennis Rodman could lead the league in rebounding at 6'6" - 6'8" and Charles Barkley could dominate the league at 6'4" - 6'6", and Wes Unseld be a dominant force in the middle at 6'7", and if Russell, Cowens, Elvin Hayes, and Clifford Ray could be dominant centers at 6'9", all because of their work ethic and desire and hustle on the court, then, size truly doesn't matter. A center or power forward doesn't have to be 7 foot or more to be a dominant player. Players like Leon Powe,Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins can be dominant big men because they all possess a very strong work ethic and all play very hard on the court and that's what defense and rebounding are all about. Players like Leon and Perk have long arms which allow them to play bigger than their height. Players like Big Baby or Wes Unseld can use their size, strength, and footwork to beat opponents. Perk, Leon and Big Baby may not be the tallest players on the court but they certainly make up for it with heart and determination like Barkley, Unseld, Rusell, Hayes, Cowens, Rodman and others have done before them.