In a league where size is everything, these guys are the outliers, the ones who overcame their shortcomings in the height department to still lead remarkable careers. Despite being overlooked for most of their upbringings, these players found a way to maximize their mass and bring other skills to table.
We at Dime feel it’s right to recognize everyone, even — especially rather — the little guys. When you can stand among giants even though you may looks like a typical civilian, it makes your accomplishments that much more impressive. Here’s our list of the best short players ever (6-2 and under).
20. STEPHON MARBURY, 6-2
[Eds. note: we had World B. Free here to start, but thankfully were reminded of a certain player named Starbury] Marbury gets a lot of hate for never winning much in the playoffs — in his career he won four playoff games… FOUR!… as the starting point guard — but still that can’t overshadow his impressive numbers. Until his career started to go downhill with the Knicks, Marbury was one of only two players in NBA history with career averages of 20 points and eight assists. The Big O was the other. He made two All-Star Games and two All-NBA Teams, and in the 2000-01 season with the Nets, Marbury averaged nearly 24 points per game.
19. MARK PRICE, 6-0
Price is known as one of the greatest free throw shooters ever (over 90 percent for his career), and is somewhat of a blueprint for Steve Nash. In 1992-93, he even made an All-NBA First Team, and for his career, he averaged 15 points and nearly seven assists. His best years came early in his career with Cleveland on a team that was as gifted offensively as any squad in the NBA.
18. RAJON RONDO, 6-1
Rondo is consistently talked about as one of the smartest players in the NBA, and it shows. The Celtics floor general is the best passer in the NBA and it’s probably not even close. Last year, despite playing in only 38 games, he averaged over 11 dimes a night, the third-straight year he’s done that. For his career, Rondo is averaging eight-plus assists per game. You could argue no one in the league raises their game higher once they get into the postseason. In the 2009 Playoffs, he was thisclose to averaging a ridiculous triple-double through 14 games, and in 2012, his playoff numbers looked like this: 17.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 11.9 assists per game.
17. TONY PARKER, 6-2
Up until this year, I think TP was underrated by just about everyone. Now, suddenly, everyone is calling him the best point guard in the league, even better than Chris Paul. Parker’s numbers could be even better, but he plays in a system that doesn’t allow it AND he’s content playing lower minutes with higher efficiency. Still, he’s averaged 17.1 points and 6.0 assists for his career, has won three championships while averaging over 19 a night in the playoffs, has made five All-Star Games and won a Finals MVP in 2007. He’s only just hitting his peak form now and Parker just turned 31 years old.
16. KEVIN JOHNSON, 6-1
A three-time All-Star and a four-time member of the All-NBA Second Team, Johnson was one of the angriest finishers among smaller point guards. In his prime, he was virtually unstoppable off the dribble. He had a three-year run from the late-80s to the early-90s with Phoenix that saw him average at least 20 points and 10 assists each year (one of only four players to do that). Two seasons later, the Suns were in the Finals. Johnson scored 19 or more in Games 3-6 and often matched up with Michael Jordan. His one Achilles’ heel? Paper mache hamstrings.
15. TIM HARDAWAY, 6-0
The short-statured point guard (Muggsy Bogues actually told us he thought Hardaway was only 5-10) began his promising career as one-third of Run TMC, a fast-paced, high-octane trio that helped make the Warriors one of the most feared offenses in the ’90s. Hardaway was not only a great scorer and passer, but he’s credited with pioneering the crossover dribble. His slick move was inherited by future ballhandlers, namely No. 4 on our list.
Hardaway nearly averaged a double-double over his first four seasons and enjoyed a great deal of success later on in his career with the Miami Heat. Notably, he was a winner of the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award while at UTEP, which honors the best college senior six feet tall or shorter. His son Tim Hardaway, Jr. fortunately got the good height genes in the family, standing at a solid 6-6.
14. K.C. JONES, 6-1
While the Celtics guard may have been short in stature, he used every bit of his height to pester and frustrate opponents. Jones was blessed upon entering the league, joining the legendary dynasty that ruled the NBA for over a decade. He won a championship in each of his first eight seasons.
His individual stats don’t jump off the paper, but Jones was an indispensable weapon for the Russell-led teams of the 1960s.
13. MO CHEEKS, 6-1
More known for his defensive prowess than for his scoring ability, Cheeks was willing to do whatever it took to win, even if that meant taking on the opponent’s best player. Unselfish and under-the-radar, Cheeks retired as the NBA’s all-time steals leader. In recent years he has established himself as a formidable coach in the league, and he’ll look to take a talented Pistons squad to the playoffs this upcoming season.
Cheeks was a vital cog for the champion 76ers in 1983, and he was recognized for his success with the franchise by having his number retired by the team in 1995.
12. CALVIN MURPHY, 5-9
Murphy may very well be the greatest player ever less than 6-0 tall. While he was only named to one All-Star team, his legacy as the diminutive guard who stood up to giants lives on in Houston lore. A career Rocket, Murphy retired as their all-time leading scorer and one of the best free throw shooters of all time.
At just 5-9, Murphy is the shortest player inducted into the Hall of Fame. His career year came in the ’77-78 season, when he put up 25 points per game despite his size.
11. GAIL GOODRICH, 6-1
Many counted out Goodrich throughout his childhood for his dreams of an NBA career. He was deemed too small for the game, having to disprove doubters nearly everywhere he went. Goodrich, nicknamed “Stumpy” by teammates, first found success as a member of John Wooden‘s UCLA squads of the 1960s. He overcame his height problem through a combination of intelligence and court vision and finished as the Bruins all-time leading scorer.
Goodrich’s against-the-odds career culminated with his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1996.
10. BILL SHARMAN, 6-1
A superior marksman, Sharman established himself as the best shooting guard in the league for much of the 1950s. Before becoming a successful head coach for the Lakers, he was a star with the Boston Celtics, making seven All-NBA teams while winning four titles. A tough and fearless player, many had trouble finding a way past the pesky guard on the other side of the ball.
As a member of the Celtics, Sharman was a backcourt mate of another short great we’ll get to later. He was also one of the greatest free throw shooters ever, making an incredible 88 percent of his charity chucks during his career.
9. HAL GREER, 6-2
Greer was a sharpshooting point guard who enjoyed one of the more consistent careers in NBA history. You could always expect a specific performance from the 76er on a nightly basis: a tough, workmanlike approach that was spectacular and quiet all at the same time. Along with Wilt Chamberlain, Greer helped end the Celtics run of dominance in the 1960s, bringing a title to Philadelphia in 1967.
Despite a lack of noise surrounding Greer today, he still is considered one of the greatest guards of all time and is extremely well-respected by fans and peers alike.
8. LENNY WILKENS, 6-1
Before Wilkens established himself as a veteran coach, he made a name for himself as a short kid coming out of Brooklyn. Besides his ability to score and distribute in his prime with the Seattle Supersonics, Wilkens proved that even the little guys can scrap on the interior, averaging over six rebounds per game.
Despite his size, he commanded respect as a player and even more so later when he took over coaching duties during his ninth NBA season. Wilkens finished his second career as the all-time winningest coach in league history, later surpassed by Don Nelson.
7. NATE ARCHIBALD, 6-1
The nickname “Tiny” wasn’t arbitrary by any means. But what Archibald lacked in height, he made up for in his ability to be the best player on the court at any given time. The only player ever to led the league in scoring and assists per game in the same season, Tiny was known for his shiftiness and speed, often too small and quick for defenders to keep track of.
Archibald went on to win a NBA championship with the Celtics towards the end of his great career and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.
6. CHRIS PAUL, 6-0
Coming into high school, Paul stood just 5-0 tall. His talent was noticeable, but the size was clearly lacking. CP3 eventually hit his growth spurt as a junior by growing an amazing eight inches the summer before. Maybe that’s why he’s so comfortable going head-to-head with some of the tallest men on the planet — he’s done it his entire life.
Now at his adult height, with his adult contract, he’s poised to finally reach for the Larry O’Brien Trophy with the rebuilt Clippers. He just might need a stepladder.
5. BOB COUSY, 6-1
The Houdini of the Hardwood stood just 6-1, but put together one of the most decorated careers in league history. Cooz, as he was affectionately called, was elected to 13 All-Star teams, was named MVP in 1957, and won six championships as a member of the Celtics. Cousy redefined the point guard position with his incredible repertoire of ballhandling and distributing.
The little guy also did big things for his fellow players, establishing the NBA Players Association in 1954. The Celtics retired Cousy’s number 14 jersey for a player who was truly ahead of his time.
4. ALLEN IVERSON, 6-0
Being undersized myself, I grew up idolizing Iverson’s willingness to go at any defender, no matter their size. His speed, elusiveness and explosiveness made him one of the most entertaining players to watch of his generation. With the average height of NBA shooting guards sitting somewhere between 6-4 and 6-7, AI played his position at an incredible size disadvantage.
Iverson has the distinction of being the shortest first overall pick ever. Watching someone his size dominate the way he did in his prime was nothing short of inspirational.
3. ISIAH THOMAS, 6-1
While young fans might associate the Pistons legend with his shortcomings as a coach and executive, Thomas was one of the greatest guards ever to take the floor. During his time at Indiana University, Bob Knight nicknamed his star player “Pee Wee” due to his undersized frame. That body possessed a whole lot of talent, though. As a member of the famed “Bad Boys” Pistons teams in the late ’80s, Thomas led Detroit to two straight championships and was named MVP in the latter.
Zeke pretty much rewrote the record books in Detroit, finishing his career as their leader in points, assists and steals. His jersey hangs from the rafters in the Palace at Auburn Hills, a sign of respect for the franchise’s greatest player.
2. JOHN STOCKTON, 6-1
If you saw Stockton walking down the street, you’d never imagine that this guy was arguably the greatest passer in NBA history, but he was just that. Paired up with a legendary low-post machine in Karl Malone, Stockton averaged a double-double for his career and holds a sizeable lead for the NBA records in career assists and steals. He made 10 All-Star Games and won a gold medal with the Dream Team, but could never reach the elusive NBA title, having to compete with Michael Jordan at the height of his powers.
Stockton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, a testament to his incredible work ethic throughout his career.
1. JERRY WEST, 6-2
It’s kind of funny that “The Logo” himself was barely above what’s considered the average height for adults, but Jerry West firmly cemented his legacy as one of the greatest point guards ever despite his size. A fantastic scorer, West averaged 27 points per game during his storied career. While he didn’t have size on his side, his intense demeanor on the court and confidence in himself deafened any criticisms of his height.
It took West seven trips to the Finals to finally take home hardware, but it was well-deserved for a true legend of the game.
Who’s the best little guy you ever saw play?
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