Why do we like the little guy in basketball? Because it reminds us of ourselves, the ones who missed out on the two-foot growth spurt that we swear could make us into NBA players? Because it gives us a glance at someone doing something they aren’t exactly supposed to do? Maybe. We like underdogs.
Dallas’ J.J. Barea fits that mold. The whirling dervish dropped 17 points and five assists on the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. How can a guy who’s not even 6-feet tall – teammate Brian Cardinal said he might be 6-feet in stilettos – do this over giants? And how did he score Miss Universe 2006 being so short? And is she taller than him when she’s wearing stilettos?
Either way, Barea is cementing his place amongst the best players 6-feet or smaller. At 26 years old, his career numbers of 7.1 points and 2.9 assists per game are only on the rise.
In honor of the little guy, I take a look at some of the NBA’s five best small ballers like your elementary school class photo; in line from shortest to tallest.
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Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues (5-3)
Who is the smallest of them all? Bogues is king of all short basketball players. Even at 135 pounds, his career stretched the course of 14 seasons where he averaged 7.7 points and 7.6 assists per outing, and in two of his seasons he surpassed the 10 assist per game threshold. Impressively, Bogues survived the physicality and grind of the NBA while spending the majority of his career with the Charlotte Hornets.
After retirement, he was briefly the head coach of the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting before the franchise folded after two years of existence. And yes, according to Wikipedia, he was indeed shorter than all of his players.
The most comedic part of his career, though, had to be time spent teaming with the 7-7 Manute Bol on the Washington Bullets.
Earl Boykins (5-5)
Still truckin’ along at the age of 34, Boykins is about 1,000 points away from Bogues’ 6,858 career points. In the 2006-07 season he averaged an impressive 14.6 points and 4.4 assists per game with the Denver Nuggets before Nene got hungry and mistook him for a gingerbread man.
Just kidding. He averaged 7.2 points and 2.5 assists for the Milwaukee Bucks this past season.
Anthony “Spud” Webb (5-6)
Perhaps best known for his 1986 Dunk Contest, Webb surprised his Atlanta Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins with some sick slams. But there was more to Webb than dunking. I, for one, envision him in a Hawks uniform, but the peak of his career was spent with the Sacramento Kings.
He averaged 16.0 points and 7.1 assists with the Kings in the 1991-92 season and has career averages of 9.9 points and 5.3 assists. Most recently, he let fellow little-man Nate Robinson jump over him en route to a Slam Dunk Contest win in 2006.
Calvin Murphy (5-9)
The old man out of the bunch, Murphy is the only player in this list to be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. His average of 17.9 points is also the most amongst this group. In five of his seasons, Murphy dropped 20-plus points per game in five of his NBA seasons and was named an All-Star in 1979.
In 1981, Murphy scored a career-high 57 points on the San Antonio Spurs. Most notably, Murphy was an extraordinary free throw shooter, finishing that same season with a ridiculous 95.8 percent average.
Nate Robinson (5-9)
Just 26 years old, Robinson is on the fast track to becoming one of the great small ballers of all-time – if he can get off the Oklahoma City Thunder bench. His three slam dunk titles make Nate the Great one of the more electric players in the game, and his 11.3-point, 2.3-assist averages stack up pretty well against the others on this list.
The best season for Robinson came on a lowly 2008-09 Knick team, where he averaged 17.2 points and 4.1 assists per game. But yeah, it’s his dunking that makes him fun to watch.
Who’s your favorite small baller of all time?
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