Size--Specifically, Height--Matters in the NBADuring Tuesday night's edition of NBA Coast to Coast, Tim Legler and Jalen Rose did an on court demonstration of the defensive adjustment that the Cleveland Cavaliers used to hold Dwyane Wade to 2-8 fourth quarter shooting in Cleveland's 107-100 win on Monday. Wade still finished with 41 points on 16-30 shooting and he also had nine assists, seven rebounds and seven steals, but he made a bid for an odd (and unprecedented) quintuple double with his eight turnovers. LeBron James scored 42 points on 13-21 shooting--including 6-7 from three point range--and he contributed eight rebounds and four assists, though he also had a high number of turnovers (six).
James figured prominently in Cleveland's fourth quarter defense against Wade: as Legler and Rose explained, early in the game the Cavs simply "showed" hard with a big man when the Heat ran screen/roll plays for Wade but Wade used his quickness to blow by whichever Cleveland big man trapped him and get into the paint. So, Cleveland countered in the final stanza by sending James to trap Wade before the screen could even be set. This forced Wade to dribble away from James, kept Wade out of the paint and helped the Cavs to outscore Miami 31-18 in the fourth quarter en route to a come from behind road win.
Rose made a very important point while demonstrating/talking about James trapping Wade: James stands 6-8, while Wade is listed at 6-4, so Wade cannot see over or around James to even try to make a pass. If the situation were reversed and Wade trapped James, then James could just pass right over his head, as Rose showed with Legler "guarding" him (Rose and Legler are roughly the same heights as James and Wade respectively).
I've consistently maintained since last season that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the two best players in the NBA but some people think that Wade and Chris Paul should be in that discussion. Wade and Paul are both great players but one disadvantage that they have versus Bryant and James is height: James is 6-8 and Bryant is 6-6, while Wade is 6-4 and Paul is just 6-0. I've stood next to all four players and can honestly say that, if anything, James and Bryant seem taller (and bigger) than their listed sizes, while Wade and Paul certainly are not taller than they are listed and may be slightly smaller (I'm not convinced that Wade is a legit 6-4, unless I've grown since the last time I was measured, which seems highly doubtful). Obviously, height alone does not matter unless you can actually play but at an elite level even the slightest advantage makes a difference. James is so big--the same size as Karl Malone was during his prime--that he can legitimately play power forward, while Bryant is big enough to play small forward; as Rose and Legler indicated, it is much tougher to trap a bigger player because he can simply see right over the help defender.
From my perspective, Wade is a mini-James: they have similar skill set strengths (explosiveness, court vision, finishing in the paint) and share the same major weakness (outside shooting). However, I'd take Bryant or James over Wade unless or until Wade's skill set is markedly better than theirs, because Wade's height is a disadvantage.
As for Chris Paul, in the history of the NBA the only time that someone who is roughly Paul's size has been the best player on a championship team was when Isiah Thomas led the Bad Boys Pistons in 1989 and 1990. Paul is the best point guard in the league and should make the All-NBA First Team but I don't see how anyone could take him over Bryant or James. Thomas admitted that during his playing days he never worried about his diminutive stature but that one time he was at a banquet with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson (who are each 6-9) and he thought to himself "Damn, they're big" and he wondered how he really had managed to compete with them at a championship level; Chuck Daly, Detroit's Coach during the Bad Boys era, said that if Thomas had been 6-6 then he might have been the greatest player ever. However, Thomas is not 6-6 and, as great as he was, he was not a better or more dominant player than Bird, Magic or Michael Jordan (who is 6-6)--and the same thing is true today of Paul vis a vis Bryant and James.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:26 AM