Length: An Organizational Philosophy

Gatinho —  November 7, 2008

“The 6’8″ Jackson’s wingspan was so prodigious that Bill Fitch (Jackson’s coach at the University of North Dakota) would often have him show off to NBA scouts with something called “The Car Trick,” in which Jackson would sit in middle of the back seat of a 1950s Buick and open both doors simultaneously.”

-Phil Jackson’s official Bio

Length… Sometimes referred to as a player’s wingspan or simply stating, “he’s long.” The famous poster of Jordan’s life size image with reaching “wings” while palming a ball comes to mind.

It’s the distance from the tip of the right middle finger, across and over the barrel of the chest, to the tip of the digits on the left.

Like Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, most of us are square, symmetrical. Our wings comparatively clipped and matching the distance from the bottom of our feet to the top of our head. Embodying the architect Vitruvius’ idea that we were a walking 1 to 1 ratio.

“We found the proportion of Height to Wingspan to be 1.023 which is within 2.3% error of the established value of 1. The one-sample T-test concluded that there is not enough evidence to say the proportion is not 1.”

-Size of a Human: Body Proportions, The Physics Hypertext book

In his own lanky form, it seems Jackson would start to create a prototype of a defensive player. Of course coaches have always coveted length in players, but for Phil and consequently the Lakers, it now seems firmly ensconced as an organizational philosophy.

A philosophy that would begin with Phil himself and solidify in the 7 foot long outstretched arms of Scottie Pippen. The Bulls’ defense would be predicated on his quickness coupled with length.

The commitment to fielding a front court founded on length would be undeniable after the 2004 Finals, when one Kobe Bryant was single covered by Pterodactylean ridiculousness.

“Kobe had a hard time shooting over Prince,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said afterward. “I’ve never played against somebody that long before,” Bryant said.

Felix Gillette, Slate magazine, discussing the 2004 Finals and praising of the “lanky brilliance” of Tayshaun Prince.

(Gilette would also invoke Leonardo and Vitruvius and quote a study in the Journal Biometrika,“Only 9 percent of adult males have wingspans that exceed their heights by more than about 2 inches.”)

So when we see… Good close outs on three point shooters…rebounds kept alive by tips leading to second chance points…passing lanes being filled properly in the strong side zone preventing the skip pass…fronting the post effectively…altered or blocked shots…fundamental stay on the floor go straight up defense…say it along with Joel Myers…“The Lakers length is once again a factor .”

“The team is neither soft, nor scared of physicality, it’s just a little light in the pants. This is why our speed and length will be so important. What we lack in girth (not physicality) will be made up in speed and length, allowing us to choke off angles and get into passing lanes.”

Kwame a.

“The ball is just calling my name…I just go after it.”

Trevor Ariza

“He’s a legitimate, 7-1, long-wing-span, natural shot blocker, so add Andrew, it takes us to another level defensively.”

Phil Jackson on the Pau Gasol trade

You can’t teach length, but you can draft and trade for it.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho



to Length: An Organizational Philosophy

  1. You nailed it on this Gatinho….

    Phil loves the long defender as it just reinforces defensive versatility. In the past, Phil has loved having the option of switching on defense and having defenders that have the size to play multiple players/positions on defense. With the players the we have now (plus the fact that we’re using more zone principles) we’re able to switch, trap, and play better overall defense because of our length…even with Fisher out there.

    Great post.


  2. This Little Pinky November 7, 2008 at 6:02 pm

    William: We’ll make spears. Hundreds of them, long spears. Twice as long as a man.
    Hamish: That long?
    William: Aye.
    Hamish: Some men are longer than others.
    Campbell: Your mother been telling you stories about me again, eh?


  3. Gatinho, great post. We knew Phil liked length, but this provides some context as to why, and what that means to the defense.


  4. Ugh, it feels like we’re going through the preseason again with the wait between games.


  5. Off topic, check out the 710 ESPN PodKast with the Kamentsky Brothers from the LA Times Lakers blog, where I am a guest and we atalk defense and cats with hats. The important things.



  6. Great post. This is what makes this blog the best team blog on the web.


  7. I would love to know what T-Rex… er… I mean Kevin Willis’ Vitruvian ratio was. If I had to hazard a guess, it was well below 1.0. Dude had seriously short arms for a 7-footer. Hence the nickname. 😉


  8. Gatinho, interesting post about ‘length’ for players and sharky hit the nail about the content here.


  9. While I hate this weird week without games, the layoff has resulted in some good posts as the good basketball minds here keep themselves occupied.

    What’s Yao’s wingspan ratio? His arms have always looked disproportionately short to me, though I guess if he starts out at 7’5 it doesn’t much matter.


  10. My coaches always told me I had a long wingspan at 71 in tall and a 78 in wingspan. That’s a Prince kind of 1:1.098 proportion

    Am I a monster?

    I guess that’s what has helped me the most at getting steals not my defensive skills…


  11. j. d. hastingsm
    The thing about wingspan is that you don’t have to move your feet and you can react better when the ball is in the air. If you move your feet AND you have a long winspan, then you can be a monster on defense.


  12. Yao’s wingspan, from what I can find is actually shorter than his height (88 in 87in 1:.998). Yao would have what is called wasted height because a lot of it is in his head. Anything above the shoulders being essentially wasted.

    Xavier, we all know that defense is played with your feet, but think of guys like Pippen (or Ariza) with sound fundamentals, their length only enhances that good foot work.


  13. Great post! Our team is definitely built big. Along with the emphasis on wingspan, our players are just plain tall. Other than our PGs (Fisher and Farmar at 6′ and 6’1″ respectively) and that Kobe guy, the roster doesn’t include anyone below 6’7″. And even then, it’s only Sasha and a slew of players at 6’8″ and 6’9″.


  14. As far as Tayshaun Prince goes. His length was effective against Kobe, because he had players backing him, that could allow him to mke Kobe shoot, just as Posey played Kobe in the Finals. Posey did a great job of getting closer to Kobe on pump fakes and limiting space because he had back up. He took away options. Same thing with Prince. It’s hard to get a jumpshot over the long arms, when it’s the only shot available to you.

    I’d like to see the same kind of defense, because then the frontline length really helps when you get closed out by length ,just to be met with more.


  15. KurkPeterman,

    I just wished Sasha seemed 6’7″. He doesn’t rebound or finish like he is.


  16. wondahbap – I feel you on that. He doesn’t seem like a great athlete (like say Ariza) and can’t utilize his size to get up for dunks or much of an inside game. When he’s locked in on his shot though, he does exactly what we want him to do – spread the floor.


  17. Oh man, it would be so awesome if Yao decided to go Soccer player and started blocking shots with his head!

    Xavier- it must be nice to be able to tie your shoes without leaning over…


  18. I thought the general scouting report for Kobe was that you don’t go for blocks as he pump fakes alot but just hold your ground all the time.

    If you’re long, you can afford to jump a little later and still bother the shooter, or just not jump and settle for hand-in-face.

    But still, no matter how long you are, if you just reach-in, that’s near an automatic foul against good players. Length gives you more options, and enhances your already sound defense. Defense is still mostly about your footwork.

    … I’m trying very hard to keep away from obvious metaphors that involve length and the quote about girth…


  19. Like my first coach ever told me: I can’t teach tall.

    Great post, where do you find these hard to find player stats?


  20. I think this is the 10th time I’m checking the site for the new game preview 🙂 What do you guys like as keys to tonight’s game?
    The Rockets have good defense all the way around. No matter how good Kobe is, I think we all agree that having Artest guarding you will mess up your shots. The team prides itself on its D, they play excellent team defense as a result, and penetration isn’t gonna be at its easiest tonight. The Lakers however must be patient and not settle for perimeter shots. As long as they keep the ball moving, they will get open and get good shots.
    The Rockets offense is a lot weaker. They don’t have the fastest ball movement, and often rely on Yao ad McGrady to create baskets for them. Limiting McGrady, not letting Yao getting good positioning in the paint and closing down on 3 point shooters will make the game really hard for the Rockets.
    I was watching the Rockets-Celtics game, and I think one really good way to take out the Rockets is to get the ball down low early, attack Yao and get him in foul trouble. Taking out Yao leaves them with an unbelievably small frontcourt consisting of the 6-9 Scola, 6-9 Landry, 6-6 Hayes and a 6-8 Dorsey. That should definitely help us when we get in the paint, and in controlling the boards. This could be the Rockets’ biggest weakness, and I would love to see our team take advantage.

    Let’s hear your views guys!


  21. Oh yeah and Gatinho, thank you, that was a sick article. Everyone can see the art in basketball, but few people appreciate the scientific element as well.


  22. Rockets preview up


  23. “Yao’s wingspan, from what I can find is actually shorter than his height (88 in 87in 1:.998). Yao would have what is called wasted height because a lot of it is in his head. Anything above the shoulders being essentially wasted.

    Xavier, we all know that defense is played with your feet, but think of guys like Pippen (or Ariza) with sound fundamentals, their length only enhances that good foot work.”
    Actually Yao Ming’s wingspan is nearly 89 in and his height is nearly 90, but his wingspan is probably still slightly less than his own height. Needingless to say, Yao still has relatively short arms. However, he doesn’t have that much ‘wasted’ height because his head isn’t actually that long compared to his height. Now this guy has a long head (but his short neck does sort of ‘even’ things out I suppose).
    btw, He’s 7,4″ (barefoot) and has an 8,1″ wingspan! Freak!
    Don’t know his standing reach but I’ve heard it’s like 9,10″ or 9,11″!