NBA players with big hands?
August 10, 2010 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Sports filter: I have some questions about hand size among basketball players.

One of the more interesting comments that comes up in the Kobe vs MJ debate is that Kobe's hands aren't nearly as big as Michael's. I've heard Phil Jackson say this in interviews more than once, so I'm inclined to believe it's an important point.

So I went to YouTube in search of great players palming the basketball. But I mostly found video of retired players: Dr. J, Darryl Dawkins, Clyde Drexler, Connie Hawkins and MJ. Not very many current players--and definitely not doing the kind of dramatic ball fakes seen from the older players.

Here are some video examples:
MJ - 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (my favorite--look at Oakley fall over)
Dr. J's famous layup and just about all his highlights really
Connie Hawkins (especially at 0:58 - damn!)
And Daryl Dawkins was just a freak.

Is there anyone in the league now that palms the ball like these guys? Rondo has his nifty behind the back ball fake, but I don't think it's quite the same as Jordan's ball fakes. I don't think LeBron can do it either. Even the big centers in the league don't whip the ball around with one hand the way Dawkins did.

I can't imagine today's players have smaller hands. That sounds absurd. Is the ball tougher to grip now? Are players just being more careful?

And bonus points for a source of hand measurements (not just pictures) for current or retired players. The NBA started collecting hand measurements during this year's draft combine, which is fascinating, but I can't find similar data for older players. But please don't tell me about the handprints at the NBA Store, unless you know the actual measurements for those handprints.
posted by mullacc to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Two theories
- Increased quickness across the board make flashy ball fakes riskier and means recovery from being faked is quicker
- Compared to the old day (athough not compared to the 90's) the league is much more physical. The ability to get away with more contact changes the risk/reward math of ball fakes

Because yeah the smaller/weaker hands theory doesn't make sense.

Also there is some sample bias here.
posted by JPD at 1:54 PM on August 10, 2010

Doesn't answer your question, but check out Al Jefferson's hand.

Perhaps players are more careful now as the refs are calling more palming violations. Or maybe the palming ball-fake is just not as popular as it used to be, since you can break your defender down in other ways (cross-over, double cross-over, shot fake, etc.).

Or maybe this is a case of confirmation bias. Those clips are career highlights. I'm think if you looked at a highlight reel of a current big-handed player, say Lamar Odom, you'd see some pretty damn spectacular stuff.
posted by Mountain Goatse at 1:54 PM on August 10, 2010

Those players were showmen- they thrived on stuff like that. Kobe Bryant is more of a workman- even in his younger days he was never much of a showy dunker or driver.

I think it's partially the style of the game - once the "Bad Boy" Pistons came in flash was dead - and partially just the stylistic choices of the current premier players. And now that big men are more athletic and work further out on the floor, I think maybe this kind of stuff has "migrated" a bit up to the bigger positions- Pau Gasol does it quite a bit.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:18 PM on August 10, 2010

For example:
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:20 PM on August 10, 2010

See also:
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:21 PM on August 10, 2010

(I know those don't show him doing actual "yo-yo" ball fakes, but he does that too, in a move he derived from Oljuawon's "dream shake." I can't find a clip though.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:24 PM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: It's definitely possible that sample or confirmation bias explains my observation. But I've spent more than a healthy amount of time obsessing about this and watching player highlights (of both current and retired players). Even in dunk contests there appears to be less palming now then in previous years.

If it's not a bias, I think the increase in quickness and physicality explains it. But I wonder if there's some other possibility that I'm not considering. For example: has the ball changed over time such that palming is harder? did they used to switch out the ball less often and would this matter? do modern weight-training programs have some unintended effect on the hands?
posted by mullacc at 2:25 PM on August 10, 2010

Ooh I know what did happen though. When you see Jordan stick the ball way out there, you notice he's always totally isolated- no help defender to come and try to grab it and make him look stupid?

That's because under the old illegal defense rule it was way easier to isolate your star player and give him half the court to pull showy moves like that. That rule went out about five to ten years ago I think.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:28 PM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: That second Gasol link is pretty good--you can tell that he's just whipping the ball at the hoop like it's on a stick.

I've seen a few "dream shake" clips from other players, notably from Rondo, but a lot of the time they are essentially cupping the ball and using momentum to their advantage.
posted by mullacc at 2:33 PM on August 10, 2010

Best answer: the ball def has not changed. The NBA knows hand size and strength matter (it is often used as an argument against drafting some bigs) so I can't imagine the strength programs mess with it too much.

Watch the streetball mixtapes - they still do these big slow fakes.
posted by JPD at 4:15 PM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: Alright, I give up. It's simply the evolution of the game. Though I maintain that Erving was just a freak. If he were in his prime today I think he'd still be able to put up shots like this in situations where most players would put up a much worse attempt.
posted by mullacc at 9:16 PM on August 10, 2010

He would have gotten hipchecked off the baseline into the third row today
posted by JPD at 5:55 AM on August 11, 2010

Best answer: "Clyde Drexler has hands that measure 10 inches from the tip of the little finger to the outstretched thumb."
Kevin Duckworth - 10 5/8 inches
Buck Williams - 10 5/8 inches
Terry Porter - 10 3/8 inches
Coach Rick Adelman - 9 5/8 inches
Jerome Kersey - 9 1/8 inches
Geoff Petrie - 10 inches

--The Oregonian, May 19, 1990.

Michael Jordan - 9 3/4 inches "palm to middle finger".

--The Knoxville News-Sentinel, March 12, 1999.

Elton Brand - 10 inches

--The San Francisco Chronicle, March 29, 1999.

Dr. J - 12 inches "from wrist to (middle) fingertip"

--The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, May 10, 1993.

Donyell Marshall - 10+ inches "wrist to (middle) fingertip"

--The Washington Post, February 28, 1994.

Football: Mike Vick - 8 inches, Ricky Williams 9 inches. (Sporting News, March 5, 2001)
posted by cashman at 12:31 PM on August 11, 2010

Response by poster: Awesome. Thanks, cashman.

Michael Jordan - 9 3/4 inches "palm to middle finger".

That seems way too small, unless they didn't measure from the bottom of the palm.

Dr. J - 12 inches "from wrist to (middle) fingertip"

This matches the estimates I read elsewhere, which ranged from 11.5 - 13". Crazy big hands.
posted by mullacc at 12:54 PM on August 11, 2010

Wayne Embry - 12 inches (thumb to pinkie) - NYT Jan 30, 1989.

Yao Ming - about 10 inches (wrist to middle fingertip) - NYT June 4, 2006.

(Football - Larry Fitzgerald's are 10 1/2 inches)
posted by cashman at 1:04 PM on August 11, 2010

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