Body Size of NBA Basketball Players

Body size is considered one of the most important physical attributes for success in basketball. Here we look at historical anthropometric data of the players in the world's premier basketball competition, the NBA, and look for trends in the changes in these parameters. Are players getting taller and leaner, or have we reached a plateau in body size while athleticism is now the determining factor of success?

Analysis Over Time - the data

We have analyzed the age, height, weight and BMI of NBA players. We have compared the first year players from each year since 1947. The data is derived from the Basketball Reference website by kaggle user Omri Goldstein. The dataset includes stats on over 3000 Players NBA Players from 1947-2018. See the tabulated data and links to the original dataset here.

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Age of Rookie Players from 1947-2018

Here is the average age data for NBA players, the age used for analysis is how old they were at the start of October for the first year they played in the NBA.

player age (years) in rookie year GRAPH: player age (years) in rookie year

The higher average age in the first six years reflects the early days of the NBA, when teams were joining the competition and the rookie players included mature and experienced players in the lineup. In later years, the rookies were mostly junior players, as reflected in the younger average age of first year players.

Height of Rookie Players from 1947-2018

Here is the average height data for NBA players, using data from players in their first year in the NBA. The height values were converted from the supplied units in feet/inches. If you wish to convert the height values back to imperial units you can use one of our calculators.

player height (cm) in rookie year GRAPH: player height (cm) in rookie year

Average player height has increased significantly since the start of the NBA competition in 1949, though in the last 40 years the average height has mostly ranged between 198cm (6'6") and 202cm (6'7.5")

The tallest player in National Basketball Association (NBA) history is Romanian player Gheorghe Mureşan who measured 7 feet 7 inches (231 cm) tall. He played in the NBA from 1993-2000. On the other end of the scale, Muggsy Bogues is the shortest person to play in the NBA, and he played for a 14 year period. He was only 5 foot 3 inches (160 cm) tall. Another short NBA player was Earl Boykins who was 5 feet, 5 inches (1.65m) in height, he is the second shortest player in NBA history.

Weight of Rookie Players from 1947-2018

Here is the average height data for NBA players, using data from players in their first year in the NBA. The weight values were converted from the supplied units in pounds. If you wish to convert the weight values back to imperial units you can use one of our calculators.

player weight (kg) in rookie year GRAPH: player weight (kg) in rookie year

Average player weight has increased significantly since the start of the NBA competition in 1949. The players during this time have also been getting taller, though the graphs do not show the same pattern. Since about 1980, player's heights have generally plateaued, though body weight continued to rise. Possibly the players were generally tall and skinny, and more recently they have have been bulkier. Is it fat or muscle? It is not possible to determine this based on the data. It seems like in recent years that the average weight of first year players is getting lower, illustrated more clearly in the BMI data.

BMI of Rookie Players from 1947-2018

Using the height and weight measures, we have calculated the average BMI measurement, which is a general (though flawed, particularly with athletes) measure of leanness.

player BMI in rookie year GRAPH: player BMI in rookie year

With the average BMI in recent years just below 25, there are plenty of NBA players with BMIs over 25, which is rated as 'overweight'. This is an issue with BMI measurement in athletic populations, as high levels of muscle mass proportional to height can also result in high BMI values. So these higher BMI values do not necessarily reflect that they are getting fatter, but probably more likely due to changes in muscle bulk.

The average BMI of first year players shows some interesting trends. The dip in BMI between 1970-1990 occurred while player average height was increasing, indicating that they were getting leaner. There is also a clear trend of decreasing BMI in the last few years, possibly indicating a push to greater fitness and athleticism in players, and subsequently leaner bodies.

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