Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is There a Wonderlic Caste System for Basketball?

Steve Sailer asks if centers are generally smarter than players at the other positions in basketball. I don't have anything like a real answer for this, but my initial observation would be that the two most intelligence-demanding positions would be center and point guard.

The point guard position is fairly obvious: You need to know the plays, and everyone else's position in the plays. But the position probably also requires a better handle on spacial relations than the others because you have to see so passing lanes so consistently.

I think you can make the case that the center and PG positions are also the least athletically demanding roles on the basketball court. They're physically demanding--you can't play center if you're short--but that's very different from innate athleticism. The 2, 3, and 4 positions all let you paper over nearly every possible deficiency with raw athleticism in a way that the 1 and the 5 really don't. And it might be true--I'd have to think about this some more--that when the center position is properly played it demands the second-best court vision and passing ability on the floor, because you have to see double teams on the post and understand how and where to kick the ball out.

What I've always wondered about centers is this: What percentage of men over 7-feet-tall play Division I and/or professional basketball? I'd wager that I've never seen a 7-foot-tall man who wasn't a high-level basketball player--in the tens of thousands of people I've walked past on the street, in the airport, etc, I've never seen a 7-footer.

So is being born to be 7-feet tall like winning the lottery? Is it a free pass to a paid-for college education and/or at least some professional sports money? What percentage of 7-footers do make it to that level? 5 percent? 10 percent? 60 percent?

I've never quite figured out a way to find the data on this.


Civilized Crank said...

Of course the lottery ticket of being 7 foot comes a whole host of negatives as well, like being unable to sleep in standard beds, fit on airplanes (not to mention the medical problems, like pituitary issues, joint and foot deteriotation, nerve sensitivity). In the end, I think it evens out.

Anonymous said...

yes, 7 feet = lottery ticket- I have seen a very few who were too sickly and uncoordinated to not be able to play but the vast majority I have only seen BECAUSE of basketball.
I think to a much lesser degree a similar principle is some what applicable to left handed boxers.

Anonymous said...

If you're that tall, someone will take a chance on you even if you aren't that talented or athletic. Shaun Bradley, anyone?

Unknown said...

Typically, being 7 feet comes with some measure of gangliness, lack of coordination, awkwardness, etc. The guys who are in the NBA are 7 feet tall, and they're freakishly athletic. Not only was Hakeem Olajuwan huge, he was quicker than 99% of the planet and had incredible hands.

Big college programs and pro teams take tall players because they've got the best coaches in the world, and they can teach you to be more coordinated. They can't teach you to be taller.

But you can do something similar with all sports. What percentage of the world that can run a 4.3 40 didn't play big time college athletics? (For the record, we had one in our high school who was not terribly athletic, but walked on at Texas A&M, and got an opportunity to play.) What percentage of the world can throw a 90 mph fastball and didn't get drafted by a major league team? (I played against one in summer league ball.) What percentage of the world weighs 300 pounds with less than 25% body fat, and didn't play college ball? (Again, I know at least one.)

-- MattM

Unknown said...

By the way, the bar debate I'd sometimes have with my friends is, "If you could keep your current level of athleticism, how tall would you have to be to play in the NBA?"

Steve Sailer said...

The website is where people who obsess about getting accurate data on celebrity heights post pictures of themselves standing next to celebrities and argue about how tall they truly are.

The tallest celebrity on their list that I've heard of and who was famous for something that didn't involve being tall is the late novelist Michael Crichton at 6'-9".

The late economist John Kenneth Galbraith is often said to be about the same. John Maynard Keynes was supposedly about 6'-6".

On the other hand, economists Robert Reich and Milton Friedman were quite short.

Anonymous said...

The question of automatic disqualification for a position based on height/weight is an interesting one.

Charles Barkley was certainly undersized.

Sam Mills was 5' 8" and about 220 lbs., but a great middle LB for the Saints nonetheless.

Are these guys simply outliers or are there many more Sam Millses out there who never get a shot past High School? Perhaps it requires too much effort for scouts to find them when they have an existing pool of 6'10" power forwards and 6'3" LBs to evaluate?