The Lineup #7: The Best Undersized Boardsmen Ever

Posted: February 14, 2011 by The Cheap Seat Fan in NBA
Tags: , , ,

It doesn’t take a genius to know that basketball players are tall. Even the “short” ones are taller than what you’ll see playing any other sport. It also doesn’t take a genius to realize that the guys that stand right around the rim are the giants amongst all giants, so when the ball comes off the rim, more times than not they are going to be the ones that get it first. Look at the top 10 rebounders in the NBA today, only two of the top 10 are underneath 6’9. SIX FOOT NINE! That’s insane. I don’t know where you’re from, but where I’m at that’s not anywhere close to normal.

However, what brings me to this conclusion is that an abnormal happening in this year’s NBA. In the jungle of rebounding, there’s a fellow who is getting work done amongst these towers that isn’t quite on the same level as the others. Kevin Love is snatching down 15 boards a night, on average. Which is two more a night than the next best performer, the 6’11 Dwight Howard. Now Love is technically listed at 6’10, although many, many people suspect this to be another instance of NBA heightening, because he looks much closer to 6’8 than 6’10. His own teammate Michael Beasley clearly looks taller than him, and he’s listed at 6’10. Remember how Charles Barkley was somehow 6’8 for all those years, despite being shorter than the 6’6 Michael Jordan? Yeah, more of that deal here with Love.

Anyways, looking at his outstanding year, not the least bit of which, his 30 board night early in the season (against the Lakers no less), made me think about all of the great “small” guys that still managed to outwork much taller opponents on the glass. Some of the greats of the game have made careers of such seasons as Love’s, and here’s my top 10 all-time of such undersized guys, none being taller than Love’s size, the real one that is.

10. Charles Oakley: These days he’s known more as the Knick enforcer who brutally pushed his teams to being one of the best clubs of the 90’s, but what goes unnoticed in his legacy is just how good of rebounder Oakley was. Standing at 6’8, he averaged 9.5 boards a game for his career in an era where there was no short supply in great post players, and with one on his team in the form of Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing. However, he was his most glass hungry at the beginning of his career in the Windy City, where he had back-to-back seasons of averaging more than 13 rebounds a game. He finished his career with 12,205 total rebounds.


His rep takes often takes center stage, but Oakley was one of the best rebounders of his era.


9. Dave DeBusschere: In the late 60’s/early 70’s, DeBusschere was among the game’s greatest defenders, and nowhere was he presence felt more than on the glass. Starting with the Pistons, before joining a stacked Knicks club, he averaged 11 rebounds a night and had five years of over 900 boards. He averaged a career high 13.5 in 1967-68 at a time when Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Nate Thurmond were all in the game, and he did this all standing only at 6’6.

8. Gus Johnson: One of the most underrated players ever, who got his long overdue recognition in the National Basketball Hall of Fame last year, Johnson was a glass cleaner of the highest order in the pre-expansion era of the NBA. At 6’6, he pulled down 12 boards a night for his career, with a single-season high of 17.1 in 1970-71. He had six seasons over 13 boards a game; all while being paired with another all-time great rebounder we’ll discuss a bit later.

7. Ben Wallace: He came out of nowhere for the Pistons in the early 2000’s, and quickly became one of the most intense and feared post defenders in the game. While standing (generously) at 6’8, Wallace in his prime was a shot blocking force, but he made his greatest impact on the glass. He topped 1,000 boards for four consecutive years and pulled down 15.4 in 2002-03. What’s more than any of this is that Wallace is the only defense first threat to make the crucial difference in making his team winning an NBA Finals arguably since the great Bad Boys Pistons teams of the early 90’s, who won as many championships as Big Ben has.


A force in the middle, nearly everything that came off the glass was Big Ben's property.


6. Oscar Robertson: Okay, there are guys mentioned before the Big O that pulled down more rebounds than he ever did in a season or total career, however that’s what makes his achievements even more remarkable. Oscar averaged 10 rebounds a game for three consecutive seasons while playing guard at only 6’4. That’s ridiculous, and he did it in the first three years of his career and narrowly missed doing it a fourth consecutive season when he averaged 9.9 boards a night in 1964. For his career he averaged 7.5 a night as a primary ball handler. I’d like to see another guard, point or shooting, try to pull this feat off again. Not likely.

5. Bill Bridges: One of the most consistent and overwhelming rebounders in the game, Bridges at 6’6, was a monster. He had stints with the Hawks, 76ers, Lakers and Warriors, but regardless of where he did his work, he did it well. In the course of his 15 year career, he had seven consecutive seasons of 12 rebounds or better, including two years of 15 or greater and three separate years of 14 or better. This was good for an 11.9 average for his career and a total of 11,054.

4. Elgin Baylor: There is so much that can be said about Baylor’s scoring exploits, and honestly, putting up 71 points in a game probably deserves more run than working the glass, but to ignore what Baylor did as a rebounder would be to shortchange the complete dominance he was capable of. Firstly he averaged 13.5 a game over his 14 season career, standing at 6’5. He was the greatest athlete of his era, and probably the greatest leaper in NBA history, until Julius Erving came along. He used these springs to work the glass at some astonishing rates, including an average of over 14 RPG for his first four years. His single game high was 30 in 1961, and his rebound rate in his third and fourth years was 19.8 and 18.6, per game, respectively. So one of the game’s great scorers is almost equally as great of a rebounder, which is scary.


His 27.4 PPG gets the most shine, but Baylor nearly average 20 rebounds in one season as well.


3. Charles Barkley: The “Round Mound of Rebound” was aptly nicknamed, because despite being small and large, he was the most consistent rebounder of his era. Although he was barely the 6’6 he was listed at, he never had a season where he didn’t average ten rounds a night. He was an amazing athlete, and was strong as a horse, so he could hold his position well, despite almost always being at a height disadvantage. His tenaciousness when combined with this athleticism made him undeniable force on the glass, regardless of size. What defined Barkley was his aggressiveness on the offensive glass, and he led the league in that category 3 consecutive years from 1987 to ‘89. He brought in 12,546 at a rate of 11.7 per night and is the greatest rebound scoring forward of the last 30 years, easily.

2. Dennis Rodman: Perhaps the most bizarre character in the history of the game, but for every bit of strange he was, he was just as great of rebounder. No player has dominated the glass like Rodman since Bill Russell in his prime, but the only difference is that Rodman did it at 6’7 in an era of giants like Shaq, Hakeem and Mutombo. Rodman parlayed his bizarre character into a psychological play on his larger opponents, and when combined with his irritating, energetic and sometimes dirty style of play, he led the NBA in rebounds for seven consecutive years and at a 13.1 per game clip over his career. With the Spurs and Bulls in his prime, he pulled in better than 17 boards a night over a three-year span, and six times led in offensive boards. “The Worm” was a one of kind character and, even more, a one of a kind player.

1. Wes Unseld: He was a mean, outright brute force to play against. Going up for a rebound against Unseld is akin to running into a concrete wall on a fast break, and the wall may have more give than he did. Standing in at solid 6’7 & 245 pounds, very few players of any size have command the glass the way Unseld did for the Baltimore Bullets in the 70’s. From 1969 to 1974, the first five years of his career, he averaged 17 rebounds a game, and would have accumulated over 1,000 rebounds a year for his first eight years if not for an injury that ended his 1973-74 season early. Unseld bulldozed his way to a Rookie of the Year Award & League MVP in 1968-69, and to a Finals win and MVP in 1978. Now a Hall of Famer, the NBA has not seen another force in such a “small” package since.


Unseld is among the most intimidating players ever, regardless of height.



  1. Oates says:

    Cant argue w/ that top 3. Wes Unseld is who I would liken Kevin Love to if I had to pick someone. Great rebounder & really gets that outlet pass out there to start the transition quickly.

    I always assumed Rodman was around 6’10” though I always knew Barkley was about 6’4″. Those guys are some straight beasts

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ask Her Meyer, Matt Whitener. Matt Whitener said: The Lineup #7: The Best Undersized Boardsmen Ever […]

  3. Diggame says:

    Great list!! I can’t really beef with it too much

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