Standing 6’7″ inches tall, the Kawhi Leonard wingspan checks in at 7’3″. A long frame allows him to cut down passing and dribbling lanes, steal the ball and play suffocating defense. Traits that don’t always show up in the box score, but earn praise from coaches at every level.
Elite defense and the fascination with wingspan
Leonard’s wingspan has helped make a generational talent the NBA’s premier defensive player.
The 2015 steals leader and two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year creates havoc for opposing players trying to get around him.
And also a prerequisite to try and contain Kevin Durant’s offense.
So while the evolution of basketball played on the perimeter has led to a tremendous value for a Kawhi Leonard wingspan, as positionless NBA basketball evolves further, wingspan will likely only become more critical.
Kawhi Leonard height ratio
It’s long been thought that wingspan and height are equal for the average person. Leonard’s most impressive physical attributes are his wingspan, the length from fingertip to fingertip with arms fully outstretched. But the ratio of height to wingspan might even be more impactful on the floor.
In 2018, Dr. Tesla Monson’s study revealed that a large wingspan directly correlates to athletic performance. A considerable advantage for basketball players like Tacko Fall and Pascal Siakam trying to make it in the league.
But, for some like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lebron James, it’s their explosive vertical leap, albatross-like wingspans, and biggest hands that give them a head start on the path to success. And while they are inches taller than the average height of a man, when their wingspan measures even longer than it should, they have leverage over the rest of the NBA.
In 2014, NBA draft combine prospects averaged an incredible 4.8 inches longer wingspan than their actual height. In the NBA, an above-average wingspan has become as important – if not more – than height.
Kawhi Leonard wingspan is no guarantee
Buck up! The study did find that not every elite professional sports athlete’s wingspan measures above average. And the average wingspan ‘only’ 2.1 inches longer than his height.
Leonard is also on record that his hands, measured at 11.5 inches across, come in handy for palming rebounds, steals, and dunks. But his hands are also a liability. So big that he sometimes has trouble controlling his shots.
“The ideal player would be 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan and still be able to shoot.”Bob Myers
And Myers’ star player, Stephen Curry, is one player that possesses a wingspan that is below average for his height. Curry is 6’3″ tall, relatively small in stature for an elite NBA star, and amazingly, has an arm length of just 6’3.5″. But shot selection and efficiency are clearly not an issue for his nearly unlimited 3 point range.
A new advantage in basketball
Professional basketball teams will undoubtedly adapt to combat arm span with physical specimens like Zion Williamson.
But for now, Leonard’s prowess may be the ultimate expression of this revolution. A careful blend of old-school grit and new-school body analytics has helped turn him into the best two-way player in basketball.
And it’s not just basketball where athletes might gain an advantage over opponents due to the length of their arms. Physical tools like a Leonard reach might become a significant variable in other sports like tennis.