My favorite type of NBA player is an audacious, teeny-tiny point guard who makes up for his physical deficiencies with speed and bravado. Watching an apex human like LeBron James dunk on guys is its own sort of thrill, but it’s far more out of the ordinary for someone of Isaiah Thomas’ stature to do something like block the daylights out of one of the biggest centers in the league. Thomas is one of the most successful sub-six footers in league history, but Spud Webb won a dunk contest, Calvin Murphy made the Hall of Fame, and Muggsy Bogues survived for 14 years in the NBA at 5-foot-3.
Obviously, any player that tiny needs otherworldy quickness to make it in the league, so it’s not like Thomas’ success signals that there’s a market inefficiency to be exploited by drafting small dudes. Hell, Jerome Randle, who beat out Thomas for Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2010, still can’t make an NBA roster. But this year’s draft class features two very small, very fun point guards, and I hope they both get drafted.
Kentucky sophomore Tyler Ulis announced yesterday that he’d be leaving school to go to the NBA. Ulis is but 5-foot-9, but he won both SEC Defensive Player of the Year as well as SEC Player of the Year. The biggest knock against pipsqueak basketball players is that they can’t guard anyone but Ulis is a maniac of that end of the court. He plays like a smaller Avery Bradley, all pressure and no space. Here, check out his detonation of Texas A&M in the SEC championship game.
Most draft projections have Ulis as a late first or early second round pick, so any uncertainty surrounding him is about whether or not he’ll get the guaranteed contract that comes with being a first rounder.
However, Ulis’ fellow diminutive brother in arms Kay Felder is not so lucky. Felder is also 5-foot-9, and he was probably the best point guard in college basketball this season. He played for the Oakland Grizzlies without too much national exposure, but he hung 37 on Michigan State, 30 on Virginia, and put up 38 against Washington, which prompted Washington coach Lorenzo Romar to compare him to Isaiah Thomas. Felder led the country with 9.3 assists per game and was third with 24.4 points per game. Dude can even dunk! (That’s at 0:30 here, nine seconds after the most humiliating ankle break I’ve ever seen).
Felder isn’t in DraftExpress’ mock draft yet, but Chad Ford has him as the 51st ranked prospect in this year’s class. He’ll likely be contending with long-shot European prospects down in the bottom of the draft, nut perhaps Thomas’ success with Boston this season convinces someone to take a chance on him.
Neither Felder nor Ulis are going to be superstars in the NBA, but each is worth a pick. They fill easily defined roles, and any team trying to speed up, spread out, and adapt to an NBA obsessed with spacing could do a lot worse than either one of these little dynamos.