The Physique of the NBA

Nicolas Hinternesch
3 min readSep 23, 2017

I love basketball. I also love playing with data. And since the NBA is still on summer break, I decided to spice up RStudio with some NBA action. As a result, here is a little visualization of the players’ physical evolution since 1978 — Just in case you were wondering, how much of an outlier the Diesel really was.

It is pretty interesting to see how the points are spreading out a lot more over the years, but the clusters of the respective positions remain rather homogeneous. The trend is clear, though: Especially the post players are getting bigger and stronger.

However, from only comparing the players among each other, it does not really become obvious how big they actually are. NBA players are mostly seen among themselves, i.e. in-game. On the court, hardly any of them really strike you as being particularly massive.
Adding the female gymnast team that represented China at the Rio Olympics to the 2016 dataset makes the extent of their physique a little clearer. It also requires quite a few viewport-adjustments…

Yes, NBA players are tall, strong, and athletic. That is not big news. But did you know that the body mass index — a general value that uses a person’s weight and height to indicate their level of body fatness and assess their overall health — would qualify a good amount of players as being overweight?

Does that mean that the NBA has an obesity problem? Probably not. Unless you would actually call this guy obese.

After all, I can draw two major conclusions from this little data visualization project:

  1. NBA players are big. And they have been getting even bigger over the years. I am 6’8” myself and my dot would be nowhere near that pattern — no matter how many push-ups I do.
  2. Weight is just a number. And so is the BMI. They are generalizations. As the term suggests, they do not apply to everyone. People tend to stress way too much over these numbers causing them to be unsatisfied with themselves. What’s important is your health. And your mental attitude towards your body and mind. There are way more meaningful things to spend your time and energy on than chasing a certain number while obsessing over things that are beyond your control.

— I made this data visualization using RStudio and the amazing Plotly graphing library. I also built a little web app, so you can play with it yourself. I picked up the data here. Feel free to reach out if you are interested in the R code or simply want to talk basketball —