Looking for the 'NBA body'

LeBron James is said to have the body of an NBA player. Toned and matured beyond his teenage years, the future No. 1 overall pick in this month's draft is strong enough to likely make an immediate impact as a Cleveland rookie straight out of high school.

But what does that mean, really?

Indiana's Reggie Miller was a skinny shooter at UCLA, remains as slender as his college days, and will likely go down as one of the best shooting guards in NBA history.

John Stockton and Joe Dumars? New York Knicks general manager Scott Layden said no one ever asked how tall each were during their stellar careers.

"Everybody wants to know how tall this or that guy is, and when they asked, that usually means they're worried about something," Layden said. "They're just great players. If guys can play, then all of those other things (size, height, and strength) don't matter as much."

That may have been true 10 or 15 years ago, but a player's body coming out of college, high school or overseas often dictates if he will have the opportunity to create a body of work in the NBA.

Clearly, James will be the first player taken in the draft because of his exceptional talent on the court, his ability to pass, create and finish.

But ...

"Physically, LeBron is well ahead of his years," said Denver player personnel director Jeff Weltman. "He is more physically ready than most high school kids. I don't think you're looking at a typical high school kid."

"When you are 6-8, 230-235-pounds with definition, then I would say you are on your way to having a pretty good body," said former NBA coach and TNT analyst Mike Fratello.

NBA personnel discussed the players' bodies throughout the draft camp in Chicago last week. One of the hottest pieces of paper circulating through camp was the NBA's official height and weight list of players.

Executives were wondering exactly how tall Boston College senior guard Troy Bell was with shoes (6-2) and without (6-foot). Yet, the last time anyone checked, Bell -- as well as every other player -- will wear sneakers when he is playing in the NBA.

The deciding factor should be whether or not Bell can play the NBA point, rather than if he eclipses the coveted 6-foot mark as an NBA point guard. Unfortunately for Bell and other undersized players at their projected positions, it's not always the case.

But, it works both ways.

Georgetown's Wesley Wilson is considered a specimen at 6-11, 257 pounds with a wingspan of 7-3. But Wilson hardly played at Georgetown before leaving the team during his senior season. And, he only averaged 2.3 rebounds in three games in Chicago, leaving camp as a borderline second-round pick.

High school senior James Lang was criticized before the camp for being overweight, but checked in at a workable 316 pounds and measured 6-9. Those numbers alone weren't going to get him drafted. But his 10.3 points and five boards in three games helped his case.

Duke's Dahntay Jones is considered a rugged, strong-looking guard at 6-6, 214 pounds with a 6-9 wingspan. But Jones had to play well (he averaged 12.3 points) or else his physique would have only helped his self-esteem.

Ohio's Brandon Hunter led the nation in rebounding (12.6 rpg) last season and has the eerie look of a Charles Barkley clone. Yet Hunter is being branded too small (6-7, 266) to play power forward in the NBA.

(Oh, by the way: Hunter's measurements sound awfully close to Barkley's in his prime.)

Saint Joseph's point guard Jameer Nelson gets knocked for being 5-11. Yet, Texas point guard T.J. Ford is the same height. Nelson is deciding whether to stay in the draft if he can't be guaranteed a first-round spot. Ford could go as high as No. 4 overall to Toronto. The difference between the two true point guards is debatable.

"Some people have NBA bodies but aren't NBA ready," said former NBA guard Mark Aguirre, now working for the Pistons' front office. "You take a kid like Richard Hamilton in Detroit. He's a real wiry kid, but in his inner strength he's got an NBA body.

"When you are quick, you are quick; when you are strong, you are strong; when you can shoot, you can shoot; when you understand the game you understand the game. It is just a matter of taking all those things and applying them to how you play in the NBA."

Yet, the body is still a hot topic.

When NBA scouts, GMs and player personnel directors caught a glimpse of 7-4, 303-pound Pavel Podkolzine on Friday, they were practically salivating at his size. Sure, Podkolzine showed he was agile and skilled enough to play in the post and displayed a bit of a shooting touch. But his overall size left some NBA personnel speechless.

Podkolzine is an extreme example, just like Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming. But too often, as Layden said, NBA personnel focus on what players aren't or can't do as physical specimens, rather than on how they look as players and what they can accomplish on the court.

"I don't know what an NBA body means," newly named Detroit coach Larry Brown said. "I don't buy that stuff. Alex English was a rail. George Gervin was a rail. Charlie Scott wasn't very strong. Reggie Miller has played I don't know how many years, and everybody keeps telling him to work on his body.

"I have coached Allen (Iverson) and Allen says he's 170-175. I doubt it. Those guys have all been successful, but the biggest thing for (Iverson) is he can handle the ball."

Which brings us back to James, a player with point-guard skills and a small-forward body.

Whether the NBA personnel like to admit it or not, they are hung up on first appearances ... just like everyone else in society. Substance comes second, but James has the package and apparently the perfect body to make him an instant star.

Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge said if James "didn't have an NBA body right now, it would take him a lot more time" to live up to his potential. James' physical maturity, feel and understanding of the game -- and ability to pass the ball -- remind Ainge of a "more athletic Magic Johnson."

Remember, we're talking about an 18-year-old James who looks like a 28-year-old Magic.

"There are a lot of guys in the NBA who don't have the quote, unquote, 'NBA body,' " said Weltman. "But you can say that LeBron is just powerfully built. He's really well proportioned. He's long and he's strong. Obviously, he's going to mature as he grows up, but he is really physically equipped to play in the NBA right now."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.