There has to be a shortest player in the NBA Draft each year.
There also has to be a player who records the highest maximum vertical leap.
Most years those aren’t the same player. Kay Felder is not most players.
The Oakland point guard measured in at 5-foot-8 and a quarter on Wednesday, half-an-inch shorter than Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis. A day later he measured 44 inches on his maximum vertical leap, the second-highest mark in NBA Combine history; he also finished second in the three-quarters court sprint.
Felder’s height may be concerning to prospective general managers when the NBA Draft rolls around in late June. But where Felder lacks in height – and makes up for in athleticism – he’s entering the draft as one of the country’s most effective point guards.
All Felder did during his junior season with the Golden Grizzlies was average 24.4 points and 9.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. That third team All-American campaign was highlighted by a 37-point, nine-assist performance in an overtime loss to top-ranked Michigan State at The Palace of Auburn Hills in December.
That game put Felder on the national scene, and it included a call from Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, the shortest player in the NBA. Thomas was in the midst of his first All-Star campaign, and has been the driving force behind bucking the trend that shorter point guards can’t make it in the NBA.
Felder, a score-first point guard, says he models his game as a mix between Thomas and Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, who stands 6-foot-1. Because of those players, Felder said, he’s heard less about his height and more about his positive attributes.
“I used to hear about the height thing all the time,” he said. “Now I rarely hear about it. It’s still in the back of their minds but I barely hear about it. I hear about comparisons to guys that are smaller and having success.”
The state of the NBA has also given him a positive outlook on his draft stock, which still falls somewhere in the second round for now. Felder described watching the Warriors’ “death lineup,” where all five players are 6-foot-8 or shorter, in this year’s playoffs. And because of that, he believes now is the perfect time to make the jump to the NBA.
“The game is definitely getting smaller,” he said.
Where Felder, a junior, has proven himself to be a capable playmaker and distributor, he showed off his defensive ability in Thursday’s scrimmage at Quest Multisport. Paired up against 6-foot-2 Cat Barber most of the game, Felder held his own while adding 11 points and four assists. It’s an area he still needs to improve after three seasons at Oakland where he defended off the ball to avoid foul trouble. He admitted he was allowed to “slide on defense” under Greg Kampe.
“I just have to be aggressive on defense and show I can play defense,” he said, “because that’s going to get me to the next level.”
The numbers are there; no other player in college basketball reached his point and assist thresholds. His testing Thursday in Chicago was as good as any other guard in the class. It’s why he’s not concerned with being the smallest player in the draft. Shortly after his performance against the Spartans, Thomas instilled words of wisdom on Felder that he’s still using today.
“He said, being small you have to be special,” Felder recalled.
The shortest player in the draft is out to prove that’s exactly what he is.