Vertical Jumping for Data Scientists in the Twilight of Their Basketball Glory

January 23, 2019

The slam dunk in basketball


My friend threw a perfect lob pass to me in training, an “alley-oop”. Everything about my jump was perfect, perfect timing, perfect take-off. Half my hand was over the rim and as the ball came down I tucked it over the rim. By no means was it a thunderous dunk, it was pretty weak really, but I was 15 years old, it was 1997 and it was my first dunk. I was able to do weak dunks before games at age 17, but then a series of ankle injuries, school and university meant I didn’t achieve the same feat for the next 20 years. Even now, I’m not very consistent, some days are great, other days I struggle. I’m still working on and refining things.   


 Dwight Howard jumping like Superman, so good it is just silly!



Single leg vs two leg jumpers


As a kid I was always a single leg jumper. Younger kids will approach the rim at speed, and like an extended sprint drive their knee up to their chest and leap off a single leg. The speed of your approach is key here, and now I’m on the wrong side of 35 and approaching 40 and at least 30kgs heavier than when I was 17 years old the single leg jump isn’t a great option.


Older guys like me tend to do better as 2 leg jumpers, where strength is key. Really it is simple, you are applying force to the ground, if you have strong legs you should be able to apply a lot of force to overcome gravity. The equation is a bit more complicated because you have to rapidly execute this force, otherwise nothing much happens. That’s why you don’t see bodybuilders throwing down mad dunks.


What type of jumper are you? Great information in this video, he is wearing a hat, but he knows what he is talking about:


"JUMP HIGHER Instantly" Are You A Two Leg Jumper Or A One Leg Jumper?





The best vertical jumpers in the world aren’t basketball players


Weightlifters have unbelievable vertical jumps. These guys are strength jumpers, and if you take a look at what they need to do in weightlifting competitions it is all about applying a massive amount of force rapidly, so it is perfect for jumping. Pound for pound they have to be among the most rare and extraordinary athletes in the world, although they probably don’t look it.


If you take a look at Zion Williamson, he looks more like a football player. In actual fact football players tend to also have better vertical jumping ability than basketball players. Once again, they are strong and their sport involves applying huge amounts of force rapidly.




Zion Williamson is 6’6’’ that looks like a standing vertical jump and his head is at the rim. That puts him at about a 42’’ standing vertical, which is completely insane. He is 129kg and 18 years old. As someone else said it’s like playing a video game with cheat codes.


This clip is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Take a look at Josh Imatorbhebhe, and yeah he is an NFL player. His raw explosive power is incredible. All these guys are lean and ridiculously strong and powerful.


“The Best Jumpers in the World (in their sport)”



What has worked for me


I play basketball twice a week, so that’s a fair bit of running and plyometrics. If there is a pick up game happening on the weekend I will play, so it is really three games a week.


The problem is that I sit at a computer all day, so that’s a definite negative. I’m pretty time poor, so my routine needs to be simple and quick for me to stick with it.


I have probably gained about 5-6 inches in my running vertical over the last 2 years just by lifting weights and playing more basketball. I only really started lifting weights in the last couple of years and it has made a massive difference.


So here’s the routine, 3 times per week, 1-2 mins rest between sets:


  • 5 sets of 5 on bench press

  • 5 sets of 5 on squat

  • 5 sets of 5 on deadlift


Here are the rules:


  • If you can execute 23 or more out of the 25 lifts move the weight up 2.5kg on the bench

  • If you can execute 23 or more out of the 25 lifts on the deadlift or squat move up 5kg on the squat and deadlift

  • If you fail keep the weight where it is and try again next time

  • If you fail next time drop the weight

  • If you aren’t feeling up to it listen to your body and drop the weight


That’s it! This routine usually takes me a bit more than an hour.




So, my strategy is something like this guy, a 5’7’’ weightlifter with a crazy vertical jump. If I can lift more and build strength I should be able to get up a bit higher. 410lbs x 10 Squat PR + Dunk By 5'7" Powerlifter (Athletic Aesthetic)



So what’s my vertical now?


I’m about 6’1’’, but my standing reach is terrible. I have tiny arms and a tight chest with comical flexibility and range of motion. So my standing reach is about 7’10’’ (a guy my height I play basketball with has almost a full foot better standing reach).


Standing flat footed under the rim I can jump and get my fingers over it on a good day. So, we’d call that a 28 inch standing vertical. Not very scientific, but it’s an honest guess.


However, approaching the rim at speed and on a good day I can probably get another 6 inches or so over the rim, so that would put my running vertical at about 32 inches. So not great, but not terrible. I still do the tip off for our games, even though there are guys much taller and younger than I am. I still play forward or centre even though I am really undersized, so increasing my vertical has certainly helped my game.


Stronger legs have given me the ability to be consistently above or around the rim with rebounding, which has led to more points and better help defense. I have noticed that a lot of the single leg jumpers need a massive runway and clear approach to the rim to get lift, and that just doesn’t happen much during the game. There tends to be big bodies everywhere preventing this from happening. So if you can pop pretty high consistently it can be beneficial to your team.


The other benefit is building up strength around my knees seems to be protecting them, my knees aren’t sore after basketball any more. I have arthritis in my left hip, which isn’t great, but the doctor told me that I can avoid a replacement for 15 years or more if I keep lifting because everything around the joint is strong. So, I’ll take that!



Show me the data!


So, this is just a quick thing in R. Why R? I really like the ggplot2 library. I tend to do most plotting work in R.


So here’s a dataset from Kaggle on the NFL scouting combine. It has measurements on players including their vertical jump. In general if you want any kind of data, jump on Kaggle Datasets and then type in what you want here is the data anyway:



Here is some basic code to clean the data, mainly using the wonderful dplyr library:



defense2017 <- read.csv('../input/2017Defense.csv')

offense2017 <- read.csv('../input/2017Offense.csv')


defense2017 <- defense2017 %>%



offense2017 <- offense2017 %>%



allDat <- bind_rows(defense2017, offense2017)


allDat <- allDat %>%

           separate(Height, c("feet", "inches")) %>%

           mutate(feet = as.numeric(feet) * 30.48, inches = as.numeric(inches) * 2.54) %>%

           mutate(Height = feet + inches)


allDat <- allDat %>% select(Wt:Height)


allDat$Wt = allDat$Wt * 0.453592 # converting pounds to kgs


allDat$BMI = allDat$Wt / (allDat$Height/100)^2



Here’s a histogram of their standing vertical jump, as you can see my estimated standing jump of 28 inches ain’t nothing special compared to these athletes.





mean_jump = mean(allDat$Vertical, na.rm=T)



qplot(allDat$Vertical, geom="histogram", main="NFL Combine Vertical Jump", xlab="Inches", ylab="Count") +

   geom_vline(xintercept=28, color="red") +

   geom_vline(xintercept=mean_jump, color="blue") +







So, where I am sitting is the red line, and the average is the blue line. Anything more than 40 inches is just damn freakish!


You can see by my BMI (body mass index) that I am a twig compared to these guys, at 95kg and 6’1’’ I do find this surprising:



mean_bmi = mean(allDat$BMI, na.rm=T)



my_bmi = 95 / 1.85^2


qplot(allDat$BMI, geom="histogram", main="NFL Combine BMI", xlab="BMI", ylab="Count") +

   geom_vline(xintercept=my_bmi, color="red") +

   geom_vline(xintercept=mean_bmi, color="blue") +





I would like to get an idea of the factors that influence the vertical jump I’ll be looking at the pearson correlation, we are assuming a linear relationship between the variables.


The features that look to be the associated with vertical jump are:

  • The broad jump is strongly correlated, again this is a measure of explosive power

  • The 40 yard dash, shuttle run and cone run are negatively associated with the vertical (implying more agile guys don’t have that explosive power)

  • The BMI (body mass index) is negatively associated as well, suggesting leaner, faster guys aren’t going to have the highest verticals

  • There’s a weak negative association with bench reps, so guys who focus on the upper body might be skipping leg day at the gym?





c <- cor(allDat, use = "pairwise.complete.obs")

corrplot(c, method = "number", type = "upper")





So, for me the takeaway is don’t worry about getting huge if I am working my legs. Find out the types of strength training that can improve my broad jump and my vertical jump.



If I could be like Mike, other things that might help me


The problem with a two-foot take-off is that you throw your arms up rapidly to give yourself extra lift. This doesn’t work well when you are running with a ball, running with a ball is a different equation, it’s a skill, so I need to get better at the skill of dunking by practicing dunking on a low rim, maybe 9’6’’?


I probably need to lose a few pounds from indulging over Christmas. If I can keep the same strength, but with less weight that has to translate to more lift. Fat is fat, and fat won’t help me to get off the ground!!


 Brandon Ingram is one super lean and tall dude! He is 6’9’’ and has a 9’1 standing reach. So that’s pretty helpful!



I need to improve my reach. There is probably a few inches in standing reach by stretching and opening up my chest with stretching. Taking up yoga can only help, so too would just hanging by my chin up bar for a few minutes at a time. The general idea is to improve flexibility which according to my physiotherapist is about the worst she has ever seen, and is in fact similar to some of her 85 year old patients.


I have been increasing my strength for the last couple of years, but I haven’t increased my explosive strength. So, the idea is to drop the weights down by say 50% and then explode up rapidly. I plan to incorporate one of these sessions maybe on the weekend. Although I will have to be careful because the chance of injury at my age and given my occupation is pretty high. So it would be explosive deadlifts, squats, hip thrusts with a barbell etc. The broad jump and the vertical jump are measures of explosive strength.


I think it pretty complicated, Kelly Bragett talks about the combination of improving limit strength, explosive strength and reactive strength. What he says makes a lot of sense:


As dunking is a skill I need to get better at the skill of dunking. So this would involve some low rim dunking. So, I should drop the rim down to say 9’6’’ instead of 10’ and just practice my approach, gripping the ball, where to take-off.


Even as I approach 40 I’ll be keeping at it, it’s kind of that north star goal that’s keeping me fit. If anyone has any tips I’m all ears!





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