What Positions Are There In Basketball? Explained


 

Basketball may be the easiest out of all the major team sports to remember the positions given that there are only 5 of them. Although there are only 5 positions it may be difficult to understand the role of each position especially as the player types are ever-changing.

What positions are there in basketball? There are 5 positions in the game of basketball, these positions include point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center. These positions are also numbered to easily communicate from the coach to the players on the court starting with 1 for the point guard to 5 the center.

These 5 positions have similar roles on defense and offense as a whole but have specific responsibilities that can not be overlooked. We can look at each role in detail and if you are wondering what position you should play, hopefully, this can help.

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Player Positions

Positions in any sport are important it helps organize the court and playing field. When specific instructions on the court are received from the coach to the players it becomes easier to execute. In basketball, this is the case as the 5 positions are labeled as numbers for easy communication and these positions are interchangeable.

Positions are also different in basketball than they are football, as in football there are static roles in which a player only has one role and doesn’t play any other position unless the play calls for it. An example of this is the kicker and quarterback, both roles are important and one role may be more difficult than the other but both put up points and are not interchangeable.

The offense on football focuses on just that offense, the defense focuses on you guessed it, defense. Basketball positions are more dynamic in which a player plays both offense and defense. Many times players will be outmatched or out of position on defense and the team will have to recover or pick up a player that is not the same position as them.

An example of this when the guard switches with the center in a screen and roll because the guard can not get to the check that he is guarding and it forces the center to pick up his teammate’s check for him or else the offense will have a better chance of scoring.

 

Point Guard

The point guard is usually the player that brings up the ball to run the offense at the top of the three-point line, it also is known as the #1 position. The point guard is usually the best ball handler on the team with a high basketball IQ that makes consistently good decisions with his passes.

The pg knows how to push the tempo and lead fast breaks after a steal or rebound. The point guard can control the tempo and slow the game down for their team’s favor. The point guard is well aware of the hot hand on the team and tries to distribute the ball to it all while including everyone in the offense.

Receiving direction from the coach the point guard relays instructions to his teammates and calls the plays accordingly as the pg is the extension of the coach on the court. The pg is well aware of the time including the shot and game clock and understands time management up and down a given basket at the end of the game. Click Here for more on the Point Guard position.

 

Shooting Guard

Ideally, the shooting guard is the best shooter on the team, with good shot selection, this player must be mentally tough as well as physically. A short term memory is required as it is not abnormal to miss your first few shots in a game before making one. Shooters need to shoot and not think so much about the outcome, repetition is the name of the game at this position. Click Here for more on the shooting guard position.

The shooting guard is also known as the #2 spot, and will also interchange with the point guard and run the offense if necessary.  SG pushes the fast break and has good ball-handling while able to find the open man.

 

Small Forward

Is the # 3 position also known as the swingman for the dynamic role and versatility this player will likely have. The SF can defend the perimeter and post if needed depending on the situation. Usually, the SF has good length and speed to do so. The SF Handles the ball in transition and is regarded as the best defender on the team who guards the best player on the opposing team.

 

Power Forward

The PF is a good cross between the center position and the small forward, this player can shot 15 feet in well and has a variety of post moves. This player rebounds well and versatile on defense being able to guard the center and the wing player if needed. Also known as the #4 position the PF benefits from playing high post and slashing to the basket.

 

Center

The center is the #5 position and usually the tallest player among the 5 positions, with big responsibilities on rebounding and defending all while being a defensive presence when the ball is in the paint.

The center position requires to have their back to the basket while on defense and getting in position down low to score. While on defense a center needs to watch for foul trouble as this position is naturally up close to the ball trying to make a play to avoid a basket being scored. Click Here for more on the center position.

 

Skill Needed For Each Position

Each position may require a different skill set than the others, It is exactly the reason when a team is put together in try-outs it is best to pick players who excel at a few key skills in each basketball position. Such a position require stronger skills, Point guard needs to be the best ball handler, shooting guard the best shooter, small forward may guard the best player on the opposing team. The center may be an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker.

In the table provided, I will highlight the pros and cons of each position along with the skill set that may be required. If you think height plays a factor, that maybe something to consider but it is not uncommon now to see undersized centers and oversized shooting guards.

 

Point Guard

Players will know quite quickly that if they have never played this position before they may find it difficult to do so. By playing the position I mean being productive in this role. Some players are meant to play this position as they are naturally gifted in ball handling and are offensively aware. A good basketball IQ is required and can take years to develop.

 

Skill Set Pros Cons
Excellent Ball Handler Touches the ball a lot After bringing up the ball, may not see it again after a pass.
High Basketball IQ Floor captain and general Pressure may turn over ball more, has ball more
Team Leader Will always be involved Must get everyone involve including themself.
Excellent Passer Controls and dictates tempo Hard to control teammates emotions.
Shoots Well Can shoot or pass whenever they want. Pressure falls on point guard, many crucial mistakes can cost game.

 

 

Shooting Guard

To excel at this position you need to be obsessed with improving your shooting and study the game especially moving without the ball. Which basically means ways to get open to shoot and score. This position is definitely a rewarding position but can be just as mentally tough if you have an off night shooting the ball.

 

Skill Set Pros Cons
Can Shoot Gets a lot of shot attempts May miss a lot of shots
Handle The Ball Best shooter on the team Has to confidence can have swings up and down depending on shooting performance
Makes Good Decisions The position allows for scoring a lot of points. The mental game is difficult.

 

 

Small Forward

An excellent small forward would be able to play any of the guard positions and is usually tasked with guard the opposing team’s best offensive player. Which can mean less energy for offense and scoring. This position can also be tasked with switching to the 4 position on smaller lineups.

 

Skill Set Pros Cons
Excellent Defender Lots of Fast break opportunities May not shoot the ball for long periods of time.
Slashes/Cuts to the hoop well Can switch and play defense on any position depending on size. Fewer plays run for this position.
Can handle the ball Gets to the basket Needs to watch out for spacing on the court not to clog the area
Can penetrate to the basket. The position is interchangeable. 

 

 

Power Forward

This position is great for players with height and good footwork all while being able to shoot a mid-range shot. May have to switch to the center from time to time and be good at playing with back to the basket.

 

Skill Set Pros Cons
Excellent Footwork Defensive Presence can switch off the ball with 3 and 5. Can get into foul trouble
Rebounds well Gets a lot of garbage points. needs to have good spacing according to the ball
Plays defense well Will get many mid-range shots may not have a lot of plays run for this position.
Can score midrange or post up at the basket Can interchange with the center position.

 

 

Center

This position can be tough as it usually the tallest player on the floor with a ton of responsibility on defense from rebounding to contesting shots. Centers, in my opinion, get no love and are expected to rebound every board all while potentially not seeing the ball on offense for long stretches.

 

Skill Set Pros  Cons
Good Footwork Defensive Presence Fewer minutes due to exhaustion
Able To Play Back To Basket Rebounder Leader May not see the ball that often depends on the offense.
Good Rebounder Pick and Rolls Maybe a bad free-throw shooter.
Good Spacing and IQ Shot Blocker Can get into foul trouble.
Free throw shooter Get the free-line

 

 

Interchangeable Positions

Some positions are interchangeable and although they are numbered it is easier to call out numbers then the position.

The point guard, shooting guard and the small forward are interchangeable and are numbers 1,2 and 3. It is not uncommon for any one of these players to bring up the ball and play point guard. The number system works a lot better when running or implementing a play in a timeout.

On some teams, they will be relatively the same height, but not always. Generally, when a team of 5 steps out on the court to look to see who they are guarding at tip-off it is usually determined according to height match-ups.

For the power forward and center, they are regarded as the 4 and 5 position and also called post. When there is a smaller lineup the power forward will play center with 4 guards on the floor. This strategy may be to run some defensive pressure or break a press.

Sometimes we regard height as the factor of what position a player should play but it is becoming more apparent that height doesn’t matter but we can get into that later.

Many coaches disregard the positions altogether and only use the number system for good reason, you have players who are more than capable of making good decisions with sound fundamentals so why limit them to one position.

There are many benefits to having position 1 to 3 interchange, more than one ball-handler on the court when there is defensive pressure. Having multiple options and playing to the guard’s strengths and weaknesses during the game.

What Is The Best Position To Play?

There is no one best position for you to play, it all comes down to what you are naturally good at regardless of height. If you are an undersized power forward like Draymond Green but can score and defend well based on your skill set than continue on with that position. Most players know what they are good at, you want to use the strengths and maximize them at one position.

I have seen a lot of players try to play a different position and fail miserably, such as the classic 4 or 5 positions trying to play out at the wing. It looks awkward and it is almost like they saw there favorite player playing on tv and have a change of heart of their game.

I would definitely try different positions while young and experiment, see what clicks for you and continue on that path as when you get older and more serious about basketball it becomes more difficult to excel when your playing catch up at a position player have been playing for years.

How Stats Affect Positions

Stats in all positions vary from player to player, but if I had to create a default for the 5 major roles in their positions and the stats they could expect in each of the major statistics such as assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, and points it would appear as follows.

 

Assists

Point guards are going to be the leader in this category based on how much the ball is in the point guard hands. A good point guard is not going to come down the court and jack up every shot, which means he can find the initial open man when he crosses half giving him an advantage in this category as it is.

In the NBA and NCAA, the point guard leads the league in assists generally, nowadays many players are coming out of the woodworks and are putting up close to triple-double numbers for the season, assists in double digits does not need to be just from the PG.

Quick Record: Orlando Magic’s Scotty Skilles holds the record for 30 assists in a single game, in the 90-91 season against the Denver Nuggets.

 

Rebounding

The center usually takes this category, (remember this is by default) but many times it can be any position from 3 to 5. The center has the advantage as they are close to the basket during defense and on offense posting up and rebounding and it’s an important job as the team relies on the center to grab the majority of rebounds.

Quick Record: Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain in 1960 held the record of 50 rebounds in a single game.

 

Blocks

The center again takes the lead on this category, let’s pretend they have good footwork and timing. The team relies the center to be a defensive presence when there is penetration to the basket because a guard was beat off the dribble. Once the ball is closet to the center he must leave his man and contest.

Centers usually tallest player on the team of 5 that is on the court will have a distinct advantage due to their height and reach.

Believe it or not, shot blockers do not average a lot of block shots per game, Myles turner lead the NBA with 2.69 blocks per game in the 2018-19. That is less than 3 blocks a game which is extremely good.

Quick Record: Elmore Smith had 17 blocks in an NBA game.

 

Steals

Any of the three-guard positions is generally averaging the most steals due to quickness and their position on the court. Again steals per game that is another stat that appears to be more than it actually is, Paul George leads the league in steals with 2.2 steals per game in the 2018/19 season. If you’re wondering my default position would Point guard for steal leader.

Quick Record: Larry Kenon stole the ball 11 times in one NBA game.

 

Points

Now, this is dependent on the player and skill level of the five positions. My default player though would be the shooting guard as he is putting up the most shots generally on most teams. Just check the Top Ten in scoring in any league, at least 6 out of 10 I bet are shooting guard or claim to be.

Quick Record: Most points in a quarter was recorded by Klay Thompson with 37 points.

 

Final Thoughts

Positions in basketball will be more important than ever in the future, it use to be based on height in which you would play a certain position. Such as the tallest player plays center, etc. Nowadays we are seeing players defy logic and are playing positions in which they are at height advantages such as 7 footers who play the shooting guard.

A good example of this is Kevin Durant and Kristaps Porzingas, both in at almost 7 feet and over for the guard position. Porzingas is measured at 7 foot 3, now the NBA tends to exaggerate the height of players while Porzingas maybe only 7 feet but still, that’s 7 feet.

Back in the late 80 early 90s, there was an article published, I’m sorry for the terrible details which I don’t know the date or the magazine, but believe me. The article stated that if you were a male and you were 7 feet and over you had a 10 percent chance of making the NBA. You had a 10 percent chance which was incredible, I bet if you could just run up and down the court normally you would make it with some hard work put in and you would be set for life.

Nowadays not the case as 7 footers are common and they are defying athletic ability for their height, and doing things that would expect you to do to make the NBA. The days of NBA teams banking on tall lanky posts down low who just look like a tree underneath the basket are over. You need to be able to play as the game is more athletic than ever and players can score at will now.

Munote Bol in was a player in the 80s and 90s who was 7 foot 7 inches tall that played for the Washington Wizards. There was a rumor that players reported was that Munote Bol was 10 to 20 years older than his birth certificate was. Many refugees seem to have this issue with correct D.O.B. information, in fact, I know many who have immigrated to North America and they are older then their birth certificate suggests.

For his height, Bol was an incredible athlete and held a personal record for 6 three-pointers in one half. His son named Bol Bol is 7 foot 3 and was drafted by the Miami Heat. Will we see the day that a 7-foot point guard makes the NBA, I think so.

Here’s something to think about would win in a half-court game, 5 seven-foot centers vs 5 six feet six guards? Everything worth 1.

 

 

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