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The three basketball positions normally employed by organized basketball teams are the guards, forwards, and the center. More specifically, they can be classified into the five positions: point guard (PG), shooting guard (SG), small forward (SF), power forward (PF), and center (C). The rules of basketball do not mandate them, and in informal games they are sometimes not used.
The point guard, also known as the one, is typically the team's best ball handler and passer. Therefore, they often lead their team in assists and steals. They are often quick and are able to hit shots either outside the three-point line or in the paint, largely depending on the player's skill level. Point guards are looked upon as the "floor general" or the "coach on the floor". They should study the game and game film to be able to recognize the weaknesses of the defense, and the strengths of their own offense. They are responsible for directing plays, making the position equivalent to that of play-making midfielder in association football, setter in volleyball, quarterback in American football, or center in ice hockey. Good point guards increase team efficiency and generally have a high number of assists. An example of point guard is Chris Paul who leads his team in assists. Point guards are often shorter or smaller players. They are often referred to as dribblers or play-makers. Point guards have to be good at dribbling. In the NBA, point guards usually range from 6 feet 0 inches (1.83 m) to 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m).
The shooting guard, also known as the two, is usually one of the team's most versatile players, being bulky like the Forwards, yet fast like the Point Guard. Besides being able to shoot the ball, shooting guards tend to have good ball handling skills and the ability to drive the ball to the net, often creating their own shots off the dribble. A versatile shooting guard will have good passing skills, allowing him to assume point guard responsibilities. A well known shooting guard, Dwyane Wade has a unique style of scoring points where he dribbles the ball towards the defender and comes to a sudden stop. Wade then steps back to create space and shoots the shot to score. On defense, shooting guards are often tasked with defending the opponent's strongest perimeter threat. In the NBA, shooting guards usually range from 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) to 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m).
The small forward (SF) is known as the three position. The small forward position is considered to be perhaps the most versatile of the main five basketball positions. Versatility is key for small forwards due to the nature of its role, which is sometimes similar to that of a power forward, but more often resembles the role of a shooting guard. Thus, the small forward and shooting guard positions are often interchangeable.
Small forwards have a variety of assets, such as quickness and strength inside. One common thread between all kinds of small forwards is an ability to "get to the line" and draw fouls by aggressively attempting (post up) plays, lay-ups, or slam dunks. As such, accurate foul shooting is a common skill for small forwards, many of whom record a large portion of their points from the foul line. Small forwards should be able to do a little bit of everything on the court, typically playing roles such as swingmen but also as point forwards and defensive specialists. Examples of well-known versatile small forwards include Kevin Durant and Lebron James. In the NBA, small forwards usually range from 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) to 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m).
Also known as the four position, the power forward plays a role similar to that of the center, down in the "post" or "low blocks". On offense, they are often the team's most versatile traveler, being able to score close to the basket while also being able to shoot mid-range jump shots from 12 to 18 feet from the basket. On defense, they are required to have the strength to guard bigger players close to the basket, while having the athleticism to guard quick players away from the basket. Most power forwards tend to be more versatile than centers since they can be part of plays, being that they are not always in the low block. In the NBA, power forwards usually range from 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) to 7 feet 0 inches (2.13 m).
The center, also referred to as the "bigman", "five", or the "pivot", usually plays near the baseline, close to the basket (referred to as the "low post"). They are usually the tallest player on the floor. The center usually scores "down low, in the paint" (near the basket, in the key), but some can be good perimeter shooters. When they are good perimeter shooters they are called "stretch bigs". They are typically skilled at gathering rebounds, contesting shots and setting screens on plays.
The center position has been traditionally considered one of the most important positions, if not the most important. Players such as Wilt Chamberlain, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming, and Dwight Howard were all chosen with first overall picks due to the rarity of "franchise centers." The scope of the position has transitioned from relatively slower but much taller 'back to the basket' players to players who would normally be classified as power forwards but can dominate the position with their defensive skills, or mismatch ability to shoot from the high post. This has been due to the lack of players possessing the combination of great skill, ideal height, and durability. This has been matched by the development of more fast-paced and athletic basketball play; the 'Run and Gun' offenses of coaches call for less traditional center play and a more up-and-down the court style. In the NBA, centers are usually 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m) or taller.
|Guards||1. Point guard||Combo guard|
|2. Shooting guard||Guard-forward / Swingman|
|Forwards||3. Small forward||Stretch forward / Cornerman|
|4. Power forward||Point forward|
|Center||5. Center||Forward-center / Bigman|
|Backcourt | Frontcourt | Captain | Head coach | Referees and officials|