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Traditionally, the three basketball positions normally employed by organized basketball teams were the guards, forwards, and the center. While these position names are still used, most modern teams use a point guard, two wings, and two post players, or use no specific positions at all. In order to make sense of the changes in the positional rules, five separate positions are now described: point guard (PG), shooting guard (SG), small forward (SF), power forward (PF), and center (C). The rules of basketball do not mandate them, and they are sometimes not used. Indeed it could be said that the designation of positions is done more to satisfy broadcasters and fans than for coaches or players, and many top coaches, including Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski are choosing to ignore positions altogether. Typically, the point guard is the leader of the team when on the court. This position requires substantial ball handling skills, and the ability to facilitate the team during a play. The shooting guard, as the name implies, is often the best shooter. They are probably capable of shooting accurately from further distances. Generally, they also have good ball-handling skills. The small forward often has an aggressive approach to the basket when handling the ball. The power forward is considered to be what is called a post player, or a big. A post player is a player that typically works around the basket, often with lay-ups or shots near the basket. The center is also considered a big. They work primarily around the basket, mostly shooting layups, and do not dribble the ball often.
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 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 John Wall 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. Chris Paul and Derrick Rose are among the prominent point guards in the NBA today. In the NBA, point guards are usually 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) or shorter.
The shooting guard, is also known as the two. Along with the small forward, is often referred to as a wing due to common positioning tactics. 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. In the NBA, shooting guards usually range from 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) to 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 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 and are often referred to as wings.
Small forwards have a variety of assets, such as quickness and strength inside. One common thread among 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 9 inches (2.06 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 6 feet 11 inches (2.11 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. 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 scarcity 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 which calls 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.