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What are the Different Positions in Basketball?

By Leo J
Updated May 23, 2024
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For each team in a basketball game, there are five players on the floor at various positions at one time. The positions these players play tell a lot about the players' size, athletic ability, skills and responsibilities. Of all the positions in basketball, size is most important in a center. The center is usually the biggest player on the floor for each team, and his or her job is to be an imposing force near the basket. Centers are not usually asked to roam far from the basket, as they provide a team with the best chance for scoring close to the basket and rebounding missed shots because of their size.

There are two types of forwards – the positions next in size to the center. Their responsibilities vary depending on the skills of the players on a given team, but generally speaking, the power forward has responsibilities similar to that of the center. Power forwards are usually a team's second-biggest player, so they are still expected to be rebounders and to score near the basket, though they usually have the skills to play away from the basket more often than centers.

The small forward is more of a scorer, a playmaker who plays farther away from the basket. Small forward is one of the positions that requires the most versatility in a basketball player, as the player must be able to go down low and rebound while having the skills to get to the basket off the dribble and shoot from outside.

The next level of basketball positions are the guards. The shooting guard is similar to the small forward, and it is not uncommon for the same player to play both positions during the course of a game. The shooting guard is not expected to rebound as much as the small forward, but both are usually scoring-minded players who can shoot well from outside.

The point guard is often considered the most important basketball position because, like the quarterback in football, it is the point guard's job to run the offense and distribute the ball. Point guards are usually the smallest players on the court, and they must be quick enough to defend the opposing point guard on the perimeter. Point guards are often good shooters, but not always – a great playmaker and great passer can often overcome any shortcomings he or she might have as a shooter.

The positions in basketball are often referred to as numbers, from smallest to biggest, point guard being 1 and center being 5. There are also different names that are sometimes used for each of the positions, and the numbering system allows for continuity regardless of the position names that are used.

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Discussion Comments
By jessicalab — On Apr 16, 2011

@dragopython

Was Magic really a point guard? I know he ran the show in LA, but he was so big. In fact in one championship series when Kareem was injured Magic played center, and dominated.

I think in today’s game there are fewer and fewer players that fit into the classic basketball positions. Centers are probably still the big men, but so many of them can also shoot that they don’t have to play close to the hoop all of the time. Look at Dirk.

As for everyone who is not 7 feet tall, they can all shoot and they can all pass. Lebron is a small forward? Kobe is a shooting guard? These players start the offenses for each of their teams, so they act like point guards. Everyone plays above the rim and everyone must rebound.

I think positions are becoming blurred, or maybe less relevant.

By dragopython — On Apr 13, 2011

@mandyeats - Bill Russell won 11 championships in 13 years. Kareem Abdul Jabar scored more points than anyone in NBA history. Either one might win the argument for best center.

I like Karl Malone as the best ever power forward. He was the most unstoppable.

I know many people today would claim Lebron is the best small forward ever, but I would take Larry Bird over Lebron in a heartbeat.

Michael was the best shooting guard. Kobe is a close second, though.

As for point guards, how can anyone argue with the great Magic Johnson?

By mandyeats — On Apr 13, 2011

Who are the greatest players at each position? I think the Shaq is the best center ever. I also like Michael Jordan as a guard.

By anon9459 — On Mar 06, 2008

What are the other names of the positions?

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