Court Essentials: Basketball Positions Explained

Learn about each player’s role on the court with our basketball positions guide.

The no-look pass is one of the most exciting plays in sports. To execute it perfectly, a player needs a sixth sense of where their team is on the court and an innate understanding of all their roles.

Each position on a team has its own skillset, physical attributes and competitive nuances. By gaining this understanding and making it second nature to your game plan, you’ll get better at predicting where players are going to be and what they’re going to do when they get there.

Let’s break down these five positions, and take a look at the abilities and attitudes each player needs to excel in their specific role.

Point Guard 

Generally the shortest player on the floor, the point guard also makes the biggest impact on tempo and execution. This is the team’s best ball handler – dribbling and passing. Point guards bring the ball up court, watch plays develop, and make the decisions that ideally result in high-percentage shots. On defense, a good point guard can disrupt a play before it even gets started. Quickness, vision, composure, and unselfish play are all cornerstones of a good point guard – qualities you’ll see in the playing styles of today’s best at the position, including Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul.

Shooting Guard

This one is pretty self-explanatory. A shooting guard or “two guard” is usually the best shooter on the team. These players possess a different kind of quickness than a point guard, the ability to release a shot from the perimeter before a defender has the chance to close in, without affecting their mechanics. This is the player you set screens for, the player that can really make a team pay for leaving them open. When you’re down by three with a few seconds on the clock, you’ll probably want the ball in this player’s hands. Because the best shooting guards, like James Harden and Jimmy Butler, have short memories and a knack for nailing clutch shots.

Small Forward 

Don’t be fooled by the name – the small forward plays a huge role. Strong and scrappy enough to haul in rebounds, yet lithe enough to elude defenders and hit jump shots, this position requires a little bit of everything. Because they’re the player with the ideal mix of size and speed, they have the greatest potential to dominate a game on both sides of the floor. The best ones, like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George, are the most likely candidates to pull off a triple-double – scoring with consistency, dominating on the glass, and hitting their open teammates when they draw double teams.

Power Forward

The closer to the hoop you go, the tougher things get. The power forward lives close to the rim, muscling out buckets and fighting for rebounds. So it stands to reason that the position requires strength and size, as well as a mastery of in-the-paint fundamentals like boxing out opponents and posting up defenders. However, to be truly great at the position, you need more than muscles and an attitude. Having an array of shots at your disposal, from a short jumper to a baseline fade, will make you truly dangerous down there. After all, the most successful power forwards, like Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, play incredibly versatile games.

Center

Usually the tallest person on the team, a center guards the rim on one end, and is a constant threat beneath it on the other. Good ones do the name justice by being centers of attention – drawing enough of it to leave other players open. On defense, the center is usually your best shot-blocker and rebounder. And while being tall certainly helps, great centers play with speed and grace, creating their own shots in cramped spaces, snagging rebounds out of the hands of others. Watch players like Hassan Whiteside, Andre Drummond or Al Horford, and see how the best big men are brilliant at the little things.