Basketball Positions: Role of Each Team Member

Michael Jordan once said: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” Teamwork is an integral part of winning basketball games.

What are the roles of each member on a basketball team?  What skills does each position need to be successful? How do they contribute towards the common goal of winning? I will address these questions in this article. If you have been wondering where you will likely fit in a basketball team then read on to find out more.

How many players are on a basketball team?

The number of players in a basketball team roster depends on the league.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) allows up to 15 players in each team but only 13 can be dressed for a game. 

A team in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) can have up to 12 players.

A basketball team competing in the Olympics can have only 12 players. This rule was set by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). The FIBA rule is the one recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Out of these numbers, only five can be playing at the court at one time for each team. The next sections will have detailed information about these five players.

Point Guard (PG)

The point guard is usually the shortest member of the team in terms of height. He is a quick and nimble player. He has excellent dribbling ability, precise passing skills, accurate outside shooting, and good hand and feet coordination. He will have a trained and sharp memory and has swift decision making skills.

On offense, he is responsible for taking the ball across the court to the team’s goal. He must be able to dribble the ball over a long distance without being snatched by the opposing team. He will start calling the play upon reaching or as he nears the three point line. This is where he signals the play to execute. This responsibility typically puts a point guard on a pass first, shoot second mentality. Of course, different styles of playing and team dynamics can change this.

On defense, he is the one who forces a turnover while the opposing point guard dribbles the ball across the court. He steals the passes, and races after loose balls.

Some of the notable point guards in the NBA are Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, John Stockton, Steve Nash, and Tony Parker.

Watch this video of John Stockton’s career retrospective. It will give you a better idea of the skills that make a point guard stand out.

Shooting Guard (SG)

A shooting guard is typically taller than the point guard. As the name suggests, he is the best shooter in the team. He has the ability to score from long distance and also in mid-range.

On offense, his shooting skills will be put to use not only to make the shots but also to get defensive players to leave their post. This opens up the chance to pass the ball over to the big guys in the team for an easy shot. The shooting guard also acts as secondary ball handler. He helps the point guard bring the ball down if there is a lot of pressure from the defense.

On defense, he minimizes the opportunities for the opposing team’s shooting guard to make the shots. He makes it difficult for his opponent to pass the ball to his team members in the low post.

Some of the notable shooting guards in the NBA are Klay Thompson, James Harden, Dwayne Wade, Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant.

Shooting guards drive up the game excitement as they make basket after basket. Watch this video of Klay Thompson’s career high 60 points which he made in a single game back in December 2016. The home crowd and his teammates are cheering wildly in the Oracle arena to celebrate the moment.

Small Forward (SF)

The small forward will have a height that is usually in between the shooting guard and power forward. He has solid mid-range shooting skills, accurate passing skills, and the ability to power through to the basket for a shot. A small forward is a versatile player and needs a good balance of quickness and strength.

On offense, he scores points through mid-range shots. The small forward receives passes from the point guard or shooting guard when they are open for a shot and drives to the basket to sink the ball in. Small forwards can also be good outside shooters. Since they are of good enough height, they are able to take part in getting the rebounds, both offensively and defensively.

They defend the post on defense. They make it difficult for opposing teams to drive to the basket. They can also block the shots. 

A few notable small forwards in the NBA are Lebron James, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, and Grant Hill.

Watch this video of Scottie Pippen’s early career highlights. It demonstrates the versatility of a small forward. You will see him drive to the basket and dunk the ball. He takes both mid-range and outside shots. Scottie Pippen is considered as one of the best defensive players in NBA history. He has forced many turnovers and blocked multiple shots throughout his career. 

Power Forward (PF)

The power forward is usually the second tallest team member, a little shorter than the center. This position requires the use of strength and speed. Intense physical contact is unavoidable when under the paint. He must be able to shoot a lot of baskets from the low post and weather the rough contact from other players.

On offense, this position takes a lot of inside shots, drives for goals, dunks, and hustles for an offensive rebound. Power forwards use their skills and body frame to box out and shoot through defenders. They use their size to help setup screens and get other team members open to take shots. These players can also have a good mid-range and outside shooting skill as well.

On defense, power forwards capture the rebounds along with the center. They guard the larger forward in the opposing team and prevent attempts to drive to the basket. They are also really good at blocking shots.

Some of the notable power forwards in the NBA include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson, Bam Adebayo, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and Tim Duncan.

Watch this video of 2019 rookie player Zion Williamson. He demonstrates a power forward’s strength and agility in this clip. You will see him grabbing offensive rebounds and converting them into points (putback). He also does a lot of tip-ins. On the defensive side, he denies the opposing team their shots and even steals rebounds from them right under the basket.

Center (C)

The center is the tallest and biggest member of the team. This player has a dominating presence in the paint and shares a lot similar responsibilities to the power forward. It is therefore common for big men to play in either position depending on the combination of players that are currently on the floor.

This player needs to have the ability to sink short range shots and have a sharp eye for the ball to receive passes effectively. Being in the low post means that the center gets a lot of physical contact with other players. A center should have a great composure to keep the focus on the play and avoid unnecessary altercations.

On offense, the center shoots short jumpers and drives to the basket. With their height and might, they can box out their defender to take those difficult shots under the paint. They will also  take passes with their backs to the basket and convert them into shots. Like the power forward, the center also helps to set up screens to free up a teammate for a shot or to receive a pass.

Being the tallest in the team makes this player the go to person for rebounds and blocks on the defensive end.

Some notable centers in the NBA are Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokić, Kevin Love, Yao Ming, Shaquille O’neal, and Wilt Chamberlain.

Check out this video of Yao Ming’s top ten plays in the NBA to see a center in action. The video shows all the quintessential actions of a center during a basketball game. Yao Ming blocks shots by the opponent and grabs rebounds. He takes short range shots and receives the passes from his teammates with his back to the basket.

Players on the bench

With more than five players allowed on each team, there will be at least a handful of players ready to take their spots on the floor should the coach call for a substitution. Not everyone on the bench may get time to play during a game. Regardless of the playing time that they get, the players on the bench are part of the team and have an important role in winning championships.

Recent Trends

How I described each of the basketball positions are based on the traditional definition of what each player does. As basketball is an ever evolving sport, recent trends have added an interesting dimension into what each position does and how each player contributes to the team. 

Hybrid Positions

You may have noticed that there is an overlap in the skills for each of the five traditional positions. Hybrid positions where a player is able to take on more than one role has become more common. Having players who can take on hybrid positions is good for the team as it gives them more variety in terms of the plays that they can execute. Here are the four common hybrid positions:

  • Combo Guard – A guard who can function as the point guard or shooting guard. A guard who has equally good skills in ball handling and outside shooting will do well in this position.
  • Point Forward – A very interesting position where a small forward takes on the responsibility of calling the plays which traditionally goes to a point guard.
  • Swingman – Taller shooting guards who are not only great at outside shots but can also work on the inside. This gives them the versatility of playing both shooting guard and small forward. 
  • Stretch 4 – A power forward who can make good outside shots. A formidable outside shooting ability from this player forces the defense to guard him and open up opportunities for other teammates to drive to the basket.

Press Break

The offensive press break is a style of play that is meant to counter the full court press executed by the defensive team. On a full court press, the defense puts pressure on the offense right from the inbound instead of at the half-court. The goal would be to force turnovers or slow down the speed of the game.

In order for the offense to break out, the point guard will rely on other team members to pass the ball around. The goal is to successfully get it through to the half-court. This changes the traditional point guard role of bringing the ball down. It instead relies on effective team work to get the ball to a safe place where the team can execute their play.

Conclusion

You now have a very good idea of the different basketball positions and work out which role you’ll most likely be a good fit for.

While each member of a basketball team brings in their own unique skills, a team will only be effective if they are able to use these skills to complement each other. Trust and cooperation among members of the team will make the most difference in winning.

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