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Basketball Positions & Their Roles

author image Steve Silverman
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.
Basketball Positions & Their Roles
Professional basketball players during a game on the court. Photo Credit Rick Diamond/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The development of the game of basketball has given each position on the court specific responsibilities. For many generations, each team had two guards, two forwards and a center. However, by the mid-1980s, designation of positions like point guard, shooting guard and power forward were commonplace.

Point Guard

The point guard is responsible for handling the ball and triggering his team's offense. While other players will handle, dribble and pass the ball, the point guard will do the majority of that work. He will also shoot on occasion, but the point guard's primary job is to get his teammates involved in the offense. On the defensive side, he will usually attempt to stop the opponent's point guard by harassing his dribble and getting into the passing lanes to create steals. Former Laker great Magic Johnson was one of the best point guards in basketball history.

Shooting Guard

The ideal shooting guard is a player who can score a lot of points in a short period of time. While the shooting guard must be able to handle the ball and pass successfully, his greatest contribution is as a scorer. The shooting guard must be able to drive to the hoop and hit the outside shot as well. The greatest shooting guard in NBA history was Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles.

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Small Forward

The description of small forward usually has nothing to do with a player's height; it has to do with a player's ability to make plays with the ball. The small forward has to be able to dribble the ball, drive the ball to the basket and make outside shots. A small forward is often compared to a shooting guard in that they have similar jobs, but a small forward will usually help out more on rebounding and do his job closer to the rim than the shooting guard. Hall of Fame Celtics forward Larry Bird was a great all-around player who was often labeled as a small forward.

Power Forward

The power forward is a big and powerful individual who can dominate rebounding and inside scoring. Most of the power forward's shots are taken from inside 12 feet and many are within just a few feet of the rim. The power forward must help his team block shots and box opponents out when going for rebounds. Former Utah Jazz star Karl Malone is one of the greatest power forwards in basketball history.


The center is almost always the biggest man on the court--a player who can alter the opponent's offensive game by his presence, size and wingspan. These factors allow him to accomplish the tasks of blocking and changing shots. A center should also be a good scoring option when his team gets the ball near the basket. Top centers develop an array of offensive moves like the drop step and hook shot to rack up points. Players like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal rank among the best centers in NBA history.

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