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Basketball Positions

During the first five decades of basketball's evolution, a player occupied one of three positions, as follows: two guards, two forwards, and one center. Since the 1980s, more specific positions have evolved, as follows:

Point Guard
Point guard is one of the standard positions in a regulation basketball game. The point guard is normally the smallest player on the team and has perhaps the most specialized role of any position. Essentially, the point guard is expected to run the team's offense, by controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right players at the right time. After an opponent scores, it is typically the point guard who brings the ball down court to begin an offensive play. For this position, passing skills and court vision are essential. Great point guards are often measured more by their assist totals than by their scoring. Still, a first-rate point guard should also have a reliably effective jumpshot and should be a scoring threat from long distance.

High-profile point guards currently playing include Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury, Baron Davis, Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups, and Steve Francis. Great point guards of the past include Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, and John Stockton. Another great guard of the past, Oscar Robertson, combined the skills of a point guard with those of a small forward, foreshadowing the modern role of the point forward.

Shooting Guard
A shooting guard is often shorter, leaner, and quicker than forwards. They are often the best jump shooters in the game, but can also drive to the basket. Many shooting guards can also play small forward. A shooting guard should be a good ball handler who is a good passer. Shooting guards focus on scoring, and allow the point guard to focus on passing. Most shooting guards are between 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) such as Ben Gordon and 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) such as Tracy McGrady. They weigh from 190 to 240 lb (86 to 109 kg).

Michael Jordan, one of the best-known basketball players in history, was a shooting guard, and helped define the role of the modern position. Other famous shooting guards of the past include Clyde Drexler, Jerry West, Walt Frazier and John Havlicek. Notable shooting guards who are currently active include Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Tracy McGrady, Ray Allen, Vince Carter, Richard Hamilton, Manu Ginobili, and Paul Pierce.

Small Forward
The small forward, or colloquially "the three", is one of the five positions in a regulation basketball game. Small forwards are typically somewhat shorter and leaner than power forwards and centers but, on occasion they are just as tall. On offense, they are often well-balanced between power-oriented and shooting-oriented; on defense, they will seek steals and rebounds. Many small forwards can also play shooting guard; those who switch between the two positions are called "swingmen" or "wings". Among the most dominant small forwards of the past were Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, Scottie Pippen, Julius Erving and James Worthy. Notable small forwards who are currently active include Grant Hill, Peja Stojakovic, Ron Artest, Shawn Marion, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Tayshaun Prince. Dirk Nowitzki is another notable basketball player with excellent small forward skills; however, he has mostly played at power forward in his NBA career. Usually small forwards can stand between 6'5" and 6'11" (1.96 - 2.13 m). Although they might be as tall as power forwards, power forwards are much more stocky and muscular.

Power Forward
Power forward is a position in the sport of basketball. Power forwards play a role similar to that of center, playing with their back to the basket on offense and positioned either on the low blocks or against the opposing power forward on defense. However, in most instances, the power forward is asked to shoulder more of a scoring role and somewhat less of a defensive role than a center.

Typically, a power forward is one of the larger players on the court, not as tall as the center but more muscular. They are usually expected to be aggressive when pursuing rebounds and score most of their points on the low post (no more than six feet (2 m) from the basket), as opposed to taking jump shots from farther away. Power forwards can be imposing presences on defense, but they usually defer to the center in terms of blocking shots and general intimidation. In the NBA, a typical power forward is between 6'8" and 7'0" (2.03 to 2.14 m) in height and 230-260 pounds (105 to 120 kg) in weight, and is often asked to play center in specific game situations or when a particular team lacks a taller player.

Famous power forwards in NBA history include Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Elvin Hayes, Kevin McHale, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan. Another notable power forward is Dirk Nowitzki, but while he is noted for his strong inside game (he is consistently among the NBA leaders in rebounds), many of his skills, particularly the strong reliance on his jump shot, are much closer to those of a typical small forward. One example of an effective power forward who did not fit the standard physical description for that position was Dennis Rodman, who was able to outrebound and defensively shut down rival power forwards despite being only 6'6", 210 lb (1.98 m, 95 kg).

Center
The center is one of the standard positions in a regulation basketball game. The center is normally the tallest player on the team, and they are generally preferred to have a great deal of muscle and body mass as well. A typical NBA center is 6'10" (2.08 m) or taller.

In many cases, the center's primarily role is simply to be very large, and to use his size to score and defend from a position close to the basket. A center who possesses size along with athleticism and skill constitutes an unparalleled asset for a team. Shaquille O'Neal of the Miami Heat is noted both for his enormous proportions, standing 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) tall and weighing 330 lb (150 kg), as well for his mastery of elegantly simple post maneuvers. Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets stands 7'6" (2.29 m) tall but has mobility and shooting touch normally associated with much smaller players.

There has been occasional controversy over what constitutes a "true center." Some have argued, for instance, that Ben Wallace, while highly effective at center, is actually a power forward playing out of position, mainly because his 6'9" (2.06 m) height makes him considerably smaller than most centers he faces. Likewise, some would say that Tim Duncan, although listed throughout his career as a power forward, is actually a center, because of his size and style of play. However, these are highly subjective judgments. What is likely true is that, because there are currently so few people who meet the ideal size requirements of an NBA center, teams will sometimes find it necessary to play an individual at that position who would be more effective as a power forward.

Notable centers currently playing include Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming, Ben Wallace, Dikembe Mutombo, Vlade Divac and, in Europe, Arvydas Sabonis. Great centers of the past include George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Walton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish, David Robinson, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Patrick Ewing.

On some occasions, teams will choose to use a three guard offense, replacing one of the forwards or the center with a third guard.

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