Every few years, Dime presents a guide to help you understand the basketball positions. Are you new to the game? Confused as to which position to play? We’re here to help!
Back in the old days, basketball teams didn’t have positions. Coaches simply put their five best players on the court, which is silly, but no one knew any better. Luckily, John Hollinger stepped in and created positions so that the players could be organized and analyzed.
And Daryl Morey was there, and he saw that it was good.
The point guard position was invented so that short people could play basketball. Casual fans LOVE point guards, especially the small white ones. This is because casual fans have never played basketball and have no idea how annoying point guards can be.
In theory, the point guard is the facilitator, the selfless leader who dribbles the ball up the court and looks to feed his teammates.
Ha ha, theories are funny. People become point guards because they want to have the ball in their hands at all times, because they want to be in control, because they don’t trust anyone, because short people.
The most important rule for point guards is to act tough. This way, people will start to call you a “floor general,” which is a name that was coined by Napoleon, who was also a little dude. The second most important rule for a point guard is to make sure you have plenty of teammates around before you start fighting anybody, which is a thing that Napoleon did not do.
Mothers and fathers, if you have an only child, he or she will grow up believing they are a shooting guard. They are strange creatures, aloof and odd. A shooting guard will wear rubber bands on his wrist, a sweatband on his head, a padded shooting sleeve that covers his entire arm, a brace on his knee, and will think nothing of holding up a pickup game or a team practice to tape a pinky finger on his shooting hand that has never been injured.
Deep down inside, every shooting guard believes that he or she has been chosen. They have grown up watching Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, and in their minds they believe that the best player on any team is always the shooting guard. During games they will spend long stretches on offense standing in the corner, brooding and waiting for teammates to come and set screens. Some shooting guards believe that it is against the rules for them to venture inside the three point arc for any reason.
The one exception to this is the end-of-game scenario, where the shooting guard sprints out to midcourt and demands the ball as the clock winds down. He then waves all of his teammates away and begins to dribble back and forth while everyone stands and watches. When the clock reaches six seconds he will jackknife towards the hoop and chuck up an off-balance jumper, often with two or three defenders draped all over him. This almost never works, but shooting guards don’t care, because they were fouled on that play, man. There is always a foul.
If you play for your high school team and you are a 6-1 boy or a 5-7 girl, you are probably already a small forward. There is no shame in this: being a small forward isn’t a bad thing. In fact, few people really know what it means at all. The position can mean a hundred different things, or it can mean nothing at all: it is an enigma.
Basically, small forwards are players who are not good at any one thing. To compensate for this they loudly describe themselves as “versatile”. They are like middle children; not quick enough to be guards but not big enough to play in the post. They wander the court like nomads, without a skill or a plan to get buckets. Occasionally they will appear out of nowhere and make an acrobatic tip-in, and everyone will marvel about how versatile they are.
Technically, the two best players in the NBA are small forwards, but this is a misnomer: LeBron James defies our petty labels; he is a LeBron, and a LeBron does what it pleases. And Kevin Durant is not a true small forward because he stands somewhere between 7-0 and 7-8 tall. No one knows for sure. He wears the title of small forward as a sort of exemption to keep from playing center. More on centers to come.
Power forwards are centers who are in denial. Power forwards view the paint as a sort of quicksand, an abyss where their vast array of skills will be wasted. As such, they avoid it whenever possible. A typical offensive possession will see them hovering around the free throw line, calling for the ball with utmost confidence. If given the ball, a power forward likes to turn and face the basket and jab step seven or eight times in rapid succession before shooting a contested fadeaway.
Power forwards believe, with conviction, that if it the situation arose they could play clutch minutes as a ball handler. Power forwards commonly fantasize about being moved to point guard in an overtime game after all their team’s guards foul out. If you don’t believe this, find a power forward and ask him if he could play point.
In recent years a new version of the power forward has become en vogue: the Stretch Four. A Stretch Four is a power forward who has been told he never has to go into the paint, and that he is free to stand on the perimeter and launch threes. You will never find a happier basketball player than a Stretch Four. He will wax poetic about Spacing and Spreading The Floor as if these concepts predate basketball itself. He will drop Ryan Anderson’s name as if talking of an old friend. In his mind he is basically a guard now. He has been set free, and all is right with basketball.
If you stand head and shoulders above everyone else your age, you’re probably going to be a center. Take a deep breath, because this isn’t exactly good news.
Being a center is truly a thankless task. Your shorter teammates will regard you with a sort of jealous disdain, as if you are a colossal waste of height that somehow stole inches from them when God was building basketball players.
However, this disdain in no way discourages them from screaming for your help on defense. This is a center’s primary job: shuffling to and fro around the rim, trying to block off the procession of guards and forwards who come dribbling down the lane like a herd of wild cattle. This is not fair: your teammates will blow assignments, they will forget to call out each other’s screens, they will take possessions off, and when their man penetrates with the ball it suddenly becomes your problem. Then, after covering everyone’s mistakes for the entire game, you will be rewarded when your coach benches you for the final minutes to “go small,” which is what coaches do when they aren’t sure what to do.
The one thing that centers don’t have to do is shoot threes, so naturally this is the one thing they want to do. Every center who has ever played the game believes that he has untapped potential as a three point shooter. Centers love to spend valuable practice time perched on the three point line, flinging line-drive bricks at the rim. On the rare occasion that one of their salvos rattles in, they will calmly leave their bent wrist dangling in the air for several minutes, so everybody can see what’s up.
We hope that this guide helps. If you are still unsure what position you are, take it from us: you are a small forward.
Matthew’s book Points: The Six Best Sports Stories You’ve Never Read, is available on Amazon for 99 cents.
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