Basketball Positions Explained: What Each Player Does

If you’re looking for ways to improve your basketball skills, there’s no better place to start than the fundamentals of the game: positions. If you’re looking for a real-life tutorial, check out the Red Bull Pro-Am Basketball Classic.

With only five players on the court, every position in basketball has a pivotal role to play both individually and together. To help you get the most out of your basketball team, we break down each position, looking at key characteristics and fundamental skills.

Back to basics: basketball positions and strategy

Before we dive into the details, let’s go over the basics for a moment. Broadly speaking, each team is made up of five designated positions: shooter, small forward, point guard, power forward, and center.

Team players are assigned their position based on a number of factors such as physique, ball handling, passing and shooting skills.

Unlike other team sports, basketball players play both offense and defense regardless of position. In fact, the ability to switch between attack and defense is the cornerstone of a good player.

Basketball Positions Explained

The leader is the core of any team. They are like the quarterback in football, as they are usually responsible for calling signals and orchestrating play as the “field general” or “field coach”. Just follow the Red Bull athlete Anthony Cole for a great example of how to play Point Guard.

Anthony Cole

© Cassy Athena/Red Bull Content Pool

According to Anthony, mentality is key to success on the pitch. At the start of his professional career, he said: “I recognized that there were levels within the NBA. And to reach that highest level, you really need that insane, intense, and consistent work ethic and discipline.

Although a leader can score, he is more of a facilitator. Position takes possession of the ball, passes it to teammates and creates scoring opportunities.

The point guard is usually one of the smaller players on the team and has extensive knowledge of the game as he is the one calling the shots.

In defence, the point guard guards an opposing player, trying to block their shots and retain possession of the ball. They try to steal the ball, then create openings for their team to score.

What makes a good playmaker?

  • Dribbling: Confident dribbling with both hands and impeccable ball handling are essential.

  • Passing: High precision ball passing over short distances and cross-court.

  • Speed ​​and Agility: The point guard needs to bring some serious speed and help drive the ball to the basket.

  • Confidence and Leadership: Play calls are a central aspect of the point guard role. Clear, vocal and incisive communication is essential.

  • Team Mentality: As a facilitator, point guards must be aware of their entire team at all times, direct play and pass the ball to key players.

The full-back’s main objective is to shoot and hopefully score. They are usually taller than point guards and can also be skilled passers, although this is not a prerequisite. Get to know the Red Bull athletes Matisse Thybulle and Donte Di Vincenzo if you want to see talented shooting guards.

What does the shooter do on offense?

In attack, the shooter must do everything to score at different distances and adapt to the game in progress. Typically, a shooting guard shoots from the three-point line.

What does the defensive shooter do?

In defense, the shooter must concentrate on stealing the ball. They need to be quick to grab rebounds and protect their opponents with agility and speed.

Matisse Thybulle

© Alex Subers/Red Bull Content Pool

Thybulle attributes his success to his attitude, “defending is not something people focus on. There’s a reason not so many people do it. This is a difficult work. It’s not sexy and you’re only noticed when you’re not doing your job. But I always adopted it. »

What skills and attributes does a shooting guard need?

  • Strong shooter: The shooting guard must be a confident shooter.

  • Good instincts: They must be instinctive players, looking for open spaces and able to break through the opponent’s line of defence.

  • Confident handling of the ball: A shooting keeper must feel comfortable handling the ball.

  • Intuitive Reading Space: Shooting guards must be able to read the space and use it to their advantage, preparing to score.

The small forward must be a very versatile and adaptable player. They need a range of skills as they are heavily involved in both attack and defense.

Small forwards, as the name suggests, are smaller players, but they are usually taller than the forward or center. They need enough height and strength to take on a wide range of players. They must be responsive and dynamic players able to move quickly from game to game. An iconic small forward is the Red Bull athlete Jaylen Brown.

What does a small attacker do in attack?

Small forwards have a diverse role. In attack, they should be looking to gain possession, open up space, set up their teammates by setting up screens and potentially even score. On defense, small forwards need to focus on rebounding and defending their counterparts.

What are the main characteristics of a small forward?

  • Versatile: A small forward should be somewhat versatile, ready to adapt his game and do a bit of everything.

  • Confident ball handling and good passing: Small forwards need to be steady with the ball and able to pass it with precision.

  • Power shots from medium and short range: A small forward must be able to score from the three-point line and from close range.

  • Agility: Small forwards guard a range of positions, which means they can be pitted against bigger, stronger players. Speed ​​is key.

  • Speed: Small forwards need to grab rebounds with speed and protect their opponents with agility.

The role of the power forward mirrors that of the center quite closely. One of their biggest responsibilities is rebounding and they play a big role in their team’s defensive strategies.

Power forwards are strong and usually one of the tallest players on the team. Their role is usually quite physical, hence their title. This requires them to have substantial strength. Breanna Stewart, WNBA star and Red Bull athlete, says a power forward has to hold on. “It gets physical when you’re playing on the post, playing low, hitting with the bigger bodies.”

What does a power attacker do in attack?

On offense, the power forward should look to shoot and score, whenever possible. They should also be looking to get those rebounds and give themselves a second chance to score.

Red Bull Half Court

© Adam Klingeteg/Red Bull Content Pool

What does a power attacker do in defense?

In defense, the power forward fiercely guards the post and blocks opponents, closes passing lanes and is always looking to grab rebounds.

What skills and qualities does a power forward need?

  • Ball handling with confidence: Powerful attackers cannot falter once they get their hands on the ball.

  • Strong to secure rebounds: Power forwards should have no problem gaining possession of bouncing balls.

  • Strong Jump Shot: When given the opportunity, strong attackers should be able to use their jump shot.

  • Good screen setting: possibility to configure the ball handlers of their team.

  • Keeping the ball: it’s not just about taking possession of the ball, but about keeping it.

  • Solid defence: Blocking shots and dodging your opponent should be second nature. It also helps that they are taller than their counterparts.

  • Agility: With the varied responsibilities of a power forward, speed and strength are essential.

The center is usually the tallest player on the team. They play close to the basket in the low post area and take the jump ball early in the game.

Their size is their greatest asset. A center isn’t necessarily the most skilled player when it comes to dribbling or shooting, but by taking advantage of his height, he is able to double his rebounds and block his opponents. Top centers include Red Bull Athlete Blake Griffinwho is also a power forward.

What does the center do in attack?

On offense, the center focuses on rebounds and scoring. They must be skilled at creating chances to score and dunk the ball. They must also set up screens, allowing their teammates to move through space to shoot.

Red Bull Half Court

© Hesham Marcelo/Red Bull Content Pool

Additionally, centers need to be confident to display, which means playing in front of the basket and moving to score once they gain possession.

What does the center do in defense?

In defence, the center is crucial. They are the last obstacle standing between the opponent and a two-point shot. The center must protect his position, block his opponent and grab the rebounds.

What skills and attributes does a center need?

  • Good level of fitness: The role of a center is truly physical, so fitness and strength are essential.

  • Ferocious Rebounds: Centers need to be quick and nimble to grab critical rebounds.

  • Height: If you want to play center, you need to be tall.

  • Blocking: centers must be able to block opponents with aggression.

  • Shooting from the low post: Centers must be adept at scoring ‘low’ as well as posting up.

It’s time to shoot YOUR shot

While it’s easy to assume that the center or point guard might be the big players, in reality, with only five players on the basketball court, each player is as important as the next. The key to high-level gameplay is to let go of the concepts of hierarchy and operate as a well-oiled machine, as five parts of a whole.

As Basketball’s Most Wanted Red Bull Athlete and Shooting Coach deadly shooter (aka Chris Matthews) says it “like anything, if you want to improve, it’s good that someone teaches you how”. Because no one is perfect.