The point guard, also known as the "1", is the team's general and the best ball handler on the team. In American football terminology, the point guard is a basketball team's "quarterback." The point guard is essentially the team's captain, and his job is to increase team efficiency and to hand out assists. Some of the greatest point guards in the NBA throughout the last 10 years include Jason Kidd, Allen Iverson and Steve Nash. Other examples include Derek Fisher, José Calderón, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, John Stockton, Chauncey Billups, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Gilbert Arenas. Examples of players earlier in the league's history are Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy and Gail Goodrich. The point guard is typically the smallest player on his/her squad. At the NBA level, most point guards are 6 feet (1.83 m) to 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m). Of course there are a few exceptions. Earvin "Magic" Johnson of the Lakers is the NBA's tallest point guard ever to play the position, at 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m), today the tallest player who occasionally plays point guard is Lebron James, at 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) but the tallest listed point guard today is Shaun Livingston, at 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m). Many rookies start their NBA careers as point guards and then transition to other roles later.
The shooting guard, also known as the "2", is usually the team's best shooter. A quality shooting guard should be able to consistently hit 20-foot (6-meter) jump shots. Besides being able to shoot the ball, shooting guards must have good ball-handling skills because they have to be able to create their own shots off the dribble. As shooting guards have a very wide skill set, they should also be able to make good passes. The shooting guard needs to be able to take long shots, around the three-point line. Typical NBA shooting guards are 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) to 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m). However, there are exceptions. For instance, Allen Iverson, who plays point guard and shooting guard, is only 6 feet (1.83 m) tall. Nate Robinson, who also plays the position, is only 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) tall.
Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Manu Ginobili, Brandon Roy and Andre Iguodala are examples of shooting guards in the NBA. Iguodala is large enough that he also plays in the small forward position. Arguably the best shooting guard in NBA history was Michael Jordan. Other notable examples are Reggie Miller, Richard Hamilton, Ray Allen, Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Ben Gordon, Vince Carter, Monta Ellis and Kevin Martin.
The small forward, also known as the "3", is typically somewhat shorter, quicker and leaner than power forwards and centers. Thus, in the NBA, small forwards range from 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m) to 6 feet 11 inches (2.11 m). The small forward position is considered to be perhaps the most versatile of the main five basketball positions, due to the nature of its role, which is sometimes similar to that of a power forward, and other times more resembles the role of a shooting guard. The small forward and shooting guard positions are often interchangeable.
Small forwards have a variety of weapons, such as quickness and strength inside. One common thread between all kinds of small forwards is an ability to "get to the line"; that is, have opposing players be called for committing shooting fouls against them, as fouls are frequently called on the defense when offensive players "take the ball hard" to the basket, that is, aggressively attempt post-up plays, lay-ups, or slam dunks. Therefore, accurate foul shooting is an imperative skill for small forwards, many of whom record a large portion of their points from the foul line. Small forwards should be able to do a little bit of everything on the court. Examples include Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics, LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers, Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets, Hedo Turkoglu of the Orlando Magic, and Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics and Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls are examples of earlier players who are considered the "bests" in the NBA history for this position.
Also known as the "4" position and abbreviated as "PF", the power forward plays a role similar to that of the center, down in the "post" or "low blocks". It has also been referred to as the "post" position. On offense, he can "post up", playing with his back to the basket, or set up for mid-range jump shots. On defense, he plays under the basket in a zone defense or against the opposing power forward in man-to-man defense. Typical NBA power forwards are 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m) to 6 feet 11 inches (2.11 m) tall, though some power forwards, like the 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m) Charles Barkley, have compensated for a lack of height with exceptional bulk and strength. The greatest power forwards of all time include Bob Pettit, Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, Dennis Rodman, and Kevin Garnett.Popular All-Star power forwards today include the New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire, Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki, the Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer, the Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph, the Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, Golden State Warriors' David Lee (basketball), Miami Heat's Chris Bosh, and the New Orleans Hornets' David West (basketball). It is very rare to find 3 point shooting power forwards but Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, Peja Stojakovic and Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors, Ersan Ilyasova of the Milwaukee Bucks, and Rashard Lewis of the Washington Wizards specialize in this area.
The center, also referred to as the "5" or the "pivot", usually plays near the baseline, close to the basket (referred to as the "bottom of the key" or the "low post"). The tallest player is most likely to be assigned to the position of center, with typical NBA centers being about 7 feet (2.13 m) in height, though Chuck Hayes filled this role at 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m), and NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld filled this role while being 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m). Few are much taller, like 7 feet 6 inches (2.29 m) Yao Ming. The center usually scores "down low, in the paint" (near the basket, in the key). Centers contribute to the team by using their physique and skill to score close to the basket, as well as both gather rebounds and "set the pick" in pick and roll plays. Some centers, such as Mehmet Okur, can be good perimeter shooters, which can draw a good rebounding and shot-blocking center away from the basket.
While the center position remains a pivotal position, the scope of the position has changed. Athletic Power Forwards dominate the position due to their athletic prowess, defensive skills, or mismatch ability to shoot from the high post. Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire are examples of Power Forwards who have made the transition to the Center spot. The center position is not just the classic 'back to the basket' player anymore, a la Tim Duncan or Shaquille O'Neal, and Yao Ming. The fast pace of the 'Run and Gun' offenses of coaches such as Mike D'Antoni call for less traditional center play, and more up and down the court style. The 90's may be the last we have seen of the "Back to Basket" Center – Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, and Shaquille O'Neal.
Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors, Kendrick Perkins of the Boston Celtics, Mehmet Okur of the Utah Jazz, Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets, Shaquille O'Neal of the Boston Celtics, Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies, Greg Oden of the Portland Trail Blazers, Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers, Brook Lopez of the New Jersey Nets, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic,Semih Erden of the Boston Celtics, and Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls are examples of current centers in the NBA. Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Willis Reed, Hakeem Olajuwon and George Mikan are considered all-time greats at the center position.