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The Basketball Positions:
Skills Your Players Need to Know

Different basketball positions require different skills and abilities from the players. Every member of the team needs to understand the skills needed for their position and the importance and role of their position within the team, if we want the team game as a whole to come together and the team to play as one strong unit. It is our job, then, as coach, to choose players for positions they are suited to, and then instruct them on how to improve and implement skills that are most likely to help them do their best in their position.

Since each basketball position requires different skills, or at least, different emphasis on the various basketball skills, then each position needs to be approached differently. There's only one rule for all - make everyone else look good! By carrying out their roles well, practicing skills that are important to their position so that they can play the position to the best of their abilities, then the team as a whole will work well together and everyone looks good.

Basketball Position:
Point Guard

The point guard is the floor general - he needs to see the court, know the plays, know the players, see the gaps in the defense. He needs to run the offense, run the fast break, control the tempo of the game. And he needs to be a leader, a motivator. He is the alpha male on the team, the guy who looks to lead and can handle the different egos effectively.

Skills and abilities important for this basketball position:
  • Quickness and speed

  • Ballhandling and passing skills

  • Leadership, motivation, teambuilding

  • Reaction time - the ability to adjust quickly according to the situation

  • Be a threat to drive - take advantage of the opportunities when they arise, and pull the defense out to free up the key

  • On defense - stop the ball carrier. The point guard is rarely the defensive specialist because it's too energy draining, but the point guard generally matches up with the opposing point guard and stops penetration and slows down plays by pressuring the ball.

Basketball Position:
Shooting Guard

The name says it all - this is the second guard, with the major responsibility of shooting the ball. There are, of course, other aspects of the shooting guard's game - e.g., quite often, a shooting guard can be rotated into point guard if necessary - but being the best shooter on the team is generally the main requirement.

Skills and abilities important for this basketball position:
  • Excellent shooter - 2 and 3 point shooting threat. Needs quick release to shoot before defense adjusts. Not just for scoring ability, but also as threat to score so that defense comes out on him and there's less congestion inside which allows us to run plays

  • Good ballhandler - helps the point guard take the ball upcourt, especially against a press

  • Good passer - the offense often starts on the side. Once the inside opens up, the shooting guard needs to get the ball to the open man

  • Be a threat to drive - take advantage of holes in the defense and pull the defense out

  • On defense - can be the defensive specialist who hounds the ball, depending on the defense being run. The shooting guard can work harder and be winded sooner than the point guard, since the shooting guard can be taken out of the game for a rest easier than the point guard can.

Basketball Position:
Small Forward

The small forward is generally a scorer, especially from mid range (15 feet out or so). A jack-of-all-trades in that he scores, rebounds, runs the break, and plays quick, hard defense.

Skills and abilities important for this basketball position:
  • Consistent short- to mid-range (10-15 foot) shot

  • Strong drive, and the ability to finish when bounced around by bigger players

  • Quickness and speed - not as quick as the guards, but strong first step on the drive and the ability to explode to the basket

  • The ability to finish the fast break strong

  • Quick reaction time - looking to steal longer passes when on defense and transition quickly into offense

  • Strong rebounder, especially on the fringe of the key - to grab long rebounds that arc over the bigger guys.

  • Excellent foul shooter - because they often perform inside against larger but slower opponents, they should expect to get fouled often and go to the line. Make them count.

Basketball Position:
Power Forward

The big men. Generally the biggest guys on the court. They clean the boards and put the ball back in the hoop. They also are pivotal players when running plays, sometimes as scorers, but more often as passers and screeners.

Skills and abilities important for this basketball position:
  • Excellent rebounder - strong box-out skills, good jump, good positioning, make the put back. Be able to finish the inside shot while getting banged around

  • Intimidate drivers and shooters - the threat of rejection is often as good as the rejection itself, though it may not look as pretty in the highlight reels

  • Strong moves in the key - drop step and baby hook

  • Set solid screens to help free up cutters

  • Good passer - many plays can be built on getting the ball to the high post, and then opening up lanes for wings or small forwards to cut through

  • Good foul shooter - big men should expect to get hit a lot, and occasionally a foul will get called in their favor. Being able to sink the free throws will help your big men rack up points.

A Few Final Points

  • Don't assign positions for the first couple of weeks of practice. Watch the players, move them around, see what they can do before placing them in a role

  • Some players are versatile, can play any role. Magic Johnson played every role the Lakers could throw at him, and earned MVP awards for it. Other players are born to play a specific role - as soon as you recognize what that role is, put them there and train them to it

  • Don't neglect skills training once you have slotted someone into a role. Train them well for that role, but also train them in basic skills - centers need to learn to dribble, they just don't need to be able to dribble as well as guards. And guards need to know how to box out, even though they won't be getting bumped as much as centers. Put the focus where the position calls for, but give some training in all aspects of the game to all players.

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