here are sports like football or tennis that everyone, for better or for worse, knows the rules of. And this is either because they are repeatedly repeated in the newspapers (how many times have we heard of offside in our life?), Or because they are relatively simple. There are others, however, which, although widespread and practiced, remain a mystery to non-fans. Generally, in cases like these, one way of salvation is the Olympics, in which commentators at least try to explain the fundamental rules. But the operation is not always simple. Today we want to clarify a doubt of this type, talking about the roles of basketball.
Among these sports that are widespread but not always clear to everyone, we can in fact also include basketball, which in the last thirty years has gone from a niche sport to a global phenomenon mainly thanks to the NBA, but which still remains unknown to many.
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Some time ago we tried to explain the basic rules, while today we would like to introduce you, in fact, the roles. Because it is true that you only play 5 against 5, each of those five players who are on the field has particularities and very specific tasks. Let’s see which ones.
1. The point guard
The director of the team
As the name suggests, the point guard is literally the team’s game builder. It is he who at the beginning of the action brings the ball into the opponent’s half, who calls the patterns, and who receives the indications from the coach first.
In short, it is he who dictates the timing of the action to the whole team and is, therefore, the director. The very word that designates him sums up his characteristics well: he creates the game. From a technical point of view, he must therefore necessarily be an excellent setter, quick in changes of direction, and quick in thinking too.
Usually, this is a not particularly tall player, precisely because he must be agile and skilled at getting into spaces, but he can be equipped with a good three-point shot, which can become a lethal weapon when the schemes start to run out.
He also has to work hard on defense, because he has to curb the ambitions of his counterpart, who generally tends to be very mobile. Finally, it is often important that he also knows how to penetrate quickly by exploiting the blocks, go to the shot, or unload the ball on a teammate after having attracted the defense.
The innovation brought by Magic Johnson
Marked, in the diagrams, with the number 1, the role of the playmaker has declined in various ways throughout the history of basketball. As we will see also for the other roles, it was certainly the Americans who most of all marked his physiognomy.
Certainly one of the most original interpreters was Magic Johnson, who did not respect almost any of the canons we have listed so far: he was in fact 2 meters and 6 centimeters tall, but he had an enviable vision of the game and a treatment of the ball, which allowed him to penetrate, unload and even bounce.
Among the greats of the past, we must also include John Stockton (who holds the career record for the highest number of assists and steals) and Mike D’Antoni, who now works as a coach. On the other hand, because of their vision of the game, point guards can easily switch to a career as a coach.
The current best-known and most admired point guards are Steph Curry, with an incredible 3-point shot, and Russell Westbrook, physically unstoppable. Immediately behind in the hearts of the fans are stars of a few years ago such as Chris Paul, Tony Parker, and Derrick Rose.
2. The guard
A lethal shot
That of the guard is the other role that lies on this side of the three-point line. In fact, he supports the point guard in the construction of the action, helps him to turn the ball, and sometimes, if the point guard is marked too tight, he takes his place of him in the construction of the action.
In fact, he generally has very similar characteristics to the number 1: not too tall (although usually taller than him), with a good ball-handling, fast, agile, and above all deadly in the 3-point shot. A feature that, in recent years, has become very relevant.
Called more and more often “shooting guard”, this player in fact tends to penetrate less than the point guard in the area, remaining outside the 3-point shooting line (or returning to it, after having appropriately exploited the blocks).
There he must always be ready to receive the ball and, if he is a specialist, shoot immediately, before giving his scorer time to swoop down on him. Some performers of this role have now optimized the movements so much that they can receive and release the ball in a few tenths of a second.
The role of Michael Jordan
In the diagrams, the guard is marked with the number 2, and depending on the circumstances and the way of playing can adapt to different solutions. Suffice it to say that the most famous guard of all time was Michael Jordan, one who certainly did not just receive and shoot, but penetrated, crushed, and defended in every position on the pitch.
Other unforgettable performers in the role were Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Reggie Miller, and Manu Ginóbili. Among the youngest, we must instead mention James Harden of the Houston Rockets, Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers (who can also play as a winger), and our Marco Belinelli.
3. The small forward
An all-rounder in attack and defense
After a couple of game creators, let’s move towards what theoretically should be the finalizers, that is, the two wings and the center. I say “theoretically” because these names actually come from an age when basketball roles were pretty static, but a lot has come a long way since then.
And if the two wings in English are still called forward, that is “attackers”, we must not forget that their tasks are now extensive. It is not uncommon, for example, to see them move along the entire attack front, as if they were guards, in order to find the best position from which to shoot each time.
This is even more true for the small forward, which in many ways represents a compromise between the characteristics of the shooting guard and those of the strong forward (and it is no coincidence that, depending on the needs, he can also play both of these roles. ).
It is in fact a tall but not very tall player – usually 2 meters or so -, with a certain physical prowess but at the same time fast and snappy. He is usually indicated, tactically, with the number 3.
Shooting, penetration, and defense
His duties in the field are manifold. He must be gifted with a decent shot from outside and from medium range, but he must also be skilled in penetration, the change of pace, and the footwork. This is why he becomes difficult to mark, as the defense never knows if he will take the shot or start dribbling.
In defense, he too must play his part both by stealing balls and by collaborating on rebounds. In short, he must be a bit of a handyman, a joker, good at performing all the different functions, and this characteristic of him has emerged in particular in recent years.
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Suffice it to say that the three greatest contemporary performers of the role are LeBron James – one who manages to be powerful and fast at the same time -, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard. That is three players whose greatest talent lies in being able to do things that with that body it would seem impossible to do.
Other great names of the recent past are those of Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony, while going further back in time we cannot fail to mention Julius Erving and Larry Bird, two players who have made NBA history.
4. The big wing
Hard work in the low post
The big forward acts in the same areas of the field as the small forward, but in general he can put into action a more important physique, less devoted to running and sprinting but more strong-willed under the basket. It is no coincidence that he is, together with the center, the tallest player on the team, so it is not uncommon that in particular cases (injuries or tactical choices) he can also replace the “number 5”.
In attack he tends to position himself with his back to the basket and his typical game is the ” low post ” one, as you may have heard several times during the commentary. In practice, the big forward often receives the ball in an area between the three-second area (the part painted under the basket) and the end line.
There he finds himself with the defender behind him, who marks him tight, and the ball in his hands. For this, he begins to dribble while trying to push the opponent further with his back, in order to approach the basket and turn at the last to shoot, perhaps with a hook or with a throw-away.
Able to withstand the impact
The strong forward must therefore have a physique capable of withstanding the impact of the opponents but also a good shot because he is often one of the privileged terminals in the attack. In defense, on the other hand, he must in turn support the opponent’s momentum and be ready to rebound.
To give a few examples among active players in recent years, typical strong wings are Dirk Nowitzki (gifted with an extraordinary distance shot), Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge. Other players who would be naturally strong wings, such as Pau Gasol or Kevin Garnett, have always been used as centers. In the past, however, great interpreters of the role can be found in Kevin McHale, Karl Malone, and Charles Barkley. Players have often played a central role in the teams they have played for, although today perhaps the importance of the big forward has diminished a bit over time.
Finally, a note of merit in this role also for the Italians: both Danilo Gallinari and Andrea Bargnani have been and continue to be excellent interpreters of the more modern version of this role, even if they have often played in other positions in their careers.
5. The center
Under the basket
We conclude with the number 5, the center, what was once called the pivot. That is the tallest player of the team and the one usually slower, whose contribution is essential under the basket (even if there are now centers that know how to shoot well even from medium or long distance).
Typically, this player’s offensive duties are varied. He helps the point guard by blocking his marker, receives in the run to go to dunk, spins the ball, paves the way for his teammates’ penetrations, and rebounds, and tries to score tap-ins.
Even more important, however, is perhaps his contribution in defense. His team’s three-second area is his home, and no one should be able to raid there. For this he places himself just outside it, ready to help when some of the companions lose their man, closing the spaces with his body.
He must therefore be able to read the development of the action in advance and be ready to jump to assert his centimeters and place a good block. In addition, he has to cut out, to prevent the opponent from bouncing.
Little mobile but lethal
Its most common weaknesses lie in mobility. Being tall and muscular he can’t be particularly fast, and can often seem slow and awkward. Therefore try to dribble as little as possible – if not back to the basket – and not to be surprised by the opponent’s blocks that free a quick point guard against him.
Among the historical interpreters of this role, we must remember Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, real legends of the time in which this was really the fundamental role of the game.
Today things have largely changed, so much so that there are teams that play almost without a center (a bit like in football the “false nueve” is used, that is a center forward who is not a real center forward). However, there is no shortage of large centers even in recent times.
Dominating the scene between the 90s and the 00s was Shaquille O’Neal, while today the most famous pivots are DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard, who is not without defects. In Italy, the greatest center ever was undoubtedly Dino Meneghin.