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Not Three. Not Five. Four!

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For decades basketball players have been simply classified as guards, forwards, and centers and for the most part it was very easy to immediately tell who was who. The smallest guys were the guards, the medium guys were the forwards, and the big slow guy was the center.

Then at some point players started developing more slightly specialized skill sets and eventually everyone became known as scoring point guards, off guards, small forwards, power forwards, and even the occasional point forward.

Creative coaches, often out of necessity because of their available personnel, started tinkering with both smaller and bigger than average lineups, which made most previous labels obsolete. On top of that, numerous high school and club players didn't want to be known as a center or forward fearing that it would hinder their chances of being recruited.

After all, a 6'4" "guard" who posts up and plays inside most of the time may get more looks from recruiters than a 6'4" center. Different lineups and different needs required different labels and players eventually became 1's, 2's, 3's, 4's and 5's. (This also made a lot more sense than calling a 5'5", 85 pound sixth grader a power forward!)

Now all these descriptive positions, labels, and numbers are great for television commentators and newspaper reporters but are generally not accurate; not by a long shot. In reality, there are exactly four functional positions on a basketball team. Not three. (Guard, forward, center) Not five. (Lead guard, off guard, small forward, power forward, center or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Four!

What are the four positions? Ball-handler, post, athlete, and shooter. It's possible to have a competitive team, even a winning team without having these four positions filled, but I don't think you can have a championship team. What about the fifth "position?" Great coaches fill it with "another" depending on their personal philosophy or system of play.

Which of these four positions is the most important? This might sound flippant but the most important of these positions is almost always the one you are lacking! If you don't have a ball-handler everyone on your schedule is going to press you and you are going to wish you had one. If you don't have a shooter you can expect to see a steady diet of either zone or sagging man to man defenses. Get the idea? If you've got these four roles successfully filled then you have the personnel necessary to both attack and adjust to your opponents.

Granted, there are a few exceptional players who can fill more than one of these roles (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, etc.) and if you are lucky enough to have one of those types of players on your roster it's like having a six on five advantage. So forget about filling your roster with off guards, small forwards, power forwards, stretch 4's, etc. and instead concentrate on building your team around roles that players can actually understand, identify with, and ultimately master.

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