Reinventing the NBA – What is a “Guard” Anyway??? Do We Still Need Positions or Should They Just Be Renamed?

Two Guards. Two Forwards. One Center. The traditional, classic basketball lineup.

These days on the more progressive teams you may see a starting five consisting of “Three Guards and Two Forwards” or “Two Guards and Three Forwards” – the Center seems to be the most expendable spot. Sometimes you may even see “Three Guards, One Forward, One Center”.

But whatever the combination used to equal the requisite FIVE, the names used to describe the positions never changes – Guard, Forward, Center.

130 years ago when basketball was invented players shot the ball into a peach basket. Every time a shot was made the game had to be stopped so they could get the ball out. Eventually they figured out to cut a hole in the basket to speed things up.

The point is that things change. Better ideas present themselves and you adapt and evolve in order to improve. Basketball has not been shy about adapting, evolving, and changing. Rules have been rewritten over and over. The lines on the court itself have been redrawn and reconceptualized over the years. Lanes widened. New lines added. Basketball as a sport is not impervious to change.

In today’s modern game, even at the High School level, players possess skills that far outweigh even the best of the best from decades ago. Of any sport, basketball is the one where you can clearly see the advancement of athletic skill throughout the years. Roger Staubach throwing a football doesn’t look that un-similar to today’s Quarterback. But watching someone from 50 years ago shoot a Set Shot compared to a modern Jump Shot is like watching two different sports. Bob Cousy is considered one the greatest dribblers of All-Time but watch his highlights then watch 7 foot 4 Bol Bol dribble the length of the court and tell me who has more control of the ball?

Things change. The game has progressed at an unimaginable clip. Yet the terms by which we refer to players hasn’t changed at all.

In other sports positions make perfect sense. In Baseball a Second Baseman stands near Second Base. In football, you have rules regarding where a player of a certain position must be. 7 players on the Line, 4 players in the backfield. That’s set in stone for the Offensive Team. Sure the names are kinda of wonky, the Fullback and the Halfback seemed to have switched spots over the years, but they both need to be in the backfield.

Basketball has no such limits. There’s no rule saying the Center must stand in the Lane at all times. Maybe 50 years ago your Center stayed in the center of the court but these days most Centers spend the majority of their minutes 20 feet from the basket. Your Forward used to be forward down the court while your Guard guarded the backcourt. But nowadays everyone is everywhere on the floor so why are we sticking with these outdated labels?

We cut the hole in the Peach Basket a long time ago. It’s time to do the same with positions. Gone are Guard, Forward and Center and their various permutations. In their place I propose the following NEW POSITIONS OF BASKETBALL (and yes there are more than three because there are more than three types of basketball players). All that matters is that you have five players on the court, which five of these types of players should be the only choice that’s made.

WING – This one is obvious and in fact most “Forwards” are already referred to as “Wings” you just don’t see them listed as such in the Game Program. Its beyond time to start labeling players officially as Wings. The distinction I’ll make here between the current use of “wing” and The Wing as a position is a player who spends the vast majority of his time beyond the Three Point Arc, usually on the side of the court or corners. They are tall yes, but more importantly they are LONG. They can get their shot off over virtually any defender. Conversely on D, they are versatile with the ability to guard both smaller quick players but also taller guys as well. Kevin Durant is often called a wing player but he’s usually at the top of the key so he wouldn’t be a Wing. Same with Paul George or Jayson Tatum. Those type of star players are not wings. The Wing is a role player, a side man, quite literally.

SKILLS – Three Point Shooting, Covering a wide variety of players on Defense, Switching, Wing Span

Current Wing Players – Khris Middleton, Duncan Robinson, Tim Hardaway Jr.

BIG – Another term that you often hear bandied about – “He’s a Big”, “That team needs a Big”, “They need to trade for a Big” but what exactly is a “Big”. A Big would be the closest equivalent to your traditional Center. A Big clogs up the lane, blocks shots, sets screens on offensive. Your Big is another role player. He rebounds. He bangs up on other big guys. He’s not an offensive weapon beyond ally oops and put backs. He definitely does not handle the ball and he does NOT SHOOT THREES.

SKILLS – Blocking shots, rebounding, taking up space in the lane, setting screens, being big

Current Bigs – Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams, Time Lord, Boban

POINT BIG – A Point Big is large guy that has the skills necessary to run an offensive set. He can dribble, he can pass, he can score but these skills come in the XL package. He’s the Super Sized Point Guard. On Offensive he runs things but on Defensive he still guards opposing bigger players though he’s usually athletic enough to also guard small guys as well.

SKILLS – Handling the ball, Great Offensive Mind, Makes good decisions, Can score when needed

Current Point Bigs – Nikola Jokic, Draymond Green, Ben Simmons, Zion, Luka

SCORER – This guy gets buckets. But he does it from everywhere on the court. He can shoot Threes. He can post up down low. He can take guys one on one off the dribble. Basically this is your Star Player. Not every team has one but the best teams do. This player is your offensive focal point. He may also play good D but that’s not his job. His job is to score.

SKILLS – Scoring the basketball

Current Scorers – Steph Curry, Jayson Tatum, LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Bradley Beal, Luka, Trae Young

Small – We have bigs so why not smalls too? Thirty years ago the unassuming Nintendo video game Ice Hockey inadvertently predicted the future. You choose your players in Ice Hockey not by position type but by body type:

Fat, medium or tall & skinny not defenseman or forward. What a concept! Only took the world three decades to catch up.

A basketball Small is your traditional guard spot but he doesn’t necessarily have to be small in size. Maybe he’s tall but slight and skinny or maybe he’s short but thiccc. Either way he excels at ball handling and on ball D.

SKILLS – Ball handling, one on one D, steals, playmaking

Currents Smalls – Marcus Smart, De’Aarron Fox, Chris Paul, Payton Pritchard

Bigs, Point Bigs, Smalls, Wings, and Scorers. Tell me that doesn’t cover the variety of players in basketball today better than Guard, Forward, Center? And nobody is saying you need to play all five types together. Hell you could send out four Wings and a Big or four Smalls and a Point Big. Hell I’d love to see a two Point Big lineup with say a Scorer and two Wings. The variations are endless and certainly provide a lot better description of what is currently being put out there onto NBA floors.

One comment

  1. I’d suggest a variant in your “Bigs”to distinguish the pure Big bigs (Like an Aron Baynes) and the Rim Runners (Like Clint Capela)… neither should really shoot or handle, and both should “protect the rim” although in different ways, but function differently on offense.

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