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Positions and structures

Basketball positions in the offensive zone

Although the rules do not specify any positions
whatsoever, they have evolved as part of basketball. During the first
five decades of basketball's evolution, two guards, two forwards, and
one center were used. Since the 1980s, more specific positions have
evolved, namely:

  1. point guard: organizes the team's offense by controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right player at the right time

  2. shooting guard: creates a high volume of shots on offense; guards the opponent's best perimeter player on defense

  3. small forward:
    often primarily responsible for scoring points via cuts to the basket
    and dribble penetration; on defense seeks rebounds and steals, but
    sometimes plays more actively

  4. power forward:
    plays offensively often with his back to the basket; on defense, plays
    under the basket (in a zone defense) or against the opposing power
    forward (in man-to-man defense)

  5. center: uses size, either to score (on offense) or to protect the basket closely (on defense)

The above descriptions are flexible. On some occasions, teams will choose to use a three guard offense,
replacing one of the forwards or the center with a third guard. The
most commonly interchanged positions are point guard and shooting
guard, especially if both players have good leadership and ball
handling skills.

There are two main defensive strategies: zone defense and man-to-man defense. Zone defense involves players in defensive positions Guarding whichever opponent is in their zone. In man-to-man defense,
each defensive player guards a specific opponent and tries to prevent
him from taking action. Variations of these two main structures are
also used.


Offensive plays are more varied, normally involving planned passes
and movement by players without the ball. A quick movement by an
offensive player without the ball to gain an advantageous position is a
Cut. A legal attempt by an offensive player to stop an opponent
from guarding a teammate, by standing in the defender's way such that
the teammate cuts next to him, is a screen or pick. The two plays are combined in the pick and roll,
in which a player sets a pick and then "rolls" away from the pick
towards the basket. Screens and cuts are very important in offensive
plays; these allow the quick passes and teamwork which can lead to a
successful basket. Teams almost always have several offensive plays
planned to ensure their movement is not predictable. On court, the
point guard is usually responsible for indicating which play will occur.

Defensive and offensive structures, and positions, are more
emphasized in higher levels in basketball; it is these that a coach
normally requests a Time-out to discuss.



Player releases a short Jump shot, while her defender is either knocked down, or trying to "take a charge."

Shooting is the act of attempting to score points throwing the ball
through the basket. While methods can vary with players and situations,
the most common technique can be outlined here.

The player should be positioned facing the basket with feet about
shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and back straight. The
player holds the ball to rest in the dominant hand's fingertips (the
shooting arm) slightly above the head, with the other hand on the side
of the ball. To aim the ball, the player's elbow should be aligned
vertically, with the forearm facing in the direction of the basket. The
ball is shot by bending and extending the knees and extending the
shooting arm to become straight; the ball rolls off the finger tips
while the wrist completes a full downward flex motion. When the
shooting arm is stationary for a moment after the ball released, it is
known as a follow-through; it is incorporated to maintain accuracy.
Generally, the non-shooting arm is used only to guide the shot, not to
power it.

Players often try to put a steady backspin on the ball to deaden its
impact with the rim. The ideal trajectory of the shot is somewhat
arguable, but generally coaches will profess proper arch. Most players
shoot directly into the basket, but shooters may use the backboard to
redirect the ball into the basket.

The two most common shots that use the above described set up are the set shot and the jump shot.
The set shot is taken from a standing position, with neither foot
leaving the Floor, typically used for free throws. The jump shot is
taken while in mid-air, near the top of the jump. This provides much
greater power and range, and it also allows the player to elevate over
the defender. Failure to release the ball before returning the feet to
the ground is a traveling violation.

Another common shot is called the layup.
This shot requires the player to be in motion toward the basket, and to
"lay" the ball "up" and into the basket, typically off the backboard
(the backboard-free, underhand version is called a finger roll). The most crowd-pleasing, and typically highest-percentage accuracy shot is the slam dunk, in which the player jumps very high, and throws the ball downward, straight through the hoop.

A missed shot that misses the basket completely is referred to as an air ball.

The best shooters combine great dedication, coordination, and
confidence. Practice is essential to shoot at a high level. Getting
open is also crucial; at the pro level, top shooters rarely miss when
given an unguarded look at the basket.




Carlos Arroyo shown here with the Utah Jazz, left, passes to a teammate.

A pass is a method of moving the ball between players. Most passes
are accompanied by a step forward to increase power and are followed
through with the hands to ensure accuracy.

A staple pass is the chest pass. The ball is passed directly
from the passer's chest to the Receiver's chest. A proper chest pass
involves an outward snap of the thumbs to add velocity and leaves the
defense little time to react.

Another type of pass is the bounce pass. Here, the passer
bounces the ball crisply about two-thirds of the way from his own chest
to the receiver. The ball strikes the court and bounces up toward the
receiver. The bounce pass takes longer to complete than the chest pass,
but it is also harder for the opposing team to intercept (kicking the
ball deliberately is a violation). Thus, players often use the bounce
pass in crowded moments, or to pass around a defender.

The overhead pass is used to pass the ball over a defender. The ball is released while over the passer's head.

The Outlet Pass occurs after a team gets a defensive Rebound. The next pass after the rebound is the outlet pass.

The crucial aspect of any good pass is being impossible to
intercept. Good passers can pass the ball with great accuracy and touch
and know exactly where each of their teammates like to receive the
ball. A special way of doing this is passing the ball without looking
at the receiving teammate. This is called a no-look pass.



U.S. Naval Academy ("Navy") player, left, attempts to dribble past U.S. Military Academy ("Army") defender



Dribbling is the act of bouncing the ball continuously, and is a
requirement for a player to take steps with the ball. To dribble, a
player pushes the ball down towards the ground rather than patting it;
this ensures greater control.

When dribbling past an opponent, the dribbler should dribble with
the hand farthest from the opponent, making it more difficult for the
defensive player to get to the ball. It is therefore important for a
player to be able to dribble competently with both hands.

Good dribblers (or "ball handlers") tend to bounce the ball low to
the ground, reducing the travel from the floor to the hand, making it
more difficult for the defender to "Steal" the ball. Additionally, good
ball handlers frequently dribble behind their backs, between their
legs, and change hands and directions of the dribble frequently, making
a less predictable dribbling pattern that is more difficult to defend.

A skilled player can dribble without watching the ball, using the dribbling motion or peripheral vision
to keep track of the ball's location. By not having to focus on the
ball, a player can look for teammates or scoring opportunities, as well
as avoid the danger of someone stealing the ball from them.



At the professional level, most male players are above 1.90 meters
(6 ft 3 in) and most women above 1.70 meters (5 ft 7 in). Guards, for
whom physical coordination and ball-handling skills are crucial, tend
to be the smallest players. Almost all forwards in the men's pro
leagues are 2 meters (6 ft 6 in) or taller. Most centers are over 2.1
meters (6 ft 10.5 in) tall. The tallest players ever in the NBA, Manute Bol and Gheorghe Mureşan, were 2.31 m (7 ft 7 in). The tallest current NBA player is Yao Ming, who stands at 2.29 m (7 ft 6 in).

The shortest player ever to play in the NBA is Muggsy Bogues at 1.60 meters (5 ft 3 in). Other short players have thrived at the pro level. Anthony "Spud" Webb
was just 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m) tall, but had a 42-inch (1.07 m)
vertical leap, giving him significant height when jumping. The shortest
player in the NBA today is Earl Boykins
at 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m). While shorter players are often not very
good at defending against shooting, their ability to navigate quickly
through crowded areas of the court and steal the ball by reaching low
are strengths.



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