Whenever you talk to a basketball enthusiast, they talk as if the game wouldn’t have been what it is today if the NBA history didn’t happen. In layman’s terms, it’s hard to argue that every new version of greatness hasn’t been influenced by the NBA traditions of the past. You can’t imagine Klay Thompson with out thinking about Jerry West for example, or forget the great Chicago Bulls of the mid-90s. There’s a certain connection that relates one generation of NBA greatness to the next one. One of these connections concerns the classic five basketball positions, and how they’ve evolved from the historic generations to the modern players you see on the court today.
When the sport of basketball started years ago, the position known as “point guard” was regarded as a place where a player would receive inbound passes, take the basketball up the floor, shout out play and set up the offense; acting as a second scoring option and passing to whomever is in the best scoring position. However, it has evolved over the years, and even though the “pass-first” varieties of point guards are still present in this day and age, most modern points guards have more options to take the shot themselves and there are very few players who are only facilitators.
The position has several renowned figures to pay regard to as it evolved over the previous years: Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, and Bob Cousy, and Stephen Curry just to name a few.
In the 90s, the shooting guard in basketball was known as the lethal scorer. And it didn’t matter if the player was a mid-range shooter, someone who had to drive to the basket, or a good range shooter for the long jumper. If you consider the qualities of the shooting guards present in the sport of basketball prior to the last decade, they had these things in common: wiry, tall, and a focus on shooting. The characteristics can go on and on. As for the popular names in the games, Michael Jordan should the first to get mentioned, but the era of early 90’s belonged to Ron Harper, an excellent example of what a shooting guard should do in the classic era of the NBA.
However, NBA has since then become the league of the power forwards and point guards, so the shooting guard’s role has changed in recent times. The role of the high caliber shooting guard who dominated in the past have fallen to wayside. Instead, a lot of smaller backcourt lineups are preferred aiming to capitalize on new defensive perimeter rules.
In the early days of the NBA, the small forward was more of a passer than anything else. A few players started to become so good at shooting that they honed their defensive skills for playing under the basket and used their shooting ability to shoot the ball from far away for three pointers and long jumpers. One of the greatest names associated with the small forward position is Scotty Pippen.
Pippen lead the evolution of the small forward and paved the way for the likes of LeBron James and Paul Pierce. In the modern era, you now see the almost ultimate evolution of the greatness of this position in James.
The power forward position has also seen change over time with more of an emphasis on jump shooting and longer range shooting. That being said most power forwards still focus on having their back to the basket and shooting from close range. They also heavily focus on defense and defending the basket. Tim Duncan is universally considered the best power forward of all time who was a great short range shooter with a bank shot and a top defender. Moses Malone and Dirk Nowitzki are among the best ever as well with Nowitzki having more of a focus on long range shooting.
The center, known in the basketball world as the five or pivot, is perhaps the most crucial position in the game of basketball. When basketball started, the main responsibility of the center was to score from close to the basket. However, their role is becoming redundant in this day and age, thanks to the strong and tall forwards who are filling in for centers, or who continue to shoot from a power position. The renowned centers of the game include Shaquille O’Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell.
That’s how the classic five basketball positions have evolved over the years. What makes them special today is that all of them have developed unique abilities that fit the game as its played today under the rules set by the NBA for fast paced high scoring offenses. All that said, they contribute to an NBA team as a whole, just like they did in the past.