Updated date:

The NBA's Best Players by Position—All-Time and Current

Author:

Ecoggins has an MBA in Global Management from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from CSU.

Find out who are some of the best NBA players by their respective positions.

Find out who are some of the best NBA players by their respective positions.

When watching a basketball game on TV, commentators will refer to players as the 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 position. These numbers refer to the positions of the five players currently on the floor for their team. Given their relative size and versatility, a player might be used in more than one position during the course of a game. This article will help decipher this vocabulary and will also list some of the best NBA players by their positions.

Keep in mind that these lists are not meant to be ranked or exhaustive.

Magic Johnson was the star of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 80s.

Magic Johnson was the star of the Los Angeles Lakers during the 80s.

The 1 Position (Point Guards)

The 1 position refers to what is also commonly known as a point guard. A point guard is primarily used to call out plays, handle the ball, and set up his teammates for scoring opportunities. Point guards bring the ball up court, have excellent court vision that helps them find the open man, and have first-rate passing skills. They have to adapt to what the opposing team is doing on defense to ensure that a scoring opportunity is created. They must read the court to know when to go for a fast break or when to go for a more calculated approach. Of course, point guards are also good at playing defense and shooting when necessary.

Best Points Guards of All Time

  • Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers: Five-time NBA champion, three-time NBA MVP, 12-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks: NBA champion, NBA MVP, 12-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics: Six-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, 12-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Jerry West of the Los Angeles Lakers: NBA champion, 14-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Walt Frazier of the New York Knicks: Two-time NBA champion, seven-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • John Stockton of the Utah Jazz: 10-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns: Two-time NBA MVP, eight-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons: Two-time NBA champion, 12-time NBA All Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Gary Payton of the Seattle Supersonics: NBA champion, nine-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Allen Iverson of Philadelphia 76ers: NBA MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee

Best Point Guards Currently in the NBA

  • Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors: Three-time NBA champion, two-time NBA MVP, six-time NBA All-Star
  • Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets: NBA champion, six-time NBA All-Star
  • Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder: 10-time NBA All-Star
  • Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets: NBA MVP, nine-time NBA All-Star
Michael Jordan dominated the 90s with six NBA championships for the Chicago Bulls.

Michael Jordan dominated the 90s with six NBA championships for the Chicago Bulls.

The 2 Position (Shooting Guards)

The number 2 position on a basketball team refers to shooting guards. As the name suggests, their primary role is to score. A shooting guard will be able to shoot from all areas of the court, especially from three-point range. Like a point guard, shooting guards will possess other skills, such as ball handling and superior jumping skills. They must also play excellent defense and have a high free throw percentage.

Best Shooting Guards of All Time

  • Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls: Six-time NBA champion, five-time NBA MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers: Five-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, 18-time NBA All-Star
  • Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat: Three-time NBA champion, 13-time NBA All-Star
  • Ray Allen of Seattle Supersonics and Boston Celtics: Two-time NBA champion, 10-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers: Five-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • George Gervin of the Antonio Spurs: Nine-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • David Thompson of the Denver Nuggets: Four-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Clyde Drexler of the Portland Trail Blazers: NBA champion, 10-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Charlie Scott of the Boston Celtics: NBA champion, three-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee

Best Shooting Guards Currently in the NBA

  • James Harden of the Houston Rockets: NBA MVP, eight-time NBA All-Star
  • Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors: Three-time NBA MVP, five-time NBA All-Star
  • Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards: Two-time NBA All-Star

Best Defensive Shooting Guards

The term shooting guard can be a bit of a misnomer as some of the best in this position were great because of their defensive skills rather than their shooting skills. Some of the best shooting guards known for their defense included:

  • Joe Dumars of the Detroit Pistons: Two-time NBA champion, six-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Dennis Johnson of the Boston Celtics: Three-time NBA champion, five-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
Larry Bird is synonymous with the Boston Celtics. His rivalry with Magic Johnson and the Lakers is considered to be one the greatest in sports.

Larry Bird is synonymous with the Boston Celtics. His rivalry with Magic Johnson and the Lakers is considered to be one the greatest in sports.

The 3 Position (Small Forward)

The 3 position on a team is also known as a small forward. Small forwards are usually taller than guards and typically score like shooting guards. Some small forwards are quick enough that they might be assigned to defend against a shooting guard. The best small forwards are flamboyant high fliers and superior scorers both around the rim and beyond the three-point line. Many are also excellent ball handlers and top finishers on fast breaks. This is one of the more versatile positions as small forwards can excel in a variety of roles, whether it be driving to the hoop or guarding multiple positions.

Best Small Forwards of All Time

  • Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics: Three-time NBA champion, three-time NBA MVP, 12-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Elgin Baylor of the Los Angeles Lakers: 11-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Julius Erving (Dr. J) of the Philadelphia 76ers: NBA champion, NBA MVP, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Rick Barry of the Golden State Warriors: NBA champion, eight-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls: Six-time NBA champion, seven-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks: Nine-time NBA All-Star
  • John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics: Eight-time NBA champion, 13-time NBA All-Star

Best Small Forwards Currently in the NBA

  • Lebron James of the Los Angeles Lakers: Three-time NBA champion, four-time NBA MVP, 16-time NBA All-Star
  • Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets: Two-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, 10-time NBA All-Star
Tim Duncan, who spent 19 years in San Antonio, had his number retired by the Spurs.

Tim Duncan, who spent 19 years in San Antonio, had his number retired by the Spurs.

The 4 Position (Power Forward)

The number 4 position is also called the power forward. Power forwards generally play offense with their backs to the basket in what is called the low post position. They typically shoot from close range, but many power forwards have been known for their shots from mid-range. These players are also among the best rebounders on a team. This is due to the fact that they are typically placed under the basket for zone defense strategies.

Best Power Forwards of All Time

  • Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz: Two-time NBA MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs: Five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA MVP, 15-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame Inductee
  • Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns: NBA MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee
  • Dennis Rodman of the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, and Los Angeles Lakers: Five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame Inductee
  • Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics: NBA champion, NBA MVP, 15-time NBA All-Star
  • Bob Pettit of the Saint Louis Hawks: NBA champion, two-time NBA MVP, 11-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Dave DeBusschere of the New York Knicks: Two-time NBA champion, eight-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks: NBA champion, NBA MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star
  • Elvin Hayes of the Houston Rockets and Washington Bullets: NBA champion, 12-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics: Three-time NBA champion, seven-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee

Best Power Forwards Currently in the NBA

  • Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons: Six-time NBA All-Star
  • Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers: NBA champion, five-time NBA All-Star
  • Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors: Three-time NBA champion, three-time NBA All-Star
  • Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers: Seven-time NBA All-Star

Bill Russell

Bill Russell holds the record for most NBA championships. He won 11 during his 13-year career.

Bill Russell holds the record for most NBA championships. He won 11 during his 13-year career.

The 5 Position (Center)

The fifth position is also referred to as center. This position is traditionally the largest and strongest player on the team. They usually play close to the basket in the low post. The best centers are powerful in the middle, excellent shot blockers, and excellent rebounders.

Best Centers of All Time

  • Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics: 11-time NBA champion, five-time NBA MVP, 12-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers: Six-time NBA champion, six-time NBA MVP, 19-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors, 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers: Two-time NBA champion, four-time NBA MVP, 13-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Bill Walton of the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics: Two-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, two-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Willis Reed of the New York Knicks: Two-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, seven-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets: Two-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, 12-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Shaquille O'Neal of the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat: Four-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, 15-time NBA All-Star, Hall of Fame inductee
  • Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks: 11-time NBA All-Star, two-time Hall of Fame inductee

Best Centers Currently in the NBA

  • DeAndre Jordan of the Brooklyn Nets: NBA All-Star
  • Marc Gasol of the Toronto Raptors: NBA champion, three-time NBA All-Star

Comments

Owen on September 20, 2020:

I did not no that Larry bird is a small forward

Daniel on September 14, 2020:

Lambieer. where is every bad boy piston

jamir on September 13, 2020:

Where is melo

OMG on September 01, 2020:

Olajuwon is center?

Juan on August 25, 2020:

Klay Thompson three-time NBA MVP?

Should say "champion"

jon on July 02, 2020:

Robert Parish ??

MIAMIDOLPHINSFAN17 on May 26, 2020:

iverson is a god he is not on here

LeBron James on May 22, 2020:

this list is horrible

Wth on April 23, 2020:

Where's Iverson and Irving

unknown on April 21, 2020:

were is klay thomson

SJSU’s on February 26, 2020:

George hill is a point guard

Kobe Bryant on February 03, 2020:

LeBron?

Ashleyspaulding on November 13, 2019:

Taco Bell is Michael Jordan

ecoggins (author) from Corona, California on September 29, 2019:

Thank you Stefan Curry for pointing out my spelling error.

stefan curry on September 28, 2019:

who the frick is stefan curry?

TH on July 19, 2019:

Where is Anthony Davis, and Joel Embid in the centers

Mikey Karlovsky on June 27, 2019:

Wheres LaMarcus

Ren on April 24, 2019:

Where's Iverson?

icv on June 25, 2015:

Here in India NBA basketball is watching lots of people in TV even it is not much popular in India... Thanks for sharing

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 21, 2015:

Very well thought out list. I really can't argue much with your logic.

Related Stories

the-10-best-soccer-football-players-of-all-time

The 10 Best Soccer Players of All Time

Looking for a list of the 10 best soccer or football players of all time? Are you wondering what countries and teams they played for? Look no further—here's a list of some of the most iconic players from around the world.

top-10-nba-players-ever

Top 10 NBA Players Ever

This article will cover the top 10 National Basketball Association players of all time, judged by their stats, career accolades, strengths, and weaknesses. Enjoy!

ranking-the-most-exciting-nba-players

Ranking the Most Exciting NBA Players

Unlike quantifiable basketball attributes like ability to score, speed, vertical leap or rebounding skill, there's no metric for how exciting a player is. Subconsciously, it's based on highlights per day or appearances on SportsCenter, but this article attempts to rank players based on excitement.

14-nba-players-with-the-most-impressive-hand-sizes

The 15 Largest Hand Sizes in NBA History

We look at some players with the biggest hands in NBA history. Being tall like Shaq does not guarantee huge hands. Players like Wilt Chamberlain do not have impressive hand sizes considering their height. Players like Rondo, Jordan, Dr. J, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis have pretty impressive hand sizes.

the-best-sports-teams-of-all-time

The Best Sports Teams of All Time

This article highlights some of the greatest sports teams in history, whether college or professional. The sports represented here run the gamut from basketball, football, and soccer to rugby, hockey, and cricket.