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

Updated on June 20, 2015

When watching a basketball game on TV, commentators will talk about 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s. These terms refer to positions played by the five players while on the floor for their respective basketball teams. Given their relative size and versatility, a player might be used in more than one position during the course of a game. This hub helps decipher this vocabulary and then also suggests some of the best NBA players to play those positions.

(Disclaimer: The lists are not meant to be ranked or exhaustive.)

Magic Johnson

The 1 Position aka 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 other 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. Of course 1s are also good at playing defense and shooting when necessary. Some of the best point guards or 1s in NBA history included:

  • Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks
  • Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics
  • John Stockton of the Utah Jazz
  • Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns
  • Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons
  • Gary Payton of the Seattle Supersonics

Some of the best 1s or point guards currently in the NBA include:

  • Stefan Curry of the Golden State Warriors
  • John Wall of the Washington Wizards
  • Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls

Michael Jordan

The 2 Position aka Shooting Guards

The number 2 position on a basketball team refers to what are also called Shooting Guards. As suggested by the later description, the primary role of the 2 position player is to score. The player in the shooting guard position will be able to shoot from all areas of the court including beyond the three point line. Like the number 1 guard, shooting guards will possess other skills including speed, superior jumping skills, and play excellent defense. The best number 2s or shooting guards in NBA history include:

  • Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls
  • Koby Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat
  • Ray Allen of Seattle Supersonics and Boston Celtics
  • Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers
  • George Gervin of the Antonio Spurs
  • David Thompson of the Denver Nuggets
  • Clyde Drexler of the Portland Trail Blazers
  • Charlie Scott

Some of the best number 2s currently in the NBA include:

  • James Harden of the Houston Rockets
  • Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors
  • Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards

Perhaps 2s as shooting guards is a bit of a misnomer as some of the best 2s were great because of their defensive skills rather than their shooting skills. The best 2s due to their defense included:

  • Joe Dumars of the Detroit Pistons
  • Dennis Johnson of the Boston Celtics

Larry Bird

The 3 Position aka Small Forward

The 3 Position on an NBA basketball team is also commonly referred to as 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. Some of the best small forwards in NBA history include:

  • Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics
  • Elgin Baylor of the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Julius Erving (Dr. J) of the Philadelphia 76ers
  • Rick Berry of the Golden State Warriors
  • Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat
  • Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls
  • Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks
  • John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics

Some of the best 3s in the game now include:

  • Lebron James
  • Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder
  • George Hill of the Indiana Pacers
  • Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks

Tim Duncan

The 4 Position aka Power Forward

The number 4 position on a basketball team 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 and shoot from close range to the basket. 4s also are also among the best rebounders on a team, which means they are good at getting the ball after someone misses a shot. Some of the best to play the 4 spot in NBA history include:

  • Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz
  • Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs
  • Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns
  • Dennis Rodman of the Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, and Los Angeles Lakers
  • Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics
  • Bob Petit of the Saint Louis Hawks
  • Dave DeBusschere of the New York Knicks
  • Elvin Hayes
  • Kevin McHale

Some of the best power forwards currently in the NBA include:

  • Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks
  • Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors
  • Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans

Bill Russell

The 5 Position aka Center

The fifth position or 5 position is also referred to as Center. The best centers are powerful in the middle, excellent shot blockers, and like power forwards the top rebounders on the team. Among the best 5s in NBA history are:

  • Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics
  • Kareem Abdul Jabbar of the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers
  • Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors, 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers
  • Bill Walton of the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics
  • Willis Reed of the New York Knicks
  • Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets
  • Shaquille O'Neal of the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat
  • Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks

Some of the best centers currently in the NBA include:

  • DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Dwight Howard of the Houston Rockets
  • Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat
  • Marc Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies
  • DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings


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    • icv profile image

      IRSHAD CV 2 years ago from India, Kerala

      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 profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

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