How positions have evolved
The most prevalent player types in every generation tend to follow the same trend, with young hoopers incorporating the style and flair of their childhood idols. From the sweet playmaking of Bird and Magic in the 80s to the hang-time acrobatics of Jordan in the 90s, players evolve as the game and their heroes evolve. With the perimeter focus of contemporary hoops, we can expect the next generation to feature even more versatile players with highly-developed ball skills.
Point guard: The one-spot used to be all about passing, as unselfish floor generals controlled the pace of play and set up shots for their teammates. Today, playmaking is still a central part of the game, but the modern point guard makes plays by being strong, athletic slashers, like Russell Westbrook and Eric Bledsoe. This forces the defense to collapse on their drives, opening up the perimeter for their teammates.
Shooting guard: Following the 90s, a whole host of explosive leapers came into the League to take on the ‘next Jordan’ mantle, building their games on athleticism and dominant one-on-one moves. Nowadays, the trend has shifted towards identifying the next Curry or Durant, with an emphasis on smooth, long-range bombers who make scoring seem almost effortless.
Small forward: Although the small forward spot has always emphasized versatility and length, the focus has grown stronger over the past decade. Players like LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have popularized the once-uncommon point forward role, taking over ball-handling duties on the break and even within halfcourt sets.
Power forward: Once the exclusive domain of muscled bruisers who did the bulk of their damage on the boards or on the low block with their backs to the basket, the impressive play of Dirk Nowitzki and his successors such as Kristaps Porzingis have revolutionized the role. The ‘stretch four’ label has become ubiquitous with pick-and-pops superseding pick-and-rolls as the weapon of choice for many NBA teams, built around the face-up game and an ability to put the ball on the floor.
Center: In the past, tall players were simply placed in the middle to act as rim protectors, coming in all shapes from skinny to bulky. Nowadays, these men in the middle have to be athletic specimens in order to finish lobs up high and to deny their opponents from doing the same. In addition to that, skill has become more of an emphasis, with a premium placed on creative passing from the post, lateral mobility to keep up with perimeter players and even the shooting skill to play a ‘stretch five’ role, as with the 7-foot-tall Brook Lopez.