Best examples of new NBA

Labeling players 1 through 5 no longer applies to today's game

Updated: October 16, 2012, 3:25 PM ET
By David Thorpe | ESPN Insider
Kevin Durant, LeBron JamesJoe Murphy/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant and LeBron James don't fall into the NBA's conventional 1-5 positional labels.

Editor's note: This is the first installment of a two-part series that examines how today's NBA players have evolved past traditional 1-5 positional labels and redefines those positions according to how the players actually play rather than their size. Today, we examine perimeter players.

Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant is anything but small.

At 6-foot-9, with a wingspan of 7-5, Durant is one of the NBA's most prolific scorers. By contrast, Hall of Fame center Moses Malone stood barely 6-10 in his salad days, only a scant inch taller than Durant, yet their games appear vastly different. One was a bruising interior player whose stockiness begged for high contact, the other is a lithe perimeter shooter with incredible length who avoids contact. Malone was clearly a center, but Durant is neither small nor a forward.

So what is Durant? Someone who has changed the way we define NBA positions, that's what.

Gone are the days when positions are defined strictly by a player's size. There are no absolutes left to define what position a player has to play. For more than two decades, we have labeled players as simply point guards (1), shooting guards (2), small forwards (3), power forwards (4) and centers (5). However, over the years, we have seen an evolution away from those labels and toward specialties, as well as some generalizations.

Yes, it sounds confusing, and indeed it can be for players and for teams that struggle to figure out where to play a player. Labels such as "tweener" and questions such as "Is he a 3 or a 4?" are commonplace. But they shouldn't be. Smart coaches and well-run teams embrace this combination of general and specific needs and work to feature potent combinations of both.

Today, many of the top players cannot be branded simply, and, over time, it appears the game will continue to move in a manner similar to how the NFL has evolved -- with more and more specialists employed next to stars as coaches try to cover as many areas as possible without concern to who specifically is doing what.

The key is to create efficient offenses and defenses, so any means can work as long as the endgame is satisfactory. That's why big men who can shoot but not rebound have an NBA home now, provided they are next to the proper teammates. Or why a "shooting guard" who can't shoot can still start for his team.

So forget the conventional 1-5 labels. Today, we'll look at guards and wings, labeled by what they do, not their size. Thus, we have two categories: On-ball guards/wings and off-ball guards/wings. Both types are divided up into subcategories, again by what these guards do, not by their size. Here's a look at how these "new" positions are broken down and some of the best players at these spots.


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