How Basketball Works

By: Kevin Bonsor

Who's Who

Basketball can be played by as few as two players. However, organized basketball games include two teams comprised of five players per team. Each team can have more than five players, but only five players per team are allowed on the court at one time.

The team's head coach determines when players go in and come out of the game. Reserve players enter the game through a process called substitution. Substitutions can only occur when play stops, such as during a timeout or when the referee calls a violation.


Each player on a team is categorized by position. There are five positions on a traditional basketball team:

  • Point guard - This player is typically the best dribbler and passer on the team. The point guard is sometimes called the floor general, which indicates the key role that the point guard plays.
  • Shooting guard - The shooting guard, also called the two guard, is typically a team's best outside shooter on the team. This player flanks the point guard and moves around the court to try to create some space to take a shot that is uncontested by the opposition.
  • Power forward - The power forward is usually near the basket and moves from one side of the basket to the other to try to get free from the opposition player that is guarding him. Power forwards also are skilled rebounders.
  • Small forward - The small forward is typically a better outside shooter than a power forward and is usually smaller than a power forward.
  • Center - Traditionally, the center is the tallest player on the team. The center's role is to establish a position near the basket to allow him/herself an easy jump shot. On defense, the center attempts to block shots and grab rebounds.