Friday , Jan , 18 , 2008 C.Y. Ellis

Playing out of Position? What is the Difference Between a Center and a Power Forward?

Playing out of Position?  What is the Difference Between a Center and a Power Forward?I was listening to a discussion earlier today in which the subject matter was whether Amaré Stoudemire was playing out of position at center.  The argument was that if Brian Skinner moved into the starting lineup, that STAT would move over to the 4-spot.  This would allegedly allow him to play less interior defense, thus resulting in less fouls and more playing time.  The counter to the argument was that there are so many talented power forwards that STAT would have to guard that it would not help him on defense.

I think, though, that the designation is somewhat meaningless.  Unless a player is 7 feet tall or more, if he’s big enough to play the 4, he’s usually big enough to play the 5.  The distinction comes on the defensive end.  The center generally plays against the other team’s number-one low-post threat.

For example, Tim Duncan was upset at being listed at center on the All-Star ballot because he’s a power forward.  Does he guard the other team’s power forward?  I don’t know, but he definitely does not guard the other team’s best post player.  When the Sp*rs play the Suns, he does not guard Stoudemire.  When the Sp*rs play the Rockets, he does not guard Yao Ming.  However, when the Sp*rs play the Nuggets, he guards Marcus Camby – mainly because Camby only hits 50% of his dunks (here, I’m talking about the person he predominately guards; obviously, different defenders are run out against different players, but I’m talking about the primary match-ups).

Back when the Suns had Mark West as their starting center alongside Tom Chambers and, after that, Charles Barkley, West would guard Karl Malone when the Suns played the Jazz and he would guard David Robinson when they would play the Spurs.  Speaking of Karl Malone, he did not pick up Barkley – that was left for the likes of Greg Ostertag. 

Mark Cuban picked up Erik Dampier to guard Stoudemire, Yao and Duncan.  Dirk Nowitzki does not pick up the other team’s power forward.

Offensively, who cares if the player is at the 4 or the 5?  Big men have been stepping out to hit the shot for a long time.  Before Nowitzki, Kevin Duckworth and Bill Laimbeer were hitting jumpers (the Terry Porter and Duckworth pick-and-pop killed the Suns for years).

The difference, unless the player is a giant, between the center and the power forward position is not what one does on offense, but what one does on defense.  Offensively, if a center can drive, is he called a power forward?  No.

Distinctions are important.  The reasons that distinctions exist are also important.  They let you analyze what is happening.  Taken in a vacuum, they give you some insight into the bigger picture.  That way, the next time you watch your favorite team you may be able to better understand what the coaching staff is up to.