Basketball Player Positions Explained: Center

Probably the rarest of all basketball positions is a specialised Center (C). In basketball, the C brings together a number of specialised skills and attributes which make it one of the most dominate and unique positions in the sport. Because of the mixture of the physical and skill based requirements finding a C, even at the professional, is a challenging task. Building one can be even tougher.


The physical attributes that were alluded to above for a Center often revolve around height. The C in most teams is the tallest player. This size is beneficial in rebounding situations and defending the keyway. The C is often found closest to the basket and is expected to nullify the rebounding potential of the opposition. For example, a C would be expected in general to record rebounding figures in excess of double digests each, and every game.

Dirk Nowitzki is one of the top Centers in the NBA. Utilising a range of different offensive skills such as an extended shooting range (Photo Source: Keith Allison)
Dirk Nowitzki is one of the top Centers in the NBA. Utilising a range of different offensive skills such as an extended shooting range (Photo Source: Keith Allison)

Defensively this player must defend often one of the most potent inside scorers for the opposition. In many cases, this is a back to the basket offensive player, so a good Center must be able to have excellent footwork and body positioning to deny easy post entry passes. For a Center this takes time to develop and must become a habit that happens without thinking with a relentless persistence.


Footwork and speed can be an understated attribute for a Center, but in the modern game of basketball players are often played out of position to fill a team’s Center role. This will sometimes see a “True Center” matching up against a player more suited to a Power Forward, or even a tall Small Forward. For this reason, a Center must have effective and efficient footwork to be able to contain opposition players further away from the basket, not just around the keyway.


Also defensively, a valuable Center should have the ability to shot block or at the very least change the shot of an offensive player driving into the keyway. Shot blocking teds to be a very rare skill for players to possess, but being competent enough on defence to force offensive players to change their attack upon the basket can be just as an effective skill for a C.


Offensively a Center must have a range of skills and these will vary depending on the natural preference of the player. Some Centers are exclusively back to the basket low post players. Others will have a deep shooting range to pull their defensive match-up away from the basket and expose their opponent’s inabilities in defending on the perimeter.


Some of the core offensive skills associated with a Center however are back to the basket offense. Post play is always heavily associated with a Center. Strong moves towards middle of the floor or the baseline are a requirement of playing the position. Players with a deeper set of skills will be able face-up the basket to add further offensive variation to their play.


Tactically there are a number of different aspects a Center must be competent in. Screening is one of the more significant roles a Center often has to fill. This can be on-ball and in general offensive play. This includes of course not only setting screens, but also making the best read from how the defence reacts.


A Center must also look to work effectively around the keyway with another interior player. Many offenses include formation variations which start or lead into a High/Low two player offensive movements. A High/Low action sees two offensive players working and reacting together to create a number of offensive options and scoring outcomes.


The technical and tactical skills listed here are only a brief snapshot of the Center playing position. Like all positions in basketball, there are always players who are exceptions to the general rule and make their mark because of the uniqueness of their style of player or abilities.


A good Center is a fantastic asset for a team to have. Nevertheless, because of the rarity of the position there are many offenses that work around or cater for the absence of the position. It should be noted that often players playing in the Center position mature as a basketball player later then their guard counterparts. This long-term development pathway however should not deter a coach from investing the time and effort into a player that demonstrates the ability or potential to develop into a great Center.

Coach Riches has been working within the sport, business and education industries for many years. During this time he has built an extensive number of formal and informal qualifications. A firm believer in training and development designed to help people reach their full potential, relevant o their needs and functional to their industry environment.

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