The game of basketball is played with five players on the court for each team at any given time. This lineup typically consists of two forwards, two guards and one center. Among the group of five are the small forward and shooting guard. While these two positions have similar job descriptions, some significant differences exist.
Looking at the positions as a whole, the main difference is that a shooting guard is more of a specialist, while a small forward must be more valuable all around. As the name suggests, the shooting guard’s primary objective is shooting — and mostly from long range in the form of three-pointers. A good shooting guard will open up the court more for his teammates, as the opposition will always need someone covering him.
The small forward needs to be able to do a bit of everything. He needs to spend time under the basket, make plays, dribble through traffic and shoot from different areas of the court. Good small forwards are involved in all aspects of the game and are the players who usually record triple doubles, meaning double digits in points, assists and rebounds in a single game.
While small forwards and shooting guards can be similar in size, the small forwards are often bigger, due to their need to play more under the basket. Shooting guards spend less time getting banged around under the net, so they can usually be a little shorter and still be effective. Both positions require mobility and speed on the court, so you don’t want the small forwards to be the biggest players on the team.
In the defensive zone, the shooting guard is more concerned with guarding the perimeter of the court, which is usually where the other team’s shooting guard is. Small forwards may be asked to guard the opposition’s small forward or another player and must show the same versatility on defense as they do on offense.
Both the small forward and shooting guard positions have had star players over the years. Small forwards like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant help carry their team’s offense. At shooting guard, players such as Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have made their mark in history.