How to Play Center in Basketball

The center position in basketball is one of the five positions in a typical lineup. Also known as the '5,' the center for basketball is usually played by the tallest and most physical players on the court, making their role on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor critical. The following explains how to effectively play the center position.

Offensive Skills for Basketball Centers

Being the biggest player on the team, the center has a significant role in a team's offense. These skills are extremely important to have as a center for basketball, and should be incorporated into each practice and workout.

  1. Finishing around the rim:​ Being the tallest player on the floor, centers will typically live in the paint and around the basket. Centers must be able to consistently put the ball in the basket with both hands, even while playing through contact.
  2. Use body to get into position:​ In order to finish around the rim, centers must first make themselves available to receive a pass. To create a passing lane for other players to get them the ball, a center must use their size to physically maneuver around defenders, and catch the ball when it is thrown to them.
  3. Perform various post moves:​ Once a center receives the ball in the post, it is important that they have a wide variety of post moves they are comfortable with using in order to score. The move that is used will be based upon reading the defender's position and knowing what will work in certain situations, and this skill is only 0btained through lots of practice.
  4. Effectively use pump fakes:​ A critical part of almost all post moves is a pump fake. A proper pump fake involves looking at the rim and replicating the form in which you would shoot the ball, except never letting go. If the defender falls for the pump fake, centers can pivot around them and get a much easier, uncontested layup.
  5. Make free throws:​ Being in constant physical battles down in the paint, centers get fouled more than any other player when they have the ball; therefore, the ability to consistently make free throws is extremely important for a center to have.

Bonus: ​Ability to shoot long-range jump shots:​ With the way that basketball is played today, many centers now possess the ability to shoot jump shots at a very high percentage. Having this skill causes the defense to become more spread out, which in turn opens the floor up for the offensive team to drive to the lane and get higher percentage shots.

Defensive Skills for Basketball Centers

As important as a center is on the offensive end of the floor, they are every bit as critical on the defensive end as well. These skills are necessary to be the best center for basketball.

  1. Be physical with the opposing center:​ Knowing that the opposing team also has a big, physical center, it is vital that a center has the ability to be physical and impose their strength on the other. By doing this, they can prevent the other teams center from getting easy shots around the basket, especially since no other players on the team are big enough to challenge the opposing center.
  2. Rebound the basketball:​ Being the biggest player on the court, a center must have good instincts in reading the ball off the rim and reacting to where it is going so that they can secure the rebound for their team.
  3. Block shots:​ Being the last line of defense (usually) between an offensive player and the basket, a center should possess the ability to swat the ball either out of the opposing players' hand or or out of the air. A big part of blocking shots is having the ability to read the offensive player in a matter of a split second, and instantly react to what they are doing as they get closer to the rim.
  4. Box out when the ball is shot:​ When an offensive player shoots the ball, it is important that the center is able to box out the opposing center so that they prevent offensive rebounds and have an easier path to the ball when it comes off of the rim. This is done by the center physically positioning themselves between the opposing center and the basket.