At the professional level, most male players are above 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) and most women above 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m). Guards, for whom physical coordination and ball-handling skills are crucial, tend to be the smallest players. Almost all forwards in the men's pro leagues are 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) or taller. Most centers are over 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m) tall. According to a survey given to all NBA teams, the average height of all NBA players is just under 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m), with the average weight being close to 222 pounds (101 kg). The tallest players ever in the NBA were Manute Bol and Gheorghe Mureşan, who were both 7 feet 7 inches (2.31 m) tall. The tallest current NBA player is Hasheem Thabeet, who stands at 7 feet 3 inches (2.21 m). At 7 feet 2 inches (2.18 m), Margo Dydek was the tallest player in the history of the WNBA. The shortest player ever to play in the NBA is Muggsy Bogues at 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m). Other short players have thrived at the pro level. Anthony "Spud" Webb was just 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m) tall, but had a 42-inch (1.07 m) vertical leap, giving him significant height when jumping. While shorter players are often not very good at defending against shooting, their ability to navigate quickly through crowded areas of the court and steal the ball by reaching low are strengths.
There are two main defensive strategies: zone defense and man-to-man defense. In a zone defense, each player is assigned to guard a specific area of the court. In a man-to-man defense, each defensive player guards a specific opponent. Man-to-man defense is generally preferred at higher levels of competition, as it is intuitively easier to understand and avoid mismatches between players who play different positions. However, zone defenses are sometimes used in particular situations or simply to confuse the offense with an unexpected look. Offensive plays are more varied, normally involving planned passes and movement by players without the ball. A quick movement by an offensive player without the ball to gain an advantageous position is known as a cut. A legal attempt by an offensive player to stop an opponent from guarding a teammate, by standing in the defender's way such that the teammate cuts next to him, is a screen or pick. The two plays are combined in the pick and roll, in which a player sets a pick and then "rolls" away from the pick towards the basket. Screens and cuts are very important in offensive plays; these allow the quick passes and teamwork which can lead to a successful basket. Teams almost always have several offensive plays planned to ensure their movement is not predictable. On court, the point guard is usually responsible for indicating which play will occur. Defensive and offensive structures, and positions, are more emphasized in higher levels in basketball; it is these that a coach normally requests a time-out to discuss.
Although the rules do not specify any positions whatsoever, they have evolved as part of basketball. During the first five decades of basketball's evolution, one guard, two forwards, and two centers or two guards, two forwards, and one center were used. Since the 1980s, more specific positions have evolved, namely:
Point guard (often called the "1") : usually the fastest player on the team, organizes the team's offense by controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right player at the right time.
Shooting guard (the "2") : creates a high volume of shots on offense, mainly long-ranged; and guards the opponent's best perimeter player on defense.
Small forward (the "3") : often primarily responsible for scoring points via cuts to the basket and dribble penetration; on defense seeks rebounds and steals, but sometimes plays more actively.
Power forward (the "4"): plays offensively often with their back to the basket; on defense, plays under the basket (in a zone defense) or against the opposing power forward (in man-to-man defense).
Center (the "5"): uses height and size to score (on offense), to protect the basket closely (on defense), or to rebound.