How to Play Center in Basketball [The Ultimate Guide]

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Would you like to know how to play center in basketball? Do you know what is a center in basketball? If you are trying to understand how to play a big man’s game, you are in the right place. There are many different basketball positions, so understanding them is very important. We are grateful you are trying to understand the center position.

In our guide to playing center in basketball, we will help you understand how to play a big, specifically the center position, by explaining the different techniques required to be a thriving center in a league.

What is a Center in BasketballWhat is a Center in Basketball?

So, what does a center do in basketball? A center or five in basketball is a big man traditionally positioned around the rim throughout a game. Traditionally, a center’s role is to score and defend shots at the basket. Even though these are some of the traditional roles of a center, the game is somewhat changing where dominant centers need to be more versatile and possess multiple skill sets.

Centers are usually the tallest persons on the court at any time, however, some players are tasked with playing the center’s position even though they are not as tall as we expect them to be because they possess the skill sets to be effective.

How Important is the Center in BasketballHow Important is the Center in Basketball?

In basketball, a team is as strong as its weakest link, meaning that coaches and the players can orchestrate their offense and defense to focus on their opponents’ weakest players. We are saying this to say that all positions in basketball are equally important.

The center has important roles. These include protecting the rim on defense to make it easier for his teammates to protect the perimeter. A center should provide an offensive option in the post, pass the ball effectively out of double-teams from the post. Depending on how his team plays, centers should stretch the court for his teammates by scoring from the perimeter.

How Important is the Center in Basketball

What are the Skills Centers Should Have in BasketballWhat are the Skills Centers Should Have in Basketball?

Even though basketball is evolving, there are specific base skills that all good centers possess. Let’s take a look at some of the skills that all centers should have.


Moving and positioning your feet properly is an essential skill that all centers need to have. Footwork in basketball refers to a player’s ability to use their feet to set themselves in an advantageous position to lose defenders, place their bodies in ideal places to score, grab rebounds and play post defense. There are multiple footwork moves that coaches should teach their centers.

Centers need to learn how to do footwork while on offense, like basic drop step moves, pro-hops, pivots, and many others. On the defensive end, centers also need to learn to use their feet to get between the rim and defenders to make it difficult for their opponents to score.


Positioning is a by-product of footwork. A center’s position on the court can be looked at in two ways. The first way is how he positions himself around the rim while playing offense or defense, and this is where footwork comes in.

Being able to skillfully set yourself between the opponent and the rim or position yourself at an angle that makes it easy to get layups or dunks is something that every center should learn. The second aspect of positioning has to do with how a center spaces the floor so that their teammates can operate while also being a threat to score from where they are.

Centers need to learn about the areas on the floor that they need to be throughout plays so that they don’t clog the lane or disrupt a play by being in the wrong place.

Contact Finishing

The center position is one of the most, if not the most, physical position to play in basketball. Centers are normally the biggest guys on the court, which means that they will be going up against the opponent’s biggest guy more often than not.

Contact Finishing

With this in mind, centers should anticipate getting a lot of contact while attempting to score baskets. Contact usually results in a foul, which sends the center to the free-throw line, but they also needed to take advantage of finishing through these fouls to get additional points.

Free Throw Shooting

A center is often required to play through contact. Understandably, the center will become a liability if he is a very poor free throw shooter, especially in late-game moments. Have you ever heard the term hack-a-Shaq or hack-a-Dwight?

These are late-game strategies that teams employ when playing against big men who cannot score the ball from the stripe. You don’t want to be a center and have a low free-throw shooting percentage, or you may see your playing time significantly reduced.

On the other hand, if you are a center that can efficiently convert free-throw opportunities, teams will be wary of fouling you and sending you to the free-throw line.


You may be wondering how anticipation is relevant to playing basketball, let alone playing the center position. If you were to have a conversation with any elite rebounder or elite shot-blocker, they would tell you that anticipation has a lot to do with rebounding and shot-blocking.

The best rebounders can look at the trajectory of a shot or the bounce of the ball off the rim and anticipate where that ball will be going next so they can react quickly to grab that rebound. Shot blockers can usually anticipate opponents’ shot attempts and get in a position to block their shots even before the shot is attempted.

Great centers are centers that can defend the rim, and to do this, they need to be able to anticipate.


We have been speaking a bit about rebounding, so it is on our list as you can imagine. The best centers are often the ones that can rebound the ball in addition to scoring. There are great centers that don’t rebound very well, but they need to be exceptionally well on the offensive end for them to be considered great.

How to Become a Good Center in Basketball 7 Tips

If you speak with any coach, they would tell you they would prefer to have a center that can rebound and score and not just score alone. One of the center’s main responsibilities is to rebound the ball to prevent additional possessions by the opponent or give their team extra possessions from offensive rebounds.

Shot Blocking

Not all centers are great at shot-blocking as, if not god-given, it’s a skill that takes time to develop. Shot blockers are valuable to their teams. They allow them to play a specific type of defense that takes the pressure off perimeter defenders because they know that there is someone behind them to protect the rim if they get beaten.

Shot blockers usually have good footwork and anticipation skills. Centers usually block the most shots on the court. This is usually because of their height, but if centers are not extremely tall, they can work on their jumping ability, which will help them protect the rim.

How to Become a Good Center in Basketball 7 TipsHow to Become a Good Center in Basketball: 7 Tips

Here are seven tips that you can follow to become a good center in basketball.

1. Bulk up

Because the center position is one that is so physical, players that are bigger and have a lot of muscles usually fare well at this position. As a center, playing on the block will see you banging with other centers and power forwards. You are less susceptible to injury if you have a bigger body that can take the hits, and this will also make it a lot easier for you to score and defend against your opponents.

2. Improve shooting

In today’s game of basketball, the center position is not just the traditional around the rim role. We see an increasing number of centers being asked to stretch the floor by stepping out of the paint and making mid-range to long-range shots. Improve your offensive arsenal by adding a reliable shot so that your coaches can ask you to stretch the floor and help your team’s offense.

If you can knock down shots from outside the paint, you will score more points per game, and this will open up the lane for your guards and wing players to attack the rim. Your ability to shoot will also allow your coach to run more plays for you, such as the pick-and-pop.

Improve shooting

3. Practice Passing

Nikola Jokic is one of the best centers in the NBA today. In addition to his ability to score the basketball, he is considered really good because of his passing ability. Centers that can pass the ball properly from out of the post are very rare and valued.

If you can pass the ball from out of the post, this will make you a very dangerous threat when your opponent’s double team you. In addition to passing out of the post, centers that can pass the ball from the perimeter properly are also of extreme value to their teams. Work on your passing so you can find cutters and open shooters.

4. Practice Footwork

Footwork is key at the center position. If you can’t move your feet properly, your days at the center position will be very dismal. On both offense and defense, centers with good footwork will have a huge advantage over their opponents. If you have good footwork on offense, you can use this to score very easily while drawing fouls. Your footwork on defense will help you to keep up with your mark and protect the rim.

5. Work on Rebounding

Centers should be able to rebound the football. Chances are, if you are selected to be the center for your team, you have good height compared to your teammates. Your team will likely depend on you to rebound the ball, so you will need to work on your rebounding to be a good center.

You can do various drills by yourself or with your teammates to help you improve your anticipation and bounce around the rim. Remember to practice boxing out as a boxing out is the fundamental stage of rebounding.

6. Improve strength

In addition to becoming bigger, you will also need it to improve your strength. Remember to devote some of your free time or your training time to gym workouts to be a good center. Strong centers are usually hard to deal with on offense and very difficult to score against on defense.

The stronger you get, it’ll be easier for you to back down your opponents or finish through contact. On the opposite side of the ball, you will be able to stand your ground when your opponent’s try to post you up because you are stronger.

7. Finish through contact

If you want to be a good center, work on finishing through contact. It comes with the territory. The center position is very physical, so you will have a lot of contact during a lot of your finishes.

You can gain additional points by scoring the basket even after you are fouled. Do not depend on the referee because you won’t always get the calls and be sent to the free-throw line. Do drills with your coaches or teammates to work on contact scoring.

3 Basketball Drills for Centers3 Basketball Drills for Centers

1. Drop Step Drill

This is an important post-move that includes sound footwork. This is very important for players to learn if they plan to score while playing with their backs to the basket.

2. Contact Finishing Drills

This drill is very good to help centers finish through contact. The physicality of this drill will form tough post finishers.

3. Jump Hook

This offensive weapon is a deadly, near unstoppable move that all Centers should learn. This video will demonstrate the footwork associated with this move.

Who are the Notable Centers of All TimeWho are the Notable Centers of All Time?

Here are a few of the most excellent NBA centers of all time.

Shaquille O’Neal

Many people often regard Shaquille O’Neal or The Big Diesel as the most dominant player ever to play the game of basketball. During Shaq’s years as a player, he was an unstoppable force in the post that required multiple players to contain him somewhat. Shaq is 7’1″ and over 300 lb, making him one of the biggest players to have ever played the game of basketball.

Shaq played with multiple teams throughout his career in the NBA, but his most successful stint was with the Los Angeles Lakers when he played alongside Kobe Bryant. O’Neal won 3 NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and one with the Miami Heat.

Wilt Chamberlain

Without a doubt, Wilt Chamberlain is one of the top 10 greatest players to have ever played the game of basketball. Wilt Chamberlain was a huge player standing at 7 feet 1 in and over 300 pounds.

If you were to take a rock and throw it in a pond filled with NBA records, chances are you will hit a record set by Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt Chamberlain was as dominant as they came. When he played in the NBA, he was able to score at will. Wilt Chamberlain is a two-time NBA Champion.

Yao Ming

Yao Ming is an eight-time NBA All-Star, 7 ft 6 in tall, former Houston Rockets center. Yao entered the NBA as the first pick in the 2002 draft made by the Houston Rockets. Throughout his career, Yao Ming averaged 19 points and nine rebounds to go along with two blocks.

Kareem Abdul Jabar

Kareem is a 7 foot 2 in center who won six NBA championships throughout his career. He was a two-time Finals MVP and, without a doubt, one of the greatest players to ever grace a basketball court.

Hakeem Olajuwon

Hakeem Olajuwon is another first overall pick made by the Houston Rockets. He was drafted in the 1984 draft and became a two-time NBA champion and two-time NBA Finals MVP. Hakeem is regarded as one of the greatest centers of all time.

Wrapping Things Up: How to Play Center in Basketball

To be a good center in basketball, you should work on your size and your strength. Try to be bigger and stronger while remaining mobile. Centers should always be able to finish through contact at the rim, rebound the ball efficiently, and be really good at the position they should pass from out of the post, block shots, and shoot the ball fairly well.

Did you find this helpful? Then also check out other basketball FAQ articles here.

More interesting basketball FAQ posts here:

> How to Play Small Forward in Basketball

> How to Play Power Forward in Basketball

Hoops Addict
Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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