Player Archetypes: Generalizing NBA Players Into Groups


Do you remember that scene in Spongebob where Spongebob is trying to remember something, and the cut scene shows all those little Spongebobs working overtime to find the information he’s looking for? Spongbob couldn’t find the information he was looking for because sponges aren’t capable of this. 

We humans are a species that relies on compartmentalization to make things easy for us to process. We generalize things to make neat little compartments in our brain’s filing cabinets. 

This, of course, can be done with the NBA. There are over 400 active players in the NBA, and after watching hours and hours, year after year of the NBA, patterns emerge. Some are grouped by position, but several more are based more on personality and are positionless. 

*unrolls scroll from NBA heaven*

Center Archetypes: 

Mindless Dolt 

Motto: “Prove myself.” 

Alright, so this is that big lug in the middle who gets in the way of everyone. He occasionally provides value to his team, but at what cost? This player is usually hated by teammates and fans alike. It’s really hard to see the silver lining with this player because there usually isn’t one. The Mindless Dolt is a bit more rare than other archetypes because no one wants them. Platonic forms: Timofey Mozgov, Zaza Pachulia, Kosta Koufas, Cole Aldrich, the Plumlees

Defensive Gargoyle 

Motto: “No one scores when I’m on the court.” 

Now that we’ve waded through the tepid quagmire of the NBA’s sluggish proletariat, we can start to ascend into the finer areas of the game. The Defensive Gargoyle is a center who may be deficient on the offensive end (and also may not be), but is in no shortage of defensive ability. We’re talking about rim protection. Defenders that alter the offenses shot by their presence, either by invoking hesitation or caution, or by actually defending the shot. Platonic forms: Marc Eaton, Rudy Gobert, Manute Bol, Tree Rollins, 2008 Kendrick Perkins, Tyson Chandler, Mutumbo

Blue Collar Clock Puncher 

Motto: “I need to do my job and do it well.”


Perhaps not as quality as the Defensive Gargoyle, the BCCP is a player who’s ability to do their job to their best of their ability. They are humble workers. These are the men who work in the factory all day, show little emotion, do their job, grab their lunch pale and head home. They maximize their own natural abilities and check off every line of their job description, and do nothing more. They are asked to play center in the NBA, and that is literally all they do. There is no flash, but there are also no mistakes. This player is unselfish and a servant to the greater good of his team. Need him to set screens all night? Great. He can. Need him to get 10 rebounds? He’s got your back. Need to hit a shot after fading from a pick and roll? You got it. Want a player to posterize your opponents star? Look elsewhere. Want someone to sell jerseys? Not here, you greedy pig. Platonic forms: Robin Lopez, Nick Collison, Alex Len, Joffrey Lauvergne

Power Forward Archetypes


Shooter Trapped in a Big Boy Body

Motto: “Not just little boys can shoot.” 

Of course, theres an abundance of these fellas in today’s NBA. These are big fellas who are sometimes called “Stretch 4s.” Stretch 4’s are big men who can’t be left unguarded on the perimeter and finally are able to achieve their dreams of being fast, fun, and entertaining bombers from beyond. They aren’t one trick ponies, but they are big men with a special ability to launch it from 3. Platonic forms: Kevin LoveSerge Ibaka, Rasheed Wallace, Ryan Anderson, Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova, Lauri Markkanen


Purist/Vintage/Call Back/Classic

Motto: “I need to show a ferocious combination of power and finesse.” 


Here, you’ll find a flourishing cornucopia of what the microphone boys like to call “veteran savvy.” You’ll often hear commentators bring up Kevin McHale, who had more post moves than anyone ever. These guys are bruisers. They like to pack it in the paint, body someone up, assert their dominance, and power forward. Platonic forms: Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin McHale, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley


Small Forward Who the GM Moved to PF 

Motto: “I want to show these big guys I can play.” 


It is, as we all know, the era of small-ball NBA. There are a few players who used to play small forward, but in order to make a smaller lineup, have been moved to power forward. Typically these players have a larger body than some small-forwards, but have all of the benefits of the typical, modern 3: shooting ability, defensive prowess, athleticism. Platonic forms: Carmelo Anthony, Jae Crowder, Morris boys

Small Forward and Shooting Guard Archetypes

2-way Giants 

Motto: “I dominate the game with or without the ball” 

Okay, now we’ve hit the jackpot. This is the premier NBA player. The Belle of the Ball. These players constitute the upper echelons of the NBA stratosphere. These players had no scoring limit, then turn right around and make sure their opponent does. This group makes up large portions of the Hall of Fame. Some of the most recognizable names in NBA history reside here among the endorsement deals, commercials, international fame, and greatness. Platonic forms: Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Larry Bird

Pure Scorers 

Motto: “I’ve played hours of NBA Street Vol. 2, and I want the glory.” 


Do you remember when you play NBA Street Vol. 2 and you get the game breaker? True enthusiasts know the ecstasy of basketball simulation does not lie in the simple, plebeian gambreaker. The Realest know it’s in the Gamebreaker 2. Then that commentator says “Nobody can stop a gamebreaker. See if you can bust one off.” When you do, the court turns into a Scorcese-worthy cinematic blossoming of a new age, where the ball handler becomes nothing more than a mirage. Opposing players are rendered helpless, and the ballhandler is a god. This game fundamentally changed the way some players play the game (regardless if they were born before or after), as they are always searching for the existential, real-life high of a gambreaker. Platonic forms: Allen Iverson, James Harden, Gilbert Arenas, Mitch Richmond, JR Smith, Dion Waiters

Point Guard Archetypes

Pass first assist boy 

Motto: “I need to find the open man.”

This is the original iteration of the point guard. It is the on-court leader who is trusted to orchestrate the offense. They are given these duties based on their court vision, ball-handling and ball security skills, and passing ability. The pass first assist boy is the point guard that gives your grandfather warm feeling in his heart as his recliner stops rocking and his eyes fixate on the “precision passing” and “team ball” point guard. Athleticism is not paramount here. What’s important is running the offense in a way that allows the pass first assist boy to hit his teammates in the perfect position to push the offense forward. Platonic forms: Mark Price, Rajon Rondo, Ricky Rubio, John Stockton, Marc Jackson

Score first points boy 

Motto: “I’ve got the ball, so I need to get points.” 


Some players are born to break the mold. These players focus on using their advantage of having the ball in their hand to exploit their defender. A Score first points boy is the EXACT type of player that your decrepit grandfather despises. These players handle the ball to blaze by their opponent. Point guards of this variety are more so a product of the modern NBA, and have fewer historical examples. Platonic forms: Russell WestbrookKyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard


No mistakes (Ol’ Reliable) 

Motto: “I’m the leader of the this team, and I have a job to do.” 

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Here we have one of the most beautiful forms of basketball that can ever be played. The demeanor showcased in this archetype is the same as the friend you’ve had since kindergarten. An extremely boring friend, by the way. Like just so vanilla it hurts. No matter what, you can depend on them. The reliable point guard is a point guard that doesn’t make mistakes, and that happens to be their greatest strength. They take care of the ball, score in modest amount, find the open man, hit their shots, and give their opponent a hard time on the other end. No, they may not fill up the stat sheet or end up on highlight reels, but their teammates know they can depend on them to lead. Platonic forms: Kenny Smith, Avery Johnson, Jeff Teague, George Hill, Chauncey Billups

Non-positional archetypes


Motto: “Do everything because I am everything.”

I’m so sick of the term ‘Unicorn’, but It’s become the de facto option to describe a huge individual who has a holistic skillset. Previously, conventional wisdom taught us that this would never be possible. Players were, in some sense, relegated to specific positions based on their physical stature. These brave social justice warriors said “no” to the status quo and showed us that big men can cross, dish, and shoot their way into NBA stardom too. They are often insecure about themselves and are the exact type of player that keep commentators awake at night, wondering how they can transform their weak and noodle-shaped son into the next star. Platonic forms: Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis

Mentally Unstable 

Motto: “Dude I’m so mad I could kill someone.”


Personally, I see no higher entertainment value than the mentally unstable NBA player. The hallmarks of the unstable NBA player is behavior that totally defies cultural expectations, erratic movement on the court, unexplainable actions, and press appearances worth remembering. You know this dude is literally insane, and that’s what makes him taking jumpshots from 35 feet so good. There is massive, massive joy to be found in watching someone play who does not follow the rules. The absolute best part of this player is that they truly believe they’re the best player in the world while being nowhere near it. Note: this archetype does often overlap with the Enforcer archetype. Platonic forms: JR Smith, Lance Stephenson, Dion Waiters, Tyler Hansborough, Metta World Peace, Latrell Sprewell, Draymond Green

Clever Veterans 

Motto: “Age is just a number, and I am my own hero.” 

It’s fun to grow up with people and then watch old men deteriorate. Innovation lies at the heart of the clever veteran. While certain players’ careers tumble down the hill to hell, clever veterans find a way to gather up all their abilities that don’t rely on youthful athleticism (BBIQ, passing, spacing, shooting), and build them up to the point of being a viable, new version of themselves in their twilight years. They are team leaders in the locker room, and a huge portion of their value is found in mentoring young players. Platonic forms: Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, 2002 John Stockton, Andre Miller, 2012 Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson, Vince Carter


Motto: “If there’s a problem, you gotta deal with me!” 


The Enforcer is one of the most common archetypes associated with being a fan favorite. Unfortunately, they’re a bit of a dying breed. The Enforcer is on court primarily for their demeanor. Of course, there is no demeanor on the planet that is mean enough to outweigh the consequences of poor performance on the court. The Enforcer is an average or above average player, but their real value lies in the “we take care of our own” philosophy. The fastest way to spot an Enforcer is to find players who are hated by everyone except their teammates. That’s your enforcer. They handle all the revenge, all the alpha male assertion, all the will-controlling. Star player gets fouled? The Enforcer adds a name to his hit list. Platonic forms: Rick Mahorn, Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel, Draymond Green again, Bill Laimbeer, Matt Barnes, Metta World Peace, Willis Reed

ArticlesReid Belew