The majority of NBA players are defined by the one thing that they excel in on the basketball court. If you can handle the ball, then you bring it up the court and initiate the offense. If you can rebound or play in the post then you camp out near the basket and try to be aggressive.
Every player fulfilling their role is essential to a team's success and often when they overextend themselves is when a team falls apart.
However, there are a very small number of players who can truly do it all out on the court. From hitting the glass to running the offense to guarding any given player on any given play, they are charged with the tall task of shifting between roles and plugging any hole necessary for the team's success.
Though they all have an individual position they excel in, each of these players is more than capable of stepping up at any of the five positions.
Without further ado, let's take a look at six players who were true multi-tools on the basketball court.
Since he came into the league in 2003, LeBron James has been stunning basketball fans with his versatility and his ability to fill in naturally at any position on the basketball court. During this past season, James has continued to do the kind of stellar ball-handling and playmaking most NBA teams would love to get out of their starting point guard while logging significant minutes at the power forward and even center spots for the Miami Heat.
James is not only tremendously skilled, but has the strength and unmatched athleticism to be a facilitator in the half-court and a scorer on the block, using his quick first step to drive past his opponent and his tremendous finishing ability to battle against the league's best shot-blocking big men.
When James gets a head of steam, there is not a player on the court that could slow him down. For his career, he's averaged 27.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game while being his team's go-to offensive option and best defensive player.
In a game this season against the Portland Trail Blazers, James spent a good chunk of time at center, guarding and being defended by Marcus Camby, one of the NBA's premier defensive centers. James notched 38 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals while shooting a blistering 59.1 percent from the floor. This year in particular, James has finally been going to his post game regularly and using his physicality to overwhelm opponents.
In the playoffs, with Chris Bosh injured and the Heat lacking enough quality fours and fives, James has spent a good deal of time at the four spot against a very large Indiana team. He has still found his way to crash the glass hard and score both inside and out either by bullying his way to the hoop or using his ball skills to create separation from his defender.
As evidenced by last year's playoffs, James is more than capable of shutting down some of the NBA's quickest and most explosive guards. He covered Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo very effectively at times, using his length and quickness to disrupt their flow and bring their offense to a standstill. An old basketball adage is that in order to play a position you must be able to guard it and James can certainly lockdown any position on the court.
People claim that Miami's roster has too many holes to win a championship as currently constructed, but as long as they have James, who won his third MVP award this year, they only need to have their stars playing at high level to win it all.
Former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Magic Johnson is considered by many to be the most effective player to ever line up at all five positions on the court. Most notably in Game Six of the 1980 NBA Finals, Johnson, a 6'9" inch point guard, was able to make his presence felt from every spot on the floor during his career.
Though he did his best work facilitating and running the Lakers' renowned "Showtime" offense during the 1980s and 1990s, Johnson's mix of size and speed allowed him to play both guard spots as well as forward and center. His unselfishness was a key aspect of his success—Johnson could pass extremely well out of the post but had enough ways to score at close range that defenses had to respect him and would often throw a double team at him. Johnson could find cutters to the basket easily or throw up his classic hook shot.
He wasn't an elite defensive player, but he was always able to at least make his presence felt no matter who he was guarding out on the court. It helped that the Lakers' defense usually had a dominant, shot-blocking big man patrolling the paint, but Johnson was able to at least make his presence felt guarding everyone from speedy point guards to bruising centers at times while on the court.
His career averages of 19.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 11.2 assists are proof that he was able to dominate every facet of a basketball game. Even in his return to the Lakers in 1996, he was able to post 14.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists while predominantly playing the power forward spot. Over the course of his career, the Lakers had the luxury of simply being able to plug Magic into whatever hole they had on the court and he was able to fill in seamlessly.
With the exception of maybe LeBron James today, it is unlikely we'll ever see another player who could truly thrive at the one or the five like Magic Johnson could. His tremendous basketball IQ, passing skills and simply his ability to make winning plays allowed him to be one of the most effective multi-tools in the history of the NBA.
Kevin Garnett may not be considered your traditional five-position player (if there is such a thing,) but the multi-talented seven footer has been asked to do everything on the court, particularly during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Garnett's natural position is power forward, but he has logged more than his share of time at center, particularly this season, and in his younger days also played decent minutes at small forward when Minnesota used a super-sized lineup.
Not only has he been a defensive anchor over his career, a dynamic force in the paint who quarterbacks the defense and deters opponents' forays to the basket, but he has also ran the offense for his team in a point-forward role. Garnett has great court vision for someone his size and also a solid handle on the ball, he would often be seen bringing the ball up the court and directing the offense while with the Timberwolves, a role he hasn't been featured in much since joining Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce in Boston.
Although he never really logged much time at shooting guard, Garnett's ability to hit perimeter shots at a high clip would help to open up the floor for his offense and allow slashers to move without the ball and Garnett himself to drive to the rim. He also has not spent much time defending against guards, but in his defensive prime KG was surprisingly quick and had the length to bother them when he picked one up on a switch or in a mismatch created to prevent a fast break.
During his best statistical season Garnett averaged 23 points, 13.5 rebounds and six assists per game and shined as the Timberwolves' main offensive option both in the post and 20 feet from the basket.
In the 2004 playoffs after an injury to Sam Cassell, Garnett saw extended time at the point against the Lakers, although he professed later that he hated playing the one spot. In the 2000 playoffs, Garnett averaged 18.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and a mind-blowing 8.8 assists, although his team fell in four games to the Trail Blazers.
Garnett's strength and skills in the post have allowed him to thrive as a center and power forward for 16 years in the league, but his floor-spacing and ability to read defenses make him able to successfully play all five positions at some point in his career. Garnett may not be LeBron James or Magic Johnson, but he was still a dangerous player at any spot on the court.
Scottie Pippen, widely thought of as the best perimeter defender in NBA history, was also another player capable of shuffling between every position on the basketball court. Though he was never the unstoppable scorer or clutch shot assassin that Michael Jordan was, Pippen was able to make an impact on the game in just as many ways. Jordan was undoubtedly the leader of those championship Chicago Bulls teams, but there is no question that Pippen's overall excellence was instrumental in earning the six banners that hang in the United Center rafters.
Defensively, Pippen could be trusted to handle the opposing team's best offensive player and completely take them out of the game. He was an absolute bulldog on the court, using his 7'3" wingspan to keep his assignment from seeing the court while applying unrelenting pressure and always sticking close by. He wasn't lightening-quick, but Pippen had enough speed and lateral quickness that he could contain some of the league's most explosive point guards.
In the 1991 Finals, his defense on Magic Johnson after the first game of the series was key in the Bulls winning their first championship. Pippen's size and physicality bothered Johnson in a way that Jordan's defense, though absolutely stellar in its own right, could not.
Offensively, he could serve as the primary playmaker for the Bulls, as he did during Jordan's retirement. He had an excellent handle and was naturally unselfish with the ball. Running Phil Jackson's triangle offense requires savvy play from guards and forwards, and Pippen was able to run the unique offensive sets very effectively.
During Jordan's first year of retirement in the 1993-1994 season, Pippen took over as the team's primary scoring option. He averaged career highs in points (22) and rebounds (8.7) per game, along with 5.6 assists and nearly three steals. He could take the ball to the basket off the dribble as well as work it inside and hit shots from the perimeter, proving he truly was as valuable on offense as defense for a Bulls team that desperately needed to replace Jordan's scoring.
Pippen was an absolutely lethal on-ball defender but could also contain his man on the low block. No one in NBA history could guard every position on the court like Scottie Pippen could, and he was also able to contribute on offense from each spot to boot.
John Havlicek was the kind of player who simply did everything that was necessary for his team to win on the court.
He won eight championships with the Boston Celtics and was one of the most versatile players of his era. He had a phenomenal handle and could run an offense as well as any point guard in the league. He was a tenacious defender both on the perimeter and on the inside, hounding his assignment and frequently being called on to guard the opposing team's best player.
He spent the majority of his time on the court rotating between playing either guard spot or small forward, but he was able to hit the boards with the aggression of a power forward. Very few outside players could impose their will on the glass like Havlicek could. He had a seemingly nonstop motor that allowed him to constantly push the ball up the court and take it to the basket when necessary. Defensively, he would frustrate his assignment by constantly applying full court pressure and never easing up for a second while they got their bearings.
He brought a physicality to the game that very few people had on both ends of the floor. He was an incredibly gritty player who didn't mind competing against guys much bigger than his 6'5" frame. Though he didn't log much time at center, with the way the game was played back then and the overall smaller stature of players, he was more than capable of picking up the other team's five man defensively or scoring on the inside.
Havlicek's best statistical season came in 1970-1971 when he averaged 28.9 points, nine rebounds and 7.5 assists. Few players in the history of the league have been able to put together lines as well-rounded as Hondo, and the fact that he did it while being Boston's consummate "glue guy" makes it all the more impressive.
Havlicek's legacy hasn't held up the way of the other players on this slideshow, but he was unquestionably a jack-of-all-trades out on the court and the kind of player who could impact the game in any way necessary to win.
Wilt Chamberlain was easily one of the most dominant players in NBA history, and while he used his 7'1" frame to simply overpower much smaller forwards and centers, he also excelled at the finesse aspects of the game and was a threat as a playmaker anywhere on the court. Though he did not play as a guard in the traditional sense, he could handle the ball and make plays for his teammates as well as call his own number and control a game offensively.
Obviously, Chamberlain was one of the best inside threats in the history of the NBA from the power forward and center positions. He was a tremendous athlete, particularly for that era of basketball, meaning he could get out on the break, with or without the ball, and make a play in the open court. He always rim ran well and was able to establish great position in the post against his defenders.
In addition, he was a very skilled offensive player. He had an extremely effective turnaround jump shot that he could hit in the post or from midrange, a solid set of moves in the post to create his own shot and excellent hands around the basket.
Contrary to what many will say, Chamberlain's game wasn't all about being bigger and stronger than his opponents and he was just as skilled as many guards of his era.
Where Chamberlain could have played all positions was as a playmaker and in more of a point-forward or point-center role. He averaged 7.8 assists per game in the 1966-1967 season and a staggering 8.6 in the following year. He was able to pass out of the post to open teammates and capitalize on double and even triple teams while also being able to make plays farther away from the basket.
Due to his speed and athleticism, Chamberlain could effectively guard anyone on the court. With the exception of Bill Russell, Wilt was the most effective rim protector and shot blocker of his era, often keeping guards away from the basket or picking them up on switches.
Chamberlain may not have been an elite free throw shooter or been able to execute a crossover, but he had the talent and skills to play a form of every position on the court.