Amateur and professional sports generally have rules surrounding every element of the game including the players, equipment, course, etc. One common focus is the number of players and the positions that they are permitted to play. Basketball is no exception to this. Teams are restricted to a minimum and a maximum number of players on a team.
These restrictions are generally created to ensure that fairness is applied across the board and no one team is stacked with the best of the bests. With that in mind, how many players are on a basketball team?
How Many Players Are On A Basketball Team?
A basketball team is only permitted to have 15 players total, with a maximum of 13 active during each game. Under some circumstances, the team may be permitted to have a minimum of 11 players, but typically the minimum requirement is set at 13.
When the game is in play, there may only be 5 players on the court at a time. This means that there should never be any more than 10 players, between both teams, actively playing at any one time.
The 5-player rule is absolute. There cannot be any more than and any less than 5. Even if a player has been fouled out of the game, if their removal results in less than 5 players, they must stay in the game. This will result in a team foul and technical foul for the team as well as a personal foul for the player. Any additional foul results in the same thing.
In the event that there are only 5 remaining usable players and one is injured, the last player fouled out must take their place and the same rules apply. Something like this rarely happens, but it is something that has been considered. That is also another reason why teams of 13-15 players were established. The goal is to reduce the likelihood that the team will go under 5 players.
A notable exception to the 13 minimum/maximum rule would be when a team is forced to do any unexpected changes midseason. The team is permitted to have 2 fewer players for a maximum of two weeks during a season. After two weeks, they must be back up to 13.
Reasons for 15 Players on A Roster
While 15 players might seem arbitrary, the rule was implemented to provide teams with room to operate with a little freedom. While some of it has to do with budget reasons, the main reason is to take into account extenuating circumstances.
During the height of Covid-19, it was expected that a team member would inevitably be removed for a period of 2 weeks or more. With that in mind, it was voted to raise the previous 13-player rule to 15. Although teams don’t necessarily need 15 players, the need to cover players that might be injured or otherwise unable to play was there.
These player restrictions also had something to do with budget as well. With each team allotted specific budgets for player salaries and minimum player salaries, there needed to be a way to ensure that players did not go over that budget. That is why the maximum restriction exists. Well, that and the possibility that one team might hoard as many power players as possible and create a built-in handicap for other teams.
What Are the 5 Positions in Basketball?
So with 15 players on a team maximum, with 5 players at any given time, there are also 5 main positions on a team. These positions consist of a:
The center is usually the tallest player on the team. This player will stay close to the basket and can take an offensive or defensive roll, depending on the need. While on the defense, their goal is to block the opponents’ shots and hopefully rebound their misses. While operating on the offense, their main goal is to try and score close shots and rebounds.
Very similar to the center, the power forward will play near the basket while defending against taller players. They will typically take shots close to the basket, due to proximity, but they will also take longer shots as well, which is how they differ from a center.
This player is generally smaller than the power forward and is more agile. They will roam around the court more freely and can score from close or long range. This makes them a valuable player to have on the team.
This player will run the offense and is typically regarded as the team’s best passer and dribbler. Their main role is to defend the opposing team’s point guard and try to steal the ball. They’re essentially the best when it comes to maneuvering themselves and the ball around the court to execute plays.
Often regarded as the team’s best shooter, the shooting guard will attempt to shoot the ball from close or long distances as necessary. They operate largely the same as a point guard except they make more efforts to ensure the ball makes it in the basket.
The shooting guard is usually the team’s best shooter. The shooting guard can make shots from long distances and also is a good dribbler.
Point forward: A small forward that also operates as a point guard, the point forward is agile and maneuvers the ball around the court to create the best scenario for themselves or others to score.
Combo guard: This role is covered by someone that acts as a point guard and shooting guard. They must know how to handle the ball well and be able to shoot with extreme accuracy.
Swingman: This play covers the position of shooting guard and small forward. Since they’re generally taller than the average shooting guard, they’re not objectively better than either role. They are just seen as more versatile, so they work for both roles.
Stretch 4: This player is simply a power forward that is capable of shooting outside the 3-point line. This makes them a very powerful player that you want to have on your team.
Every position is important, and some teams will train their players to be able to take on multiple roles. Though, it is not uncommon for players to focus on a main role and primarily operate in that capacity.
Deviations to Roster Size
Even though the official team player regulations for the NBA allow for up to 15 with a minimum of 13 players at a time, other leagues allow for deviations. Here are a few examples of leagues that deviate from the NBA standard.
The WNBA minimum number of players is 11 with a maximum amount of 12. This does not leave much room for player deviation and roster difference throughout the season. The reason behind this choice is largely believed to solely be due to budgeting purposes. The budget for the WNBA does not allow teams the salary options for more players.
College basketball follows the same rules as the NBA where there are 15 players permitted on the team with 13 playable. This is likely because college players are not paid, allowing the sport to resemble the professional league more closely. This may change as court cases are permitting and even requiring that college players be paid for their time on the team.
The players on a high school team vary greatly depending on the state, district, and even high school. A common rule of thumb seen throughout many high schools is that there is a maximum of 15 and a minimum of 12. Although that is the rule of thumb, it is not uncommon to see less than 12 players and teams with 20 plus players on the roster. When it comes to competitions, there is likely to be a stricter stance taken on how many players are permitted.
These deviations are due to different formal regulations and budget reasons that do not permit any more players. Fans of the WNBA are hoping for more funding as it becomes a more popular sport, allowing for more teams and more players.
Other Rules to Note Regarding Rosters
The NBA has a few outlier rules surrounding the number of players on their teams. These rules exist to accommodate different needs and situations. Here is a couple that are worth noting.
The two-way contract allows for an additional two players to be on an NBA team as long as they are drafted into the NBA G League. These two players are only allowed to be with their NBA team for a maximum of 45 days, and must spend more time with their G League team. The purpose of the two-way contract is to allow NBA teams to have more options and allow fringe players the opportunity to showcase their talent as a sort of NBA team tryout.
In the NBA, a player is permitted 6 fouls per game before they are removed as a usable player. These fouls are rationed and sometimes used as a tool to alter game outcomes. When a player is nearing their maximum foul limit, they are often benched to avoid being removed from the game. This is considered “Foul Trouble,” and is a strategic maneuver to potentially change the game in one direction or another.
When it comes to player injuries, they are permitted to be benched and remain on the team, but there is also an amnesty clause. The amnesty clause allows a player to be cut from the team and have their contract paid out in order for the team to hire a free agent to take their place. This removes any handicaps the team may have throughout the season.
There are other team player regulations and nuances that can make it so more or fewer players are permitted at any given time. These rules are decided under special circumstances and can be used for a number of different situations.
Knowing how many players on a basketball team can help you get a greater feel for the sport as you become more involved in it. Whether you are seeking to participate in the sport or just don’t want to feel stupid when hanging out with your friends, simply knowing the rules and NBA roster size will help.