Most important terms related to the basketball court
This glossary of basketball terms is a list of definitions of terms used in the game of basketball. Like any other major sport, basketball features its own extensive vocabulary of unique words and phrases used by players, coaches, sports journalists, commentators, and fans.
A strategy used within the last minute of a period or quarter, in which the team with possession times its shot to ensure that it will regain possession with enough time to shoot again before time runs out. Applicable in competitions that use a shot clock (all except NFHS in most US states).
Any player, typically not a star, who specializes mainly in three-point shooting ("3") and defense ("D"). The term is most often used in the NBA, where this specific skill set has been increasingly valued in the 21st century.
A rule which requires that a player shall not remain in the opponent's restricted area for more than three consecutive seconds while the player's team is in control of a live ball in the frontcourt and the game clock is running.
A way of expressing the number of times a team that is trailing its opponent late in the game must secure possession of the ball and score without allowing the opponent to do the same in order to tie or overtake the opponent. Normally, three points are the most possible in any given possession; therefore, the number of possessions (n) necessary is equal to the point margin, divided by three, rounded up to the nearest integer. For instance, a team down by 7 points would be in a three-possession game.
A step in which the defender's lead foot steps toward his man and the back foot slides forward.
An offensive play in which a player throws the ball up near the basket to a teammate (or, more rarely, to themself) who then jumps, catches the ball in mid-air, and immediately scores a basket, often with a slam dunk.
In many rulesets, most notably FIBA, NCAA, and NFHS (U.S. high school), a rule used to settle most or all jump ball situations after the opening tipoff. In jump ball situations, or at the start of a new period of play, possession is awarded to the team whose offense is moving in the direction of the possession arrow.
A flat, rigid, vertical board situated behind the rim of the basket and to which the basket is attached. Regulation backboards are made of plexiglass or tempered glass and are rectangular in shape, 6 feet (180 cm) wide by 3.5 feet (110 cm) tall, with a 24-by-18-inch (61 by 46 cm) rectangle marked on the glass immediately above the basket.
1. The half of the court a particular team is defending. Contrast frontcourt.
the violation of touching the ball or the basket while the ball is on the rim; touching the ball when it is within the cylinder extending upwards from the rim; reaching up through the basket from below and touching the ball; or pulling down on the rim of the basket so that it contacts the ball before returning to its original position, or during a shot attempt.
BEEF (Balance, Eyes, Elbow, Follow Through)
A mnemonic used to teach proper shooting form.
1. Substitute players sitting on the sideline.
The actual bench or chairs these players sit on.
A player who does not play and instead sits on the bench for most if not all of a game or season.
In U.S. college basketball, especially NCAA Division I, a team that (1) is a member of a conference with at least one team that is virtually certain to receive a bid to the men's or women's championship tournament, as applicable, regardless of performance in the conference tournament; (2) is not viewed as a viable candidate for an at-large tournament bid; but (3) nevertheless wins its conference tournament, forcing the more powerful conference member(s) into the at-large pool and thus "stealing" a bid from a team (not necessarily in that conference) that otherwise would be a credible candidate for an at-large bid.
Often shortened to big.
Any low post player who is physically large relative to other players, especially one who plays the position of center or power forward.
A screen set directly behind a defender where the player cannot see it.
Under NCAA men's and NFHS rules, a team is "in the bonus" when the opposing team has accumulated seven, eight, or nine team fouls in a half, and therefore gains a one and one opportunity on each non-shooting foul. The opposing team is described as "over the limit". Under NCAA women's rules, the bonus takes effect on the fifth team foul in a quarter, but the "one and one" no longer exists; all subsequent non-shooting fouls result in two free throws. In the NCAA rule book, free throws in this situation are officially called bonus free throws. See also double bonus and penalty.
A pass that bounces once before reaching the receiver.
A combination defense in which four defenders play zone in a box formation and the fifth defender guards one player man-to-man.
An imaginary boundary separating teams expected to receive berths in a postseason tournament from those left out of said event. Though applicable in any competition in which the number of teams playing in the postseason is less than the total number of teams competing, it is most commonly used in reference to the NCAA Division I men's and women's championship tournaments.
bump the cutter
To step in the way of a player who is trying to cut to the ball for a pass.
A basket that is scored in the final seconds of a game (right before the buzzer sounds), especially one which results in a win or a tie that leads to overtime play.
Also called palming.
A violation in formal play which occurs when an offensive player holds the ball excessively at the ball's apex while dribbling. In formal play, this penalty is considered either a "carry" or a double dribble.
One of three standard player positions or five total positions in the game of basketball. Centers are generally the tallest players on the floor, responsible mainly for scoring, rebounding, and defense near the basket.
An offensive foul which occurs when a player with the ball rushes into a non-moving defender.
A strategy whereby one player (the cherry picker) decides not to play defense and instead stays near their opponent's goal, with the primary objective being to receive the ball from their teammates for easier points.
A pass that is made from one player to another player's chest, especially by forcefully pushing the ball away from the chest with both hands.
A player who takes frequent, and often imprudent, shot attempts. The term was popularized by the television series Seinfeld. See also gunner.
A low-percentage shot, generally from close range, taken while the shooter is off balance, falling, facing away from the basket or otherwise out of control. Successful circus shots require exceptional luck.
A foul which occurs when a defender fouls an opponent when the opponent has nobody in front of them. The foul results in two free throws and possession. Contrast with Euro foul.
A dribble from one hand to the ground to the other hand, accompanied by a change in direction.
Also called a dagger shot.
A made shot, sometimes a three-pointer, in a pivotal part of the game; e.g. a shot that silences a rowdy crowd, puts the team ahead in the closing moments of a game, discourages the opposing team, or kills their confidence.
A rebound that is not credited to either team, such as a rebound that (technically) occurs after a miss on the first free throw of a two-shot foul. It ensures that every missed shot has a corresponding rebound, and was introduced for the purposes of box score statistical error detection.
In FIBA and NCAA women's rules, an especially egregious foul, almost always involving violence or other excessive physical contact, that is punished by immediate ejection; equivalent to the NBA's flagrant-2.
Stands for "did not play - coach's decision". It refers to cases where a player was available to play in a game but did not play. It does not refer to cases where a player missed the game due to injury or suspension. Additionally, it does not always mean a player is being punished by the coach. Some end of the bench players may be a DNP-CD for many games during the season.
In NCAA men's and NFHS rules, a team is "in the double bonus" when the opposing team has accumulated 10 or more team fouls in a half, and therefore earns two free throws on each subsequent non-shooting foul committed by the defense. Before 2015–16, this rule was also part of NCAA women's play, but the change from playing in halves to quarters resulted in the elimination of the "one-and-one" free throw situation. The term "double bonus" is widely used by the media and fans, but does not appear in any official rule book. See also bonus and penalty.
To bounce the ball continuously with one hand. Dribbling is required in order to take steps while in possession of the ball; failing to do so properly is a violation of the rules in all rulesets used in the game.
A post-up move where the ballhandler picks up their dribble and at the same time extends a leg back on one side of their defender, and then turns toward the basket, using that leg as leverage to get between their defender and the basket.
A method of ending basketball games by reaching a specified target score, devised by Ball State University professor Nick Elam and currently used in The Basketball Tournament, the NBA All-Star Game, and the Canadian Elite Basketball League. In the TBT implementation, upon the first dead ball on or after the 4:00 mark in the final quarter, 8 points (originally 7, but changed for the 2019 edition) are added to the score of the leading team, which becomes the target score. The game then continues without a game clock but with the shot clock, and the first team to reach or exceed the target score wins. In the NBA ASG implementation, the first three quarters proceed normally. Then, the target score is set by adding 24 points to the score of the leading team, and the game continues as in the TBT implementation. The CEBL implements the Elam Ending at the same point as in TBT, but adds 9 points to set the target score; additionally, if the dead-ball situation that triggers the Elam Ending results in free throws for either team, the free throws are taken under dead-ball conditions before the target score is set.
1. An actual or attempted strike of another player with one's elbow. Especially violent examples are typically called as flagrant fouls.
A fadeaway or fall-away in basketball is a jump shot taken while jumping backwards, away from the basket but still facing it. The goal is to create space between the shooter and the defender, making the shot much harder to block.
An offensive tactic in which a team attempts to advance the ball and score as quickly as possible, giving the other team no time to defend effectively. Often the result of a steal or blocked shot. See also secondary break.
A specialized type of layup shot where the ball is rolled off the tips of the player's fingers using the momentum of the jump. The advantage of the finger roll is that the ball can travel in a higher arc over a defender that might otherwise block the shot.
An unsportsmanlike foul in which there is no serious attempt to play the ball. The NBA classifies these types of fouls as flagrant-1 and flagrant-2; NFHS (high school) uses flagrant personal foul and flagrant technical foul; NCAA men's basketball uses both sets of terms interchangeably; and FIBA and NCAA women's basketball instead use unsportsmanlike foul and disqualifying foul (which roughly correspond to the two North American subcategories). At all North American levels, the latter type of foul results in the immediate ejection of the offender.
A shot in which the ball is released with an extremely high arc in order to prevent taller defenders from blocking the shot. It is typically utilized by smaller guards.
One of three standard player positions or five total positions in the game of basketball. Forwards are primarily responsible for scoring and rebounding. See small forward and power forward. An individual capable of playing both types of forward is often called a stretch four.
An unopposed attempt to score a basket, worth one point, from the free-throw line. Generally, two attempts are awarded when the player is fouled in the act of shooting (three attempts are awarded in the case of a three-point shot), fouled flagrantly, or when the opposing team fouls while over the foul limit. For technical fouls, FIBA rules award one free throw; NBA and NFHS rules award two free throws; and NCAA rules award either one or two free throws, depending on the specific type of technical foul. In 3x3 rules, where regular baskets are worth 1 point and shots from behind the arc are worth 2 points, one attempt is normally awarded; two attempts are awarded when a player is fouled on a missed shot from behind the arc, the opposing team has committed more than six fouls in a game, and on any technical foul.
A combined offensive and defensive system created by David Arseneault, head coach at Grinnell College. A variation of the run-and-gun style, its most unusual feature is that entire five-player units are usually substituted every 45 to 90 seconds, as in an ice hockey shift.
One of three standard player positions or five total positions in the game of basketball. Guards are typically classified in two broad categories: point guards have strong ballhandling and passing skills and are typically used to run the offense, while shooting guards, as the name implies, are generally the team's best shooters and are very often the leading scorers on their teams. Some players, often referred to as combo guards, combine features of both types.
Someone who shoots the ball too many times. See also chucker.
To retreat back across the half-court line after either a made or missed shot attempt. Usually called out by players or coaches to let the team know to hustle back and set up on defense.
The portion of a team's offensive play conducted with both teams having established positions. See also transition offense.
A kind of foul wherein a player used their hands illegally to impede or slow the movement of the opponent.
The time a player spends in the air from the liftoff of a jump to the landing of the jump.
When a player starts to make the majority of their shots and takes over the game.
A situation when players from both teams claim possession of the basketball at the same time without a foul from either team. Depending on the league and the game situation, may result in a jump ball, a change in possession, or an out-of-bounds play by the team that previously had possession.
The area of the court at the top of the key on either end of the free throw line.
To deliberately foul an opposing player to either stop the clock and/or to get possession of the ball after free throw attempts. A common strategy toward the end of the first half or the end of the game.
An offensive tactic where the ballhandler moves to one side of the court while all the other offensive players move to the far side. The offense seeks to create a favorable one-on-one matchup for the isolated ballhandler, or else to draw a double-team that may create an open shot for a teammate.
The primary governing body for intercollegiate sports in the United States. The NCAA organizes annual national championship tournaments for all three of its competitive divisions in college basketball, with the Division Imen's and women's tournaments being by far the most followed.
An annual postseason tournament for NCAA Division I men's basketball teams that do not qualify for the NCAA championship tournament. Founded in 1938, a year before the NCAA tournament, it is closely identified with New York City; all games were originally held at the third Madison Square Garden, and the semifinals and final were held at today's Madison Square Garden through 2022. In its early years, it was considered more prestigious than the NCAA tournament, but this changed starting in the 1950s. The tournament has been directly operated by the NCAA since 2006.
An unconventional offensive strategy developed by NBA head coach Don Nelson. It is an offense that relies on two things: (1) smaller, more athletic players who can create mismatches by outrunning their opponents, and (2) a strong emphasis on three-point shooting, which is generally a staple of the offense. A true center is not needed to run Nellie Ball, although this strategy is most effective against teams that do not have the athleticism or shooting ability to keep up with the fast pace of the offense.
The team that last shot the ball regains control of the ball on a rebound
A player expected to declare themselves eligible for the NBA draft after a single season in college.
In NCAA men's and NFHS rules, a free-throw attempt which, if made, allows the player a second free-throw attempt. This rule also once existed in NCAA women's play but was removed starting with the 2015–16 season. See also bonus.
A box score showing one minute played and zero for all other statistics, resulting in a one followed by twelve zeros – the conventional American rendering of the number one trillion.
A pass thrown by a rebounder to start a fast break.
A foul committed by a player who tries to rebound the ball by pushing, moving, or climbing on the back of a player who is already in position to rebound the ball.
When the score is tied at the end of regulation play, the teams play a five-minute overtime period. Under NFHS rules, overtime is 4 minutes; 3x3 uses an untimed overtime and The Basketball Tournament and Canadian Elite Basketball League have abolished overtime entirely.
To roughly hit down a ball that an opposing player has just released for a shot. See also swat.
A man-to-man defensive system in which one player pressures the ball and the other four "pack" down within an imaginary "line" extending to about 2 feet (60 cm) inside the three-point arc, with the intent of preventing dribble penetration. The system, derived from a number of other man-to-man systems, was developed by Dick Bennett, and has been popularized in the 21st century by coaches including his son Tony, Chris Mack, and Sean Miller.
Another name for the key, often referring only to the painted area below the free-throw line.
Specifically referring to the habit of an offensive player to hold the ball at the apex of its bounce while dribbling, usually by gripping the ball firmly in the dribbling hand. In organized play this is always considered a dribbling penalty, often called a carry or double dribble. In non-organized play this is typically considered rude and is generally discouraged by the defensive players.
A player rating originally used by Liga ACB to determine weekly and season MVPs and later adopted by Euroleague Basketball to determine the same awards in the EuroLeague and EuroCup. No longer used to determine season MVPs in the EuroLeague and EuroCup, but still used for weekly awards, and also used by many other European domestic leagues. It is calculated from statistics available in standard European box scores by adding the numerical values for a player's recorded points, assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, fouls drawn, free throws made, 2-point field goals made, and 3-point field goals made, and subtracting turnovers, own shots blocked, fouls committed, free throw attempts, 2-point field goal attempts, and 3-point field goal attempts.
A concept of roster construction and game play in which most or all key players regularly switch positions, often during games.
A physical or electronic arrow at the scorer's table that determines the next possession under the alternating possession rule. After the opening jump ball, it is set to point in the direction in which the team that lost the jump ball is moving on offense, and is switched each time the alternating possession rule is invoked.
To go in or near the key, turn so that you are facing away from the basket but towards a teammate who has the ball, and try to establish position to receive a pass.
An offensive basketball strategy which emphasizes constant motion, passing, backdoor cuts, picks on and off the ball, and disciplined teamwork. Used and perfected at Princeton University, it is especially designed for a unit of five players who can each pass, shoot, and dribble at an above-average level.
A clause in the 2020 WNBA collective bargaining agreement that, starting in 2023, will severely penalize veteran players who report late to training camp. The expectation is that WNBA players will make that league their priority.
For an offensive player to start a shooting motion without their feet leaving the floor and then to quickly stop. The intent is gain an advantage if the feet of an over-eager defensive player leaves the floor
A dunk performed in the air during an offensive rebound.
2. An area within the free-throw lane, designated by a semicircle in front of the basket, in which contact fouls involving a driving offensive player and a stationary defender are by rule called as a blocking foul on the defender. Called the "no-charge semicircle" in the FIBA rules.
1. The physical rim on a basketball goal.
2. The area immediately surrounding the basket, often defined in shot charts as either the restricted area (definition 2) or a circle around the basket whose diameter matches the width of the free-throw lane.
A toss in which the ball hits the rim of the basket.
rip a C
A motion used while chinning the ball to create space during a pivot between an offensive player and a defensive player. Pivot towards the defender and rips the ball in a C-shape away from the pressure to create a passing lane.
Another name for the basketball.
An interval in which one team heavily outscores the other.
A combined offensive and defensive system devoted to increasing the pace of the game. On offense, the ball is moved upcourt as fast as possible, with the goal of taking the first shot available (often a three-pointer). The defense uses full-court pressure in an attempt to cause turnovers. See also Grinnell System.
1. To attempt to prevent a defender from guarding a teammate by standing in the defender's way. The screening player must remain stationary; a moving screen is an offensive foul.
2. The tactic of setting a screen.
Awarded when a player sets a screen for a teammate that directly results in that teammate making a basket. While not appearing in standard box scores, it is recorded in the NBA, and is one of the statistics that league uses in determining the recipient of its annual Hustle Award.
Also called a hockey assist.
A pass to a teammate who in turn immediately (within 1 second in the NBA) makes a second pass that results in a basket, awarding the second player an assist. While not appearing in standard box scores, these are recorded in the NBA and several other leagues. The alternate term "hockey assist" comes from the ice hockey practice of awarding assista to as many as two players who made passes that directly enabled a goal.
An offensive phase after an initial fast break is stopped but before the opponent can enter into its set defense.
A shot taken without the shooter's feet leaving the floor (i.e. without jumping).
A timer designed to increase the pace (and, consequently, the frequency of scoring) by requiring a shot to be released before the timer expires; if the ball does not touch the rim or enter the basket, a shot-clock violation is called, which results in a loss of possession for the shooting team. The time limit is 24 seconds in the NBA, WNBA, and FIBA play, and 30 seconds in both men's and women's NCAA play. See also air ball.
To deflect an opposing player's shot off course so that it misses completely. See also pack.
Also hoopie and nothing-but-net.
1. A shot which goes through the net without hitting the rim of the basket, and generally without hitting the backboard either (though there is some disagreement about the requirement of the latter).
2. To make a shot in such a manner.
A style of defense in which match-ups change often rather than being set for an entire quarter or game. In its extreme form, this can mean that the offensive player that a defensive player is guarding changes multiple times within one possession. The switch is often employed against an offense that relies on a pick and roll strategy.
Also simply called a technical or abbreviated as T.
A foul assessed for unsportsmanlike behavior that does not involve physical contact and for some procedural violations (for example, having too many players on the court or calling a timeout when none remain). Technical fouls are penalized by loss of possession after a free throw, which may be taken by any member of the opposing team.
When the ball hits the rim of the basket at a certain angle and then circles around it before going in or out.
The portion of a team's defensive play conducted when the other team has first gained possession and is moving up the court, before both teams have established positions; this includes defense against fast breaks. See also halfcourt defense.
The portion of a team's offensive play conducted when first obtaining possession from the other team and moving up the court, before both teams have established positions; this includes fast breaks. See also halfcourt offense.
To move one's pivot foot illegally, to fall to the floor without maintaining a pivot foot, or to take three or more steps without dribbling the ball. Such violations are referred to as traveling; the precise rules regarding the infraction vary by ruleset.
An offensive strategy with the goal of exchanging three (sometimes all five) positions, creating spacing among players and allowing each one to pass to four teammates. The most important feature of the triangle offense is the sideline triangle created by the center in the low post, a forward at the wing, and a guard at the corner; the other guard stands at the top of the key and the weak-side forward on the weak-side high post, together forming the "two-man game". Every pass and cut has a purpose, and each is dictated by the movements of the opposing defense.
Double-digit figures in three positive statistical categories, especially when achieved by an individual player (e.g. 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists).
true road game
In U.S. college basketball, a game played by a particular team on an opponent's home court, or sometimes a larger venue in that opponent's home area in which the opponent controls ticket sales. This distinction has been drawn in the 21st century because of an increasing number of early-season events—both individual games and tournaments—held in locations at which neither team can be considered to have any significant home-court advantage, known as neutral sites.
A loss of possession, either during ordinary play or as the result of a penalty for an infraction of the rules.
A term, sometimes used derisively, for a player who is able to play two positions, but is not ideally suited to play either position exclusively. A tweener has a set of skills that do not match the traditional position of the player's physical stature.
An offensive strategy used by UCLA head coach John Wooden. Due to the program's immense success under Wooden's guidance, this offense has become one of the most popular offensive tactics in basketball. Elements of it are commonly used at all levels of the game, including in the NBA.
A cooperative organization of European professional basketball leagues which operated the Euroleague and Eurocup before handing responsibility to the Euroleague Basketball Company.
(FIBA and NCAA women's) An egregious foul involving excessive physical contact, fouling with no intention to make a play on the ball, or fouling an opponent on a breakaway from behind. In NCAA women's play, this category also includes contact dead-balltechnical fouls. It is roughly equivalent to the NBA's flagrant-1.
up and down
A traveling violation which occurs when the ball carrier jumps vertically into the air and does not get rid of it before landing.
The act of raising one's center of gravity higher in the vertical plane solely with the use of one's own muscles; it is a measure of how high an individual athlete can elevate off the ground from a standstill.
A tournament for NCAA Division I women's teams, with both preseason and postseason versions. The preseason version was founded in 1994, and the postseason version was founded in 1998. The latter includes teams that do not qualify for the NCAA championship tournament. Before the 1998–99 season, both events were known as the National Women's Invitational Tournament, inheriting the name of a similar postseason event that operated from 1969 to 1996. Despite the name, the WNIT has no relation to the men's NIT—it is not operated by the NCAA, and was never under the control of any of the bodies that ran the men's NIT before 2006.
^Ryan, Shane (April 4, 2013). "The Cardinal Rules". Grantland.com. Retrieved April 8, 2013. The point is that every missed shot has to have a rebound. And to be able to balance the box score, there needs to be a rebound for every miss. That way you know the box score adds up. It's kind of like a geometry proof, where the left side has to equal the right side.