Basketball Terminology & Definitions

Use this resource to learn Basketball Rules, Terminology and Definitions categorized in alphabetical order.

If you are looking for a term that’s not here, contact us and let us know.

I also need to recommend Coach Turner’s Hoops Terms Compendium where you will find nearly 500 terms  and definitions — from the ‘normal’ basketball terms to the slang expressions! Coach Turner has put together a fantastic resource!

Alternating-possession rule:
The possession arrow changes direction after each held ball situation, alternating which team gets possession of the ball.

Assist:
A pass that immediately precedes and sets up a scored basket.

Backboard:
The rectangular or fan-shaped board behind the basket.

Backcourt:
The half of the court that is opposite a team’s offensive basket; the court a team is attempting to defend.

Ball handler:
The player with the ball; usually the point guard at the start of a play.

Ball Side:
The half of the court from the middle to the sideline where the ball is currently located. May also be referred to as the ‘strong side’.

Bank shot:
A shot where the ball is first bounced (or banked) off the backboard at such an angle that it then drops into the basket.

Baseline:
The boundary line behind each basket; also called the endline.

Basket:
Attached to the backboard, it consists of a metal rim 18″ in diameter suspended 10′ from the floor, from which a 15-18″ corded net hangs, and through which points are scored; also used to refer to a successful field goal.

Beat the defender:
When an offensive player, with or without the ball, is able to get past an opponent who is guarding him.

Bench Points:
The number of points scored during a game from players that began the game on the bench. All points scored by non-starters.

Blocked shot:
The successful deflection of a shot by touching part of the ball on its way to the basket, thereby preventing a field goal.

Blocking:
The use of a defender’s body position to illegally prevent an opponent’s advance; the opposite of charging.

Bonus free throw:
See “One-and-One.”

Bounce pass:
A pass that strikes the floor before it reaches the receiver.

Boxing out:
A player’s attempt to position his body between his opponent and the basket to get rebounds and prevent the opponents from doing so. Also referred to as Blocking out.

Carrying the ball:
Also called “palming;” a violation committed by a dribbler that involves placing the dribbling hand under the ball and momentarily holding or carrying it while dribbling.

Center:
Also called the “pivot player;” an offensive position typically played by a tall player who plays mainly in the key areas (at the post).

Center court circle:
The circular area at midcourt from which jump balls are taken.

Charging:
A personal foul committed when an offensive player illegally contacts a defensive player who has established position or is stationary.

Chest pass:
A two-handed pass thrown from the passer’s chest in a straight line to the chest area of the receiver.

Controlling the boards:
Securing a majority of the rebounds.

Conversion:
A made basket or free throw.

Court vision:
A player’s ability to see everything on the court during play — such as where his teammates and defenders are set up — which enables him to make better choices in passing; the best players possess this trait.

Crossover dribble:
A dribble in which the ball is moved from one hand to the other while the dribbler changes directions.

Cut:
A quick movement by an offensive player to elude an opponent or to receive the ball.

Cylinder:
The imaginary area directly above the basket where goaltending or basket interference can occur.

Dead ball:
Occurs whenever the whistle blows to stop play and after a field goal, but before the opponent gains possession of the ball.

Defense:
The team not in possession of the ball whose objective is to keep the opponent from scoring; also a specific pattern of play used by a defending team.

Defensive rebound:
A rebound of an opponent’s missed shot.

Double-double:
When a player scores double-digits in 2 categories during one game (points, assists and rebounds are most common, but it can also be blocks or steals); a sign of great versatility.

Double dribble:
A violation that occurs when a player dribbles the ball with two hands simultaneously or stops dribbling and then dribbles again.

Double foul:
A situation in which two opponents commit a foul against each other simultaneously.

Double team:
A defensive tactic in which two defenders temporarily guard one player.

Downcourt or down the court:
The direction a team on offense moves, from its backcourt into its frontcourt and towards its own basket.

Dribble or dribbling:
Process by which a player repeatedly bounces the ball off the floor so that it returns to his/her possession. It’s the only legal means by which a single player may move the ball across the court.

Drive:
A quick dribble directly to the basket in an effort to score.

Dunk:
When a player close to the basket jumps and strongly throws the ball down into it; an athletic, creative shot used to intimidate opponents.

Elbow:
A term often used to indicate the area of the court where the free-throw line and side of the key meet.

Elbowing:
It is a violation if a player vigorously or excessively swings his elbows, even if there is no contact; it is a foul if contact is made.

End line:
See ‘baseline’.

Established position:
When a defensive player has both feet firmly planted on the floor before an offensive player’s head and shoulder get past him; the offensive player who runs into such a defender is charging.

4-point play:
A made 3-point field goal in which the shooter was fouled, followed by a successful free-throw.

Fake or feint:
A deceptive move to throw a defender off balance and allow an offensive player to shoot or receive a pass; players use their eyes, head or any other part of the body to trick an opponent.

Fastbreak:
An offensive strategy in which a team attempts to move the ball downcourt and into scoring position as quickly as possible so that the defense is outnumbered and does not have time to set up.

Field goal:
A basket scored on any shot other than a free throw, worth two or three points depending on the distance of the attempt from the basket.

Flagrant foul:
Unnecessary or excessive contact against an opponent.

Forward:
An offensive position played to the sides of the basket near the key area and out toward the sideline along the baseline.

Foul (also referred to as ‘personal foul’):
A violation resulting from illegal contact with an opposing player.

Foul line:
See “Free-throw line.”

Foul shot:
See “Free-throw.”

Free throw:
An unguarded shot taken from behind the free-throw line after a foul. If successful, the shot counts one point.

Free-throw lane:
Also called the “key” or “lane;” a 12-foot wide area extending from the baseline to the free-throw line. Players may not be in this area during a free-throw attempt.

Free-throw line:
A 12-foot-long line that is parallel to and 15 feet from the backboard.

Free-throw line extended:
An imaginary line drawn from the free-throw line to the sideline to determine the location for certain plays.

Front court:
The half of the court (divided by the center line) that contains the offensive team’s basket; the offensive half of the court.

Full–court press:
A defensive tactic in which a team guards the opponents closely the full length of the court.

Game clock:
Shows how much time remains in each quarters or halves of games.

Guard:
An offensive position played primarily at the perimeter, or away from the basket.

Guarding:
The act of following an opponent around the court to prevent him from getting close to the basket, taking an open shot or making easy an pass, while avoiding illegal contact.

Half-court or set offense:
When a team takes the time to develop a play in its frontcourt, such as the give-and-go or a screening play; opposite of fast break.

Held ball:
Formerly called a “jump ball.” When two players on opposite teams are in joint control of the ball.

Help Side:
The half of the court from the middle to the sideline opposite to where the ball is currently located.

Hesitation Dribble:
A dribbling action with a change-of-pace intended to confuse and/or freeze the defender. The basic action is a stutter step in which the dribbler momentarily slows his or her pace and speed.

High percentage shot:
A shot that is likely to go in the basket, such as a layup.

High post:
An imaginary area outside either side of the foul lane at the elbow / free-throw line extended area.

Inbounds:
The area within the baselines and sidelines of the court; also the act of bringing the ball into this area by means of a throw-in.

Incidental contact:
Minor contact usually overlooked by officials.

Inside shooting:
Shots taken by a player near or under the basket.

Intentional foul:
A personal foul that the official judges to be premeditated.

In the paint:
In the “key” area, so named because this area of the floor is painted.

Jump ball:
The procedure for starting play at the beginning of a game or an overtime period. The official tosses the ball into the air between the two opponents positioned at the center-court circle; the two players jump up and try to tap the ball to a teammate.

Jump shot:
A shot that is released after the shooter has jumped into the air.

Jump stop:
A method used to come to a complete stop. Both feet must land simultaneously – either parallel or staggered – in order for it to be a jump stop.

Key:
Also called the “free-throw lane” or “lane;” the area measuring 12 feet in width and extending from the free-throw line to the end line.

Layup or layin:
A shot taken close to the basket that is usually banked off the backboard towards the basket.

Loose ball:
A ball that is alive but not in the possession of either team.

Low post:
An imaginary area outside either side of the foul lane close to the basket.

Lower percentage shot:
A shot that is less likely to go in the basket, such as one thrown by a player who is off balance or outside his shooting range.

Man-to-man defense:
A team defense in which each player is assigned to guard a particular opponent.

Offense:
The team that has possession of the basketball. Also, a structured pattern of play that a team uses while attempting to score.

Offensive rebound:
A rebound of a team’s own missed shot.

Officials:
The referees who control the game, stop and start play, and impose penalties for violations and fouls.

One-and-one:
The “bonus” free-throw situation awarded for non-shooting fouls after the opposing team exceeds a certain number of team fouls in a half. The person fouled shoots one free throw; if successful, the shooter takes a second shot.

Out of bounds:
The area outside of and including the end lines and sidelines.

Outside shooting:
Shots taken from the perimeter.

Over-and-back violation:
A violation that occurs when the offensive team returns the ball into the backcourt once it has positioned itself in the front court.

Overhead pass:
A two-handed pass thrown from above the forehead.

Overtime:
An extra period played to break a tie score at the end of a regulation game.

Palming:
See “Carrying the ball.”

Pass:
An intentional throw to a teammate.

Passer:
The player who passes the ball to a teammate.

Period:
Any quarter, half or overtime segment.

Perimeter:
The area beyond the foul circle away from the basket, including 3-point line, from which players take long-range shots.

Personal foul:
Contact between players that may result in injury or provide one team with an unfair advantage; players may not push, hold, trip, hack, elbow, restrain or charge into an opponent; these are also counted as team fouls.

Pick:
See “Screen or Screener”

Pick and Roll:
A play in which an offensive player sets a pick for the dribbler, then cuts off that pick, or ‘rolls’, toward the basket looking for a pass from the dribbler for a shot.

Pick-up games:
Impromptu games played among players who just met.

Pivot:
A footwork technique in which a player keeps one foot in contact with a “spot” on the floor while moving the other foot to adjust the position of the body or to evade a defensive player.

Point guard:
An offensive position played by a guard who usually brings the ball up the court and initiates the offense.

Possession:
To be holding or in control of the ball.

Possession arrow:
Used to determine which team’s turn it is to inbounds the ball to begin a period or in a held ball situation.

Post:
An offensive position played close to the basket along the key.

Press:
An aggressive defense that attempts to force the opponents to make errors by guarding them closely from either half court, three-quarter court or full court.

Quadruple double:
A triple double with double-digits scored in 4 categories.

Rebound:
The act of gaining possession of the ball after a missed shot.

Run:
Occurs when one team scores several field goals in quick succession while its opponents score few or none.

Scoring opportunity:
When a player gets open for a shot that is likely to score.

Screen or screener:
The offensive player who stands between a teammate and a defender to gives his teammate the chance to take an open shot.

Scrimmage:
An unofficial game between two teams, or five-on-five play between team members in a practice situation.

Shot clock:
A clock that limits the time a team with the ball has to shoot it; 24 seconds in the NBA; in college, 35 seconds for men, 30 seconds for women.

Shooter:
A player who takes a shot at the basket.

Shooter’s roll or shooter’s touch:
The ability to get even an inaccurate shot to bounce lightly off the rim and into the basket.

Shooting range:
The distance from which a player is likely to make his shots.

Sidelines:
2 boundary lines that run the length of the court.

Sixth man:
The best substitute on a team; usually the first player to come off the bench to replace a starter.

Slam dunk:
See “dunk.”

Squaring up:
When a player’s shoulders are facing the basket as he releases the ball for a shot; considered good shooting position.

Substitute:
A player who comes into the game to replace a player on the court.

Swing man:
A player who can play both the guard and forward positions.

3-point play:
A made 2-point field goal in which the shooter was fouled, followed by a successful free-throw.

3 seconds:
A violation in which an offensive player remains within the key for more than three seconds at a time.

Team fouls:
Each personal foul committed by a player is also counted against his team; when a team goes over the limit, its opponent is awarded free-throw opportunities.

Technical foul:
A foul that does not involve contact with an opponent; a foul that involves unsportsmanlike conduct by a player, coach or non-player; or a contact foul committed by a player while the ball is dead.

Ten-second line:
The mid-court line over which the offensive team must advance the ball from the backcourt within 10 seconds to avoid a violation.

Three-point field goal:
A made basket from a distance greater than 19 feet and nine inches during a high school or college game.

Three-on-two:
A common fastbreak situation in which three offensive players attempt to score on two defenders.

Timeout:
When play is temporarily suspended by an official or at the request of a team to respond to an injured player or discuss strategy.

Transition:
The shift from offense to defense, and vice versa.

Traveling:
A violation occurring when a player with the ball takes a step without dribbling (moving the established pivot foot).

Triple double:
When a player scores double-digits in 3 categories during one game (points, assists and rebounds are most common, but it can also be blocks or steals); a sign of great versatility.

Triple Threat Position:
Triple threat is an offensive position a player can use who has not dribbled yet. The offensive player stands with knees flexed, feet slightly wider than shoulder width, and both hands on the basketball. From this position, the offensive player can either shoot, dribble, or pass to a teammate … thereby being a ‘triple threat’ with the basketball.

Turnover:
A loss of possession of the ball by means of an error or violation.

Upset:
When a higher-seeded (better) team loses to a lower-seeded (inferior) one.

Violation:
An infringement of the rules that’s not a foul. The penalty for a violation is the awarding of the ball to the opponent.

Weakside:
The side of the court away from the ball.

Zone defense:
A team defense in which each player is responsible for defending an area of the court and the opponents within that area.

Zone offense:
An offensive pattern of play designed to attack (score against) a particular zone defense.

  • KansasWildcat

    Looking for term double ? when two players are guarding one opposing player. Called double ___________(double team?, double up???

    • http://www.hoopsu.com Tony Alfonso

      Double team is correct. You might also hear it stated as simply ‘double’. It’s also often called a ‘trap’.