Basketball Terms & Terminology

Written by: Chris Hungerford



Time to read 17 min

With as many basketball terms as there are in this unbelievably popular sport, it’s no wonder that even the most savvy of coaches and players sometimes catch themselves unsure of a new term within the game. For example, over the past few years analysts have been throwing around terms like Stretch Four and 3 and D. If you are unsure what these terms mean, then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s our list of 160 of the most common terms in basketball.

1 and 1 - When a player is awarded one free throw that becomes a live ball if the shot is missed. If the shot goes in, the player is awarded a second free throw.

1-3-1 Zone Defense - As with any Zone Defense, players protect a particular space instead of one single player. In 1-3-1, the players are positioned with one at the top of the three-point arc, three players lined parallel in the middle, and one player down under the hoop. Players do not stay still and the formation will change as the ball is moved within the half-court.

2-3 Zone - Much like the 1-3-1, the 2-3 Zone puts two players at the top of the key and three players spread evenly about across the baseline but in front of the hoop. Each player protects a spot, but offensive ball movement dictates how the players react and move.

3-2 Zone - 3-2 is just like 2-3, but in this case, three players stay up top with only two players down low. This defense is especially effective against teams that shoot from regularly from beyond the arc.

1-2-1-1 Press - This is a full-court press where the first defender puts pressure on the player inbounding the ball, and the 1-2-1 formation behind the defender awaits to apply pressure on the ball in an attempt to wear down the offense and hopefully get a steal or a shot-clock violation.

3 in the Key - When an offensive player spends 3 seconds in the key they are called for a violation. This rule is designed to keep defensive players from camping out in the key and preventing shots around the basket.

5 Second Violation - On a dead ball (after the ball goes out of bounds, or a time out) players have five seconds to pass the ball inbounds. If they take longer than five seconds a violation returns the ball back to the other team. 

Airball - When a player shoots and the ball does not hit the rim or the basket.

Alley-Oop - When a player lobs the ball to another player who catches the ball while still in the air and either dunks or lays it in.

And One - When a player gets fouled in the act of shooting and the shot goes in they are awarded a single free throw to turn a two-point play into a three-point play, or a three-point basket into a four-point play. Players often use these terms whenever they get folded in the act of shooting, but the And One is strictly for the additional free-throw awarded on made baskets.

Assist - Anytime a player passes to a player who then scores within the flow of the pass. For example, a point guard would be awarded an assist if he passed to a player in transition who then made a layup, but a player would not be awarded an assist if he passed to someone who dribbled several times, then drove and scored.

Backboard - The rectangular-shaped board that the basket is attached to. The backboard is often used for layups and mid-range shots from the side of the court.

Backcourt (space) - The half of the court that is opposite of the offensive team’s hoop.

Backcourt (players) - The guards on a team are referred to as the backcourt. Forwards/Center are front court.

Backcourt Violation - When a player spends too much time, (usually 10 seconds) in the backcourt, the player is called for a violation. Most states give teams ten seconds to get the ball past half-court.

Backdoor - When a player cuts away from the hoop, usually to set a screen, then quickly shifts back towards the hoop for a shot.

Ball fake - When a player uses the ball to fake a pass or a shot.

Ball handling - The ability to dribble through defenders, dribble without turning the ball over, or utilize ball fakes and other ball-related skills. Ball handling is a broad term that can apply to point guards, but players like Demarcus Cousins would be considered great ball handlers even at the center position.

Ball Side - The side the ball is currently positioned.

Ball Reversal - When the ball is moved from one side of the court to the other it is referred to as a ball reversal.

Bank shot - When a shot bounces off the backboard. Other phrases with the same meaning: Bank and Banked it.

Baseline - The lines on the ends of each court, about four feet under each basket.

Basket - The actual hoop that is fastened to the backboard. Although it is often referred to as the rim, the original hoop was a literal peach basket that James Naismith placed ten feet above ground on a wall in a Springfield, MA YMCA.

Behind-the-back - When a player dribbles the ball behind his or her back.

Behind-the-back-pass - When a player passes the ball by throwing it behind his or her back.

Bench - The seating area where the substitute players and the coach sit during the game. Sometimes called The Pine.

Big man - A player who plays Forward or Center. Usually, this refers to a four or five, which is usually a reference to the Power Forward and Center.

Block - When a defense player swats away the ball from a player in the act of shooting.

Blocking foul - When a defensive player blocks the offensive player with his body it is considered a foul unless the defensive player was already in position.

Block - An area outside the key where two small rectangles are positioned just a few feet from the hoop.

Bounce Pass - When a player passes the ball by bouncing it off the floor.

Boxing out - When a player positions their body in front of another player and turns to look toward the hoop in anticipation of a rebound on a missed shot. Boxing out requires the player to utilize their backside and leg positioning to keep their opponent from getting around them.

Box and One - A defensive strategy that places two players on the block, two at the top of the key area, and one free player who will cover the most dangerous offensive player no matter where he is. The four players form the box formation and guard areas of the court, but the single defender just follows the most dangerous offensive player.

Brick - When a shot makes a loud clank against the rim it is considered a brick, but a brick has evoked to refer to just about any missed shot other than an airball.

Buzzer Beater - When a player attempts a shot and the buzzer sounds to end the period while the ball is in mid-air.

Carry - When a player dribbles the ball and places their hand to the side or underneath in an attempt to pause the ball’s momentum. This call has been relaxed considerably at the NBA level, but is still called very tight in most other levels of play.

Center - The Center is typically the tallest person on the floor. Traditionally the Center is the player who stays in the post and plays in the style of Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but over the past decade players at the Center position have become more versatile—shooting long-range shots and handling the ball more. The Center position is also known as the 5.

Charge - When a defender establishes position and an offensive player collides with him it is considered a charge.

Charity Stripe - Another term for the free-throw line.

Cherry Picking - When a player fails to return to the defensive end of the court, then waits near her own basket to try and score an easy basket.

Chest Pass - When a player passes with two hands from the chest area by pushing the ball outward and flicking his wrists away from the body.

Closeout - When an offensive player first catches the ball, a defensive player can close by sprinting toward the player in order to prevent him from driving, or placing a hand high in front of him to block or defend his shot.

Court Vision - The ability of a player to see the whole court and read what teammates and the defense are doing. Court vision is developed only after players master the ability to dribble without looking at the ball.

Cross-court violation - Once a player crosses half court they are not allowed to return to the other half with the ball. This is a cross-court or backcourt violation.

Cross-Screen - When a player moves from one side of the court to another to set a screen.

Crossover - When a player dribbles quickly to one side, then switches direction and dribbles toward the other side to shake his defender. This can be done by dribbling in front of the body, behind the back, or even between the legs.

Cut - When a player makes a quick change of direction to get open it is considered a cut.

Defense - When a team does not have possession of the ball it is considered the defensive team. This is different than sports like football as the same players rotate from defense to offense constantly throughout the game.

Deflection - When a defense touches the ball without getting a steal but still impedes the ball’s natural motion.

Diamond and One - Similar to Box and One, this defensive strategy places the best defensive player in free motion to shadow the best offensive player, but the remaining four defenders position themselves in a diamond shape to guard spots on the floor.

Dime - Another word for an assist.

Double Double - When a player has ten in two categories. Usually Points and Assists or Points and rebound, but could apply to points, rebounds, assists, steals, or blocks.

Double Dribble - When a player dribbles with both hands, or touches the ball with the opposite hand while dribbling.

Double Foul - When two players foul at the same time. A very rare call.

Double Screen - When two defenders set a screen next to each other or at the same time in close proximity.

Double Team - When two players guard or trap a single offensive player.

Down Screen - When a player comes from the top of the arc of the key and sets a screen at the lower end of the court (closer to the hoop).

Dribbling - When a player bounces the ball onto the floor with one hand. Players can switch hands as often as they want, but as soon as they touch the ball with two hands they must give up their dribble and either pass or shoot. Players can only take two steps after picking up their dribble.

Drive - When a player is moving fast with the ball toward the hoop.

Drop Step - When a player takes a step back, usually from the low post, and then fades to the side to shoot an open shot.

Dunk - When a player puts the ball in the hoop by leaping up high enough to drop the ball in and touch or grab the rim. Dunk can be completed with one or two hands. Other dunk terms include: Throw down, slam, slam dunk, pack it, jam, stuff, and many more.

Elbow - The elbow is the spot on the court where the top of the free-throw line meets the lane or key.

Euro Step - A move popularized by European players that involves taking a big step in one direction and then crossing to the other direction in one motion for a basket. This is an advanced move that if executed properly can be very effective. Some players with less skill will often get called for traveling on this play.

Fadeaway - When a player falls back as they are shooting.

Fast break - When an offensive team transitions from defense to offense very fast, pushing the ball up the floor as quickly as possible.

Field Goal - Any shot made except for a free throw.

Finger Roll - When a player rolls the ball off of their finger to score.

Flagrant Foul - When a player uses excessive contact to foul someone the referee can call a flagrant foul. Refs will rule a flagrant anytime a foul does not appear to make an attempt at the ball, or places a player in unnecessary risk for injury.

Flex Cut - A cross screen that involves players cutting away from the basketball to a spot around the perimeter.

Floater - A shot wear the shooter allows the ball to roll with a high arc to avoid tall defenders in the paint.

Flop - When a player makes excessive movement after being touched in order to draw a foul.

Foul - Any time a player violates the rules by making illegal contact.

Foul Line - Another term for the Free-Throw line.

Foul Shot - Another term for Free-Throw

Four-Point Play - When a player is fouled on a three-point shot, if the shot goes in they are awarded a single free-throw, thus being able to complete a four-point play.

Free Throw Line Extended - An imaginary line that extends beyond the free-throw line and to the sideline.

Front Court - A reference to the guards on the team

Full Court Press - When a team plays pressure defense over the area of the entire court.

Give and Go - When a player makes a pass, then cuts to the hoop and receives a pass from the teammate he just passed to.

Goal Tending - When a player blocks a shot from going in the hoop as it is on its way down. This usually occurs high above the rim and defenders must be very athletic to do it.

Grinnell Offense - An offense popularized by Dave Arseneault at Grinnell College where the player must shoot in 7 seconds or less and usually does not play very hard on defense.

Hack - Another word for a foul.

Hesitation Dribble - When a player slows their pace with the ball, then moves quickly to fake out their opponent.

Hook Shot - A rarely used shot in modern basketball where a player uses one hand to find the ball into the hoop in a hooking, one-handed motion.

Hoop - Another term for the basket.

Illegal Screen - When a place sets a screen and is either moving or using too much arm, elbow, or hand to keep the offensive player from moving.

Intentional Foul - When a player fouls without attempting to touch the ball.

Isolation - When a player with the ball holds possession and uses one-on-one moves to beat his defender.

Jab Step - When a player in a triple threat position uses his pivot foot to make a ball fake.

Jump Ball - When an official stands in the middle of the court at the beginning of the game and throws the ball in the air for the two centers to try and tip it first. This can also be used in certain rules for jump ball calls where possession cannot be determined.

Jump Shot - Any shot taken while jumping. Early basketball players (1950s and earlier) often shot without leaving the ground.

Jump Stop - When a player lands on two feet in a triple threat position.

Key - The rectangular area that stretches from the baseline to the free-throw line and covers 12 feet across and 15 feet from the hoop.

Lane Violation - When a player moves into the key too early when a free-throw is being performed, or when the shooter steps over the free-throw line.

Lay-up - any shot that takes place two feet from the basket.

Man-to-Man Defense - When one player guards another specific player it is called man-to-man defense.

Mismatch - When a player with a significant advantage is guarding a smaller or slower player it is considered a mismatch.

Moving Screen - When a player sets a screen but does not maintain position or moves in front of the offensive player without establishing position it is considered a moving screen.

No Look Pass - When a player passes to a teammate without looking.

Offense - The team with the ball.

Officials - The men or women who carry a whistle and call fouls, award time-outs, assure rosters are set before the game, and maintain order during the game.

Outlet Pass - When a rebounder makes a long pass down the court to start a fast break.

Overhead Pass - When a player makes a two-handed pass above his head.

Overtime - The period of play that results from a tie game after regulation. Usually a five-minute extra period.

Over-and-Back Violation - When an offensive player crosses half-court then returns over the half-court line.

Paint - Another term for the key.

Palming - When a player is able to hold onto the ball with one hand and keep it there. Players must have large hands to do this.

Pass Fake - When a player fakes a pass with the ball and then brings it back into triple threat position.

Passing Lane - The area of space where the ball handler would likely pass the ball.

Penetration - When a player drives fast to the hoop, or dribbles into a team’s defense to collapse it and get other players open.

Pick - Another term for screen.

Pick-and-Pop - When a player screens for another player and pops back out to the perimeter to shoot an outside shot.

Pick-and-Roll - When a player screens for another player and drives to the hoop for a pass.

Pivot Foot - The foot that a player with possession of the ball can move around before or after dribbling.

Playmaker - A player who creates shots for others or drives and makes plays that get others involved and result in baskets.

Point Guard - Also known as the 1, the point guard brings the ball down, usually calls plays, and handles the ball the majority of the time.

Playmaker - A player is referred to as a 'playmaker' when they have the ability to create open shots for their teammates or give them an advantage on offense to score. Usually the point guard.

Point Guard - Also known as the '1'. One of the five positions on the court. The point guard is usually tasked with dribbling the basketball up the court, initiating the offense, and controlling the tempo of the game.

Post - The 4 or 5 position. Posts play down low and are counted on for rebounds and post offense.

Power Forward - The 4 position. This player is counted on to stay down low, post up, set screens, and get rebounds.

Press - When a team plays tough defense along the entire length of the court.

Pump fake - When a player makes a ball fake for a shot, but does not shoot.

Put Back - When a player grabs a rebound and puts a shot right back up.

Quadruple-Double - When a player gets double digits in four different categories. This is very rare, but has happened several times in the NBA.

Rebound - When a player grabs a missed shot before it hits the ground.

Referee - Another word for Official

Restricted Area - The small segment of lines about four feet out of the hoop where players cannot be called for a charge.

Shot Clock - The clock that begins as soon as a team has possession of the ball. Shot clocks vary from 45 to 24 seconds and some states do not have a shot clock at all.

Screen - When a player places their body in a stationary position blocks their teammate’s defender and creates space for the teammate to get an open shot.

Scrimmage - When a team uses ten of their own players to play against each other in a game-like situation.

Shooting Guard - The 2 position is the position most often utilized as a shooter and scorer. This position usually moves around the perimeter and takes shots from the outside.

Shooting Range - This is the distance from which a player can shoot a shot with proper form.

Sideline - The longer sides of the court that usually measure 84 or 94 feet. Anytime the ball touches the sideline it is considered out of bounds.

Sixth Man - The first player off the bench.

Small Forward - The 3. The most versatile player on the floor. This player can guard multiple positions and is expected to do a little bit of everything.

Spacing - When players keep enough space between each other to prevent making themselves too easy to guard.

Square up - When a player positions their feet properly in front of the basket to attempt a shot.

Steal - When a defensive player takes the ball away from the offense without committing a foul.

Substitution - When a player comes off the bench to replace a player on the floor.

Swish - When a shot goes into the hoop without touching the rim itself.

Switch - When a player switches from guarding one person to another in the midst of a play.

Tear Drop - A shot where a player puts the ball up high at close range.

Technical Foul - When a player commits an act such as yelling, swearing, or being physically demonstrative in a disrespectful way. Technicals can also be given when certain rules are broken, like having too many players on the floor.

Three-Pointer- Any shot that is scored from behind the three-point arc.

Three-Point-Play - When a player scores a two but fouls and makes their free throw.

Timeout - When a team calls a time-out, the clock is stopped for 30 seconds to two minutes.

Tip-Off - When the game begins with a jump ball, another word for this is the tip-off.

Trailer - The offensive player that comes from behind the person with the ball is the trailer.

Transition - When a team moves from offense to defense or defense to offense they are in transition.

Trap - Another term for a double team.

Travel - When a player takes too many steps (more than two) after picking up their dribble.

Triangle Offense - An offense popularized by Phil Jackson and the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls that involves continuous movement and players forming a triangular shape while utilizing the high post area.

Triple Double - When a player has a value of ten in three different categories. Usually points, rebounds, and assists.

Turnover - When a player loses possession of the ball by getting it stolen or throwing it away.

Up-and-Under - When a player uses a ball fake to get his defender off the ground, then goes under the defender’s outstretched arms to make a lay-up.

V-Cut - When a player cuts by making a sharp turn in one direction and then changing direction again with a swift cut in the path of a V.

Violation - Any play where a team has possession taken away but does not involve a common foul.

Weak Side - The side that is opposite of the side with possession of the ball.

Wing - Wing players are usually 2s and 3s. They spend the majority of their time on the perimeter and around the three-point line.

Zone - A defense where players guard spots along the floor as opposed to specific players.

basketball terms & terminology

basketball terms & terminology

basketball terms & terminology

basketball terms & terminology