Basketball Glossary


Air Ball – A shot that completely misses the rim and the backboard.

Alley-oop pass – A pass thrown with a high arc toward the basket so a teammate can make a leaping catch and take a shot in a single motion.

Alternating-possession rule – In high school and college basketball, most jump balls have been eliminated in favor of this rule, which has the teams take turns gaining possession for a throw-in after a held ball and similar stoppages of play when possession is in question. The possession arrow indicates which team gets the ball on the next such occasion.

Assist – A pass that results in an immediate score by a teammate.


Back screen – A move by an offensive player away from the basket to set a screen for a teammate.

Backboard – The flat surface – usually made of a type of plastic, glass, or wood – directly behind the basket. The backboard is connected to the basket and used as a device off which the players can bounce the ball into the basket.

Backcourt – The half of the court that is the furthest from the offensive basket. It’s also a generic name for the two guards on a given team.

Back-door cut – An offensive play where the player cuts behind the defender and toward the basket.

Ball – The object used to play the sport. The dimensions of the ball differ according to the level of play. The men’s ball measures 29 to 30 inches in circumference and weighs 20 to 22 ounces while the women’s ball is approximately 28.5 inches in circumference and weighs 18 to 20 ounces.

Ball fake – A motion used to make a defender think you are passing or shooting, when you are really just trying to get them out of position.

Ball handler – The player controlling the ball. It can also refer to a player known for skillful control of the ball.

Ball side – The side of the court on which the ball is located; also called the strong side.

Bang the boards – To aggressively go after a rebound.

Bang the glass – See “bang the boards.”

Bank shot – A shot that deflects off the backboard and into the basket.

Baseball pass – A one-handed pass used to advance the ball to a cutter going toward the basket.

Baseline – Also called the end line, this line extends across both ends of the court behind the baskets.

Basket – Consisting of the rim and the net. Each team earns points by getting the ball into the other team’s basket.

Behind-the-back dribble – A dribble that has the ball go from one hand, behind the player’s body, and then into the other hand.

Behind-the-back pass – A pass thrown behind the back.

Between-the-legs dribble – A dribble that has the ball go from one hand, to between the player’s legs, and then into the other hand.

Blocked shot – The deflection of a shot by a defender who touches part of the ball on its way to the basket.

Blocking – A type of personal foul that is issued when a defender uses their body to prevent the movement of an opponent.

Blocks – The square markings six feet from the baseline on each side of the lane.

Bounce pass – A pass that leaves one teammate’s hands and hits the floor on its way to the receiver.

Box out – To establish and maintain a rebounding position between the basket and your opponent.


Carrying – A violation in which the ball handler momentarily places his/her hand under the ball while dribbling.

Catch & face – Technique for receiving a pass and then squaring up to the basket; similar to the “triple-threat position.”

Center – This is a position that is usually played by the tallest player on the team. The center normally plays close to the basket and is responsible for getting rebounds and blocking shots.

Change-of-pace dribble – Alternately slowing down and speeding up in order to penetrate past a defender.

Chest pass – A two-handed pass thrown from the chest or center of the body.

Chin it – The proper position of the ball after a rebound—directly under the chin with the elbows and fingers up.

Clear out – When an offensive player leaves an area so the ball handler has more room to maneuver.

Clock-down cut – A cut toward the baseline by a helpside forward.

Control dribble – A low dribble used when being closely guarded.

Court – The venue on which a basketball game is played. It is bounded by two sidelines and two end lines and contains a basket at each end.

Cross screen – A lateral move by an offensive player to set a screen for a teammate.

Crossover dribble – A dribble from one hand to the other in front of the body.

Crossover step – An offensive move consisting of a jab step followed with a quick step in the opposite direction.

Curl cut – A cut off a screen toward the basket. It is used when the defender is trailing the cutter.

Cut – An offensive move to elude a defender or to drive to the basket.

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


Dead ball – Any ball that is not live or in play. A dead ball occurs after a successful field goal or free-throw attempt, after the whistle is blown, or if the ball leaves the court.

Defense – The team without the ball; also the act of trying to stop the opponent from scoring.

Defensive rebound – A rebound by a player on defense.

Disqualification – When a player or coach is no longer allowed to play or is removed from the game. A player is disqualified after reaching five personal fouls in high school and college and six fouls in the NBA. Both players and coaches can also be kicked out of a game for many offenses such as arguing with a ref or fighting.

Double team – When two players from the same team move up to guard one offensive player. Also known as a trap, if the offense is double teamed in a corner.

Down screen – A move by an offensive player toward the baseline to set a screen for a teammate.

Downcourt – Moving from the backcourt toward the frontcourt, or toward the offensive basket.

Dribble – The act of bouncing the ball up and down. The offensive player with the ball uses the dribble to move around the court.

Drive – Dribbling toward the basket; also called a dribble drive.

Dunk – To score a basket by driving or stuffing the ball into the basket from above the rim.


Early offense – The period just after a team has crossed over the midcourt line to set up its half-court offensive.

Elbowing – To throw your elbows during play in order to hit another player or push him away. It is a foul if contact is made.

End line – Also called the baseline. This line extends across both ends of the court behind the baskets.


Fade cut – A cut used by an offensive player coming off a screen when the defender is in a sagging position.

Fake – A technique used to get a defensive player off balance or out of position.

Fast break – When offensive team moves the ball quickly downcourt, in hopes of getting ahead of the defense to score.

Field goal – A basket made while the ball is in play.

Field goal percentage – The percentage of converted field goal attempts (the percentage of shots that go in the basket as compared to the overall number of shots taken).

Fish-hook cut – A change-of-direction cut that takes the shape of a fish hook and is used as a pressure release.

Five-second violation – When the team in position during a throw-in takes longer than five seconds to get the ball inbounds.

Floor – The area of the court within the end lines and sidelines.

Forwards – Two players generally positioned closer to the basket than the guards. They often assume a floor position along the perimeters of the free-throw lane and maneuver both inside and outside of that area.

Foul – Actions by players which break the rules but are not floor violations. A player is disqualified after reaching five personal fouls in high school and college and six fouls in the NBA.

Foul line – The line 15 feet from the backboard and parallel to the end line from which players shoot free-throws.

Foul trouble – Players or teams who accumulate too many fouls during the course of a game are said to be in foul trouble. Players who commit five fouls in high school and college or six fouls in the NBA are disqualified or eliminated from that particular game.

Free throw – An unguarded attempt to score from a line 15 feet from the basket.

Free throw percentage – The percentage of converted free throw attempts (the amount of free throws that go in the basket when compared to the total number attempted).

Front pivot – Moving forward while turning on the pivot foot.

Frontcourt – The offensive area of the court from the midcourt line to the baseline. Also the positions played by the forwards and center.

Full-court press – When defenders guard the offense in the backcourt.


Give & go – An offensive maneuver, sometimes called an inside cut, whereby a player passes to a teammate and then cuts for the basket.

Goaltending – When a defensive player interferes with a shot while it’s on the way down toward the basket, while it’s on the way up toward the basket after having touched the backboard, or while it’s in the cylinder above the rim. If goaltending is called, the shot counts. If committed by an offense player, it’s a violation and the ball is awarded to the opposing team for a throw-in.

Guarding – The act of following an opponent around the court to prevent him from getting the ball, taking a shot, or making a pass.

Guards – The two players who typically move the ball from the backcourt into the frontcourt and then position themselves farthest from the basket.


Half-court press – Defensive pressure applied as soon as the opposing team takes the ball into the frontcourt.

Hand check – A personal foul where a defender intermittently or continuously uses one or both hands on an opposing player, usually the ball handler.

Hashmark – See “midcourt area marker”.

Held ball – When two opposing players both possess the basketball but neither can gain sole possession. In the NBA, a jump ball restarts play after a dead ball is called. College teams use the alternate-possession rule.

Help side – The side of the court opposite that of the ball. Also called the weakside.

High post – An area of the court located near the free-throw line.

Holding – Using hands to interfere with or limit an opponent’s freedom of movement.

Hook shot – A one-handed shot on which the player is sideways to the basket and the ball is released above the head from the hand farthest from the basket.

Hoop – The basket.


Inbounds pass – A pass thrown in from out-of-bounds.

Incidental contact – Minor, usually inadvertent contact, that is usually ignored by officials.

Inside cut – When the offensive player passes the ball to a teammate and then cuts to the basket looking for a return pass.

Inside shot – A shot taken from near or under the basket.

Intentional foul – A foul committed on purpose by a defensive player to stop the clock. In high school and college basketball, the team that was fouled gets two free throws and possession of the ball. The NBA does not differentiate between common personal fouls and intentional fouls.

In-the-paint – The inside area of the free throw lane. It is painted a different color from the rest of the court and thus “in-the-paint”.


Jab step – A small step toward the defensive player with the non-pivot foot.

Jump ball – The play that starts every game when a referee tosses the ball into the air between two players from opposite teams. Players involved in a jump ball can’t catch or grab the ball once it’s tossed into the air by the official. They must tap the ball to a teammate who can then take control. Also during games, when two players from opposite teams gain possession of the ball at the same time.

Jump shot – An offensive shot in which the offensive player’s feet leave the floor.

Jump stop – Coming to a full stop by jumping off one foot and landing in a parallel or staggered stance with both feet hitting the floor at the same time.


Key – The area consisting of the foul lane and the free-throw circle.


L cut – A cut in the shape of the letter “L” that is used when the defender is in the passing lane but is playing very loosely against the offensive player.

Lane – The area running from the end line to the free-throw line and extending 12 feet across. It’s also known as the “paint.”

Lane violation – When a player enters the lane before the ball actually hits the rim during a foul shot. If this occurs, a lane violation is called which results in a turnover or another free throw attempt for the other team.

Lay-up shot – A close-in shot made when moving to the basket.

Live ball – The term for play as soon as a ball is given to a free-throw shooter or a thrower on a throw-in, which marks the start of the five-second count.

Loading the gun – Placing the ball in the shooting pocket with the wrist cocked and ready to shoot.

Low post – An area of the court located near the basket.


Man-to-man defense – A type of defense where each defensive player is responsible for guarding one opponent.

Midcourt area marker – One of four lines extending three feet in from a sideline and 28 feet from and parallel to a baseline.

Midcourt line – The line in the middle of the court that separates the frontcourt from the backcourt.


Net – A 15 to 18 inch long white mesh sleeve that hangs from the rim.


Off the dribble – A shot taken while driving to the basket.

Offense – The team with the ball.

Offensive rebound – A rebound by a player on offense.

Officials – Also called referees, they’re in charge of controlling the game.

One & one – A free-throw attempt awarded for certain violations that gives the shooter a second attempt only if the first is successful; also called “one plus one”. One & one attempts are usually issued after a team has committed six or more team fouls.

Open – When a player is unguarded by a defender.

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

Outlet pass – A pass made from a rebounder to an offensive teammate.

Overhand lay-up shot – A lay-up shot with the shooting hand positioned on the back of the ball with the palm facing the basket.

Overhead pass – A pass made from above the head and with both hands on the ball.

Overtime – The extra period(s) played after a regulation game ends tied. Also called OT.


Paint – The area inside the free-throw lane.

Pass – When a player throws the ball to a teammate.

Passing lane – The area between two offensive players where a pass can be made.

Penetration – When the ball is dribbled or passed toward the basket inside the defensive area.

Perimeter – The area outside the three-second lane area.

Period – Any quarter, half, or overtime segment.

Pick – A screen set by an offensive player.

Pivot – The rotation of the body around one foot that is kept in a stationary position. Once a player has established his/her pivot foot, moving or switching the pivot foot is an illegal traveling violation.

Point guard – The player who initiates the offense and controls the tempo of the game. The point guard is usually a team’s floor leader. The point guard is a team’s primary ball handler and is responsible for bringing the ball up the court after an opponent’s made basket.

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

Post – The area on either side of the free-throw lane.

Post player – The position usually played by the center.

Post up – To take a position close to, and facing away from, the basket in preparation to receive a pass. Usually involves strong body positioning against the opposing defensive player.

Power forward – Usually the bigger, stronger forward who plays close to the basket and is responsible for rebounding and inside scoring.

Power lay-up shot – A lay-up used when closely guarded.

Pull-back dribble – A dribble used to avoid defensive pressure or traps.

Push pass – A pass used to pass through or past a defender who is guarding closely.


Quadruple double – When a player racks up double-digit figures in four of five offensive categories (scoring, assists, blocked shots, steals, or rebounds) during the course of a game. See also triple-double.


Rebound – Securing the ball off the backboard or the rim after a missed field goal or free-throw attempt.

Reverse dribble – A dribble move used to change directions. Also called a spin dribble.

Reverse pivot – Stepping backward while turning on the pivot foot.

Rocker step – An offensive move consisting of a jab step followed by a step backward. The player can either shoot or drive off a rocker step, depending on the movement of the defender.


Screen – An offensive technique used to block or delay an opponent from reaching their desired floor position.

Screen & roll – When an offensive player screens for the ball handler and then rolls toward the basket in anticipation of a pass.

Shallow cut – A change-of-direction cut. Also called a fish-hook cut.

Shape up – A term used to describe the movement of the screener toward the ball after the screen has been set.

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

Shooting guard – Generally, the player who takes the majority of the shots from the perimeter, many of which are three-point attempts.

Shooting pocket – See triple-threat position.

Shot clock – A clock that limits the time a team with the ball has to shoot it. In college, the men are allotted 35 seconds, while the women’s get 30 seconds, on the clock. The NBA has a 35 second shot clock.

Sidelines – The two boundary lines that run the length of the court.

Small forward – Usually bigger than the guards but smaller than the power forward. A small forward’s responsibilities include both inside and outside work.

Spacing – Refers to the positioning of the offensive players, who should be approximately 15-18 feet from one another.

Speed dribble – A high, quick dribble used to advance the ball up the court when there are no defenders blocking your path.

Spin dribble – A change-of-direction move in which the dribbler’s body is always kept between the ball and the defender.

Squaring up – When a player´s shoulders are facing the basket as he releases the ball for a shot.

Starting line-up – The five players who begin a game for one team.

Stride stop – Coming to a full stop by landing on one foot first and then the other foot.

Strong side – The side of the court on which the ball is being controlled. If the ball is either passed or dribbled across court, then that side becomes the strong side.

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.


Ten-second line – The half-court line. When a team is advancing the ball up the court from their defensive end, they have ten seconds to get the ball across the half-court line.

Three-point line – Semi-circle that is 19 feet, 9 inches from the basket at all points. If a shot is made from on or beyond the semi-circle mark, the offensive team is awarded three points instead of the normal two.

Three-point play – A two-point field goal followed by a successful free-throw.

Three-point shot – A field-goal attempt from outside the three-point line.

Three-second lane – An area that extends from the baseline under the basket to the free-throw line. Also called the “key”.

Three-second rule – The rule that states that no offensive player can be in the free-throw lane for longer than three seconds at a time.

Throw-in – The act of inbounding the ball.

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

Tip-off – The initial jump ball that starts the game.

Top of the key – The semi-circle that extends beyond the free-throw line.

Transition – When a team goes from offense to defense or defense to offense as the ball moves quickly upcourt.

Trap – A defensive tactic in which two players double-team the ball handler in a corner of the court.

Traveling – When a player on offense takes more than one and a half steps without dribbling while in position of the ball. It’s also called traveling when if the player picks up the dribble and then moves or changes their pivot foot. If a traveling violation is called, the ball is turned over to the other team. Also called walking.

Triple-double – When a player reaches double figures in three of five offensive categories—scoring, assists, blocked shots, steals, or rebounds—they are said to have had a triple-double.

Triple-threat position – An offensive positioning of the ball from which the ball-handler can either shoot, pass, or dribble.

Turnover – When the offensive team loses the ball to the defensive team, for any number of reasons (traveling, intercepted pass, etc).


Umpire – One of the two officials in most international and high school basketball competition.

Underhand lay-up shot – A lay-up shot with the shooting hand in front and under the ball.


V cut – A fake in one direction and movement in the opposite direction in order to get open for a pass.

Violation – An infraction of the rules that doesn’t result in a free throw. The ball is instead turned over to the opposing team for a throw-in. Also known as a floor violation.


Walking – See “traveling”.

Weak side – The side of the court without the ball.


Zone defense – A type of defense where each defender is responsible for an area of the court and must guard any player who enters that area.

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