Learn Basketball Basic Rules in 10 Minutes

basketball basic rules

Learning how to play basketball is easy with a few basketball basic rules. Don't worry about lengthy lists of rules or intimidating rulebooks. You'll get everything you need here to get you started.

Like anything, basketball has a language of its own. You might find our list of basketball terms helpful when you run across a word you're not familiar with. 

Every level of competition has its own uniquely different set of regulations, but for the sake of simplicity, we're going to focus on the general rules.

If you're interested in specifics, visit our official basketball rules page. There you'll find rules for youth, high school, college, professional, and international play.

Basketball basic rules in a nutshell

Object of the game

The game is played with 2 teams. Each team consists of 5 players on the court at a time.

The object of the game is to outscore your opponent by shooting the ball into your basket and preventing them from putting the ball into theirs.

The ball can only be advanced up the floor with the hands either by dribbling or passing to teammates. 

Fundamentals

The fundamental skills involved in the game are listed below. If you want to learn more, click on each link for further explanation, coaching points, and drills. 

Basketball Basic Rules
Positions

There are a variety of ways players can line up on the court, but the most common basketball positions are:

  • #1 or Point Guard
  • #2 or Shooting Guard or Off-Guard
  • #3 or Wing or Small Forward
  • #4 or Power Forward
  • #5 or Center or Post

Follow the link to learn about player roles and characteristics.

Scoring

Points are scored any time the ball goes through the basket.

  • 3 points are granted if the shot is taken beyond the 3-pt line
  • 2 points are awarded for a basket made from anywhere else on the court
  • A free throw is worth 1 point

Game length

Games are divided into time segments known as periods. Typically, a game either has 4 quarters or 2 halves with a half-time break between the 2nd and 3rd quarters or 1st and 2nd halves.

The length of each period differs between leagues, lasting anywhere from 8-12 minutes per quarter or 20 minutes per half. So, you're looking at game times around 32, 40, or 48 minutes.

The game clock stops on dead balls and fouls, so a 20-minute half could easily last twice that long in real time. For youth basketball games, it's not uncommon for the clock to run continuously to speed up play. 

Fouls

Basketball fouls are penalties assessed by the referees for rough play to keep a player from gaining an advantage over another player. Follow the link to learn more about common fouls and referee hand signals.

A player who is fouled is awarded the ball out of bounds unless the foul occurred during the act of shooting, in which case the player who is fouled is awarded 2 free throws. Players are allowed 5 fouls each before fouling out of the game. 

Violations

There are numerous ball handling and time violations that cause a team to lose possession of the ball. 

Ball-handing violations include:

  • double dribbling
  • traveling
  • carrying the ball
  • backcourt

Time violations include:

  • 5-second rule
  • shot clock
  • 3 seconds in the lane

Other violations include:

  • goaltending
  • basket interference

When a violation occurs the ref blows her whistle, play stops, and the ball is awarded to the other team with a throw-in from out-of-bounds.

Learn more about specific violations here.

Basketball Basic Rules
Related articles

Basketball Court Layout & Markings - What are all those markings on the court? Learn about the court layout and what all those lines mean. 

High School Basketball Court Dimensions - How big is a basketball court? Lean about the court measurements for high school and other levels.

Basketball History Rules: The Original 13 May Surprise You! - Are you familiar with James Naismith's original 13 basketball basic rules published back in 1892? 

The Rules of Basketball: Boy, How They've Changed - Check out this basketball history timeline to see how the official basketball rules have changed over time.


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