Basketball Terminology Made Easy

More basketball terminology for coaches, players and fans of the game.

Basketball is just like anything else. It has a jargon of its own. Some is slang. Some is technical.

But once you understand the terms, the game makes a lot more sense. 

This alphabetical list continues where basketball terms A-I left off. It includes offensive-related words and more general terms.

If you're looking for defensive terms, click here.

Basketball terminology J-Z

Basketball Terminology
J

Jab fake (or Jab step) – Before putting the ball on the floor, the ball handler takes a quick, short jab step toward his defender, forcing him back on his heels, in order to dribble past him.

Jump shot – A shot taken when the shooter leaves the ground with both feet and shoots the ball at the peak of her jump.

Jump stop – When a player receives a pass, she should catch the pass after jumping off one foot and landing with both hitting the floor at the same time. A jump stop allows the receiver to have either foot available for a pivot foot.

Basketball Terminology
K

Key – The area inside the free throw lane.

Basketball Terminology
L

Lay up – A shot taken near the basket immediately following a cut or drive.

Loose ball – A ball that's loose on the floor and isn't controlled by either team.

Low percentage shot – A shot that isn't likely to go in the basket because it's out of the shooter's range or the shooter is closely guarded, rushed, or off balance.

Lower (see Deeper)

Basketball Terminology
M

Make it, Take it – During pick-up games, when a player or team scores they get possession of the ball again.

Basketball Terminology
N

Nothing but net – When a player shoots a ball that drops straight through the basket without hitting anything but the net. It's another way of saying, "swish."

Basketball Terminology
O

On balance – The preferred stance for players with feet about shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, on the balls of the feet prepared to move in any direction.

One-on-one – Two players going head to head, with one on offense and the other on defense.

Open – When an offensive player is unguarded.

Outlet pass – A pass made by a rebounder to a teammate out on the wing to start the fast break to the other end of the floor.

Overhead pass – A two-handed pass made with the arms held above the head.

Overload – Positioning more players on one side of the court than the other. A team might do this to pull the defense to one side of the court so a strong offensive player can go one-on-one to the basket.

Basketball Terminology
P

Passing angles – If a ball handler wants to make a good pass to a teammate and avoid a turnover, she must first make sure she has a good angle for the pass. The passer should be able to see the receiver's chest area, so she might need to take a couple dribbles in a direction that allows her to be in a position to see her teammate's chest and avoid the defenders' hands in the passing lane.

Passing lane – The imaginary line between two players where the ball can be passed.

Penetration – When the ball is passed or dribbled into the defense toward the basket.

Pick (see Screen)

Pivot – If a ball handler wants to move without dribbling the ball, he must keep one foot on the floor and pivot in any direction on that foot.

Point guard – The player responsible for bringing the ball down the court and running the offense. He's the extension of the coach on the floor and provides leadership for the team.

Pop out – The best way to get open for a pass is to wait until there's a good passing opportunity and then pop out or break quickly to the open spot to receive the pass. Players must learn to move without the ball because it's really hard to make a good pass to a teammate who just stands in one spot calling for the ball.

Post position – The area inside the key. The low post area refers to the blocks at the bottom of the lane. The high post area refers to the area around the free throw line.

Post up – Position a player takes when she's set in the low post area with her back to basket, defender pinned on her hip, and her hands up ready to ask for the ball.

Press – A type of intense defensive pressure usually applied at either full, 3/4 or 1/2 court in which the defense pressures the ball, tries to take away passing angles, and often traps the dribbler.

Pump fake – Ball fake used by players in the post position who are trying to take a shot. The shooter looks toward the basket, pumps the shoulders, and raises the ball over the head as if he's going up for a shot. Instead, he brings the ball back down to the chest. The idea is to get the defense to commit to jumping up and blocking the shot. As the defender comes back down, the shooter can go back up for an uncontested shot or draw a foul from a defender who's out of control.

Basketball Terminology
Q

Quadruple double – A very rare situation that occurs when a player completes a game with double-digit figures in 4 of 5 offensive categories: points scored, assists, rebounds, steals, or blocked shots.

Basketball Terminology
R

Reverse dribble (see Spin dribble)

Reverse pivot – Pivot used by a ball handler to pivot backward, away from the defender.

Rock – Slang term for the basketball.

Basketball Terminology
S

Screen (or Pick) – When an offensive player wants to help a teammate get open, he can set a screen on his teammate's defender which is like a wall that the defender has to get around. Screens are most effective when they're set no more than a step away from the defender with the screener keeping a solid, wide base. The screener must remain stationary; he can't move or lean once he gets set. It's up to his teammate to lead his defender into the screen and brush by the screen to get open.

Shoot the J – Slang for shooting the jump shot.

Shooting pocket – Location ball handler holds the ball to be in position to take a shot. For a right-handed shooter, the ball is held on the right side of body just under right eye, comfortably on the finger pads of the right hand with right wrist slightly cocked, and right elbow in at the side of the body. For a left-handed shooter, the ball would be positioned on the left side of the body.

Skip pass – Passing to a player who is technically more than one pass away, at least 2 people away from the passer.

Spacing – For the best ball movement, offensive players should keep themselves spaced apart no less than 15 feet from each other to keep the defense spread out.

Speed dribble – Dribble used on the fast break to get the ball down the floor quickly. The dribbler pushes the ball out in front of her about waist height, which allows her to run fast and still control the ball.

Spin dribble (or Reverse dribble) – Type of dribble used to change directions by planting the front foot and reverse pivoting while pulling the ball behind to reverse the dribbling angle down the floor.

Splitting the trap – When a ball handler is trapped, she can stick her head and shoulder in the gap between the defenders and break through the trap. For a trap to be effective, the two defenders must have their feet touching to close any gap that might be split.

Spot shooting – Repetitive shooting from specific locations on the floor. It's important to practice shooting from those spots where players are likely to shoot from in a game.

Square up (see Catch and face)

Strong side (see Ball side)

Swing the ball (see Ball reversal)

Swish (see Nothing but net)

Basketball Terminology
T

Take it to the hole – Drive hard to the basket.

Tip-in – Playing the ball as it comes off the rim by jumping up in the air and tipping it back into the basket before coming back down to the floor.

Trailer – The last player down the floor on the fast break.

Transition game – Changing from offense to defense or vice versa.

Triple double - When a player completes a game with double-digit figures in any 3 of the following offensive categories: points scored, assists, rebounds, steals, or blocked shots.

Triple threat – The stance a ball handler takes by putting the ball in the "shooting pocket" and squaring up to the basket with his knees slightly bent and feet shoulder width apart. From this position, the ball handler is able to shoot, pass, or drive, and he forces his defender to have to guard against them all.

Turning a player (see Overplay)

Basketball Terminology
W

Weak side – The side of the court that doesn't have the ball.

Wing position – Offensive position located 6-8 feet on either side of the free throw line.

Basketball Terminology
Z

Zone offense - An offense designed to run against a zone defense. The offensive set depends on the what type of zone the defense is playing, like a 2-3, 1-3-1, etc. Zone offenses depend on players cutting into gaps and swinging the ball across court to force the defense to move.

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