Common Basketball Terms that Coaches, Players & Fans Should Know

Talk "hoops" like a pro in no time by understanding common basketball terms. 

Below, you'll find a list that, while not all-inclusive, should contain many of the words you are likely to come across as you learn how to play basketball.

This particular list contains coaching words and phrases that basketball players are likely to hear during practices and games.

If you don't find a word you are looking for, check out the high school basketball rules page to find additional basketball terms that relate directly to the rules of basketball.

As you are learning how to play basketball, I would suggest taking some time to review a few basketball terms each day or just visit the list when you hear a word or phrase you don't know.

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Basketball terms A-Z

Basketball Terms

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

Alley-Oop – A leading pass tossed up around basket height, which a teammate jumps up to catch and put in the basket while he is still in the air.

Anticipate – The ability to recognize what is developing on the court before it actually happens. It's the skill that helps a defender intercept a pass or an offensive player see an open teammate cutting to get open.

Approach – The position you should take when the person you are guarding receives the ball. Approach her in a position with one hand up to protect against the shot, knees bent to guard against the drive, and feet in a position to force her toward the sideline.

Arc – The path the shot takes on its way to the basket. The best shooters have a nice high arc on their shot which allows the ball to drop through the basket on its way down.

Assist – A pass to a teammate, which results in a score.

Basketball Terms

Backdoor Cut – A cut used by an offensive player to cut behind a defender to receive the ball.

Ball Fake – Trying to deceive the opponent by faking a shot or a pass.

Ball Reversal (or Swing the Ball) – When the ball is moved to one side of the court and then reversed quickly to the other side. By reversing the ball, the offense forces the entire defensive team to reposition, which often results in open passes or scoring opportunities.

Ball Side (or Strong Side) – The side of the court where the ball is located.

Bank Shot – A shot that hits off the backboard before going into the basket.

Baseball Pass – A one-handed pass used to throw the ball a long distance down court (like throwing a baseball.)

Belly Up – When the ball handler picks up her dribble her defender should "belly up" to her by playing close and tight to pressure her into turning the ball over.

Block Out (or Box Out) – Positioning yourself to rebound the ball by getting between your man and the basket. Ideally, you would turn to face the basket with arms up, elbows out, backing into your opponent with your hips and backside to hold him off. This position gives you the rebounding advantage by forcing your opponent to fight to go over or around you to get the ball.

Break to the Ball – Players should never stand still to receive a pass but should always cut toward the ball to shorten the distance the pass has to travel. By breaking to the ball, the receiver assures a defender won't intercept the pass.

Bounce Pass – A pass that bounces between the passer and receiver. When there are defenders in your passing lane, a bounce pass helps you get the ball to your teammate by bouncing it under or around the defender's arms.

Box Out (see Block Out)

Brick – Slang term for a shot with very little arc that hits the basket and/or backboard really hard.

Basketball Terms

Call for the Ball – A non-verbal way to show the ball handler that you are ready to receive the pass. Yelling for the ball isn't usually the best option because it tips off the defense that you’re open. By looking directly at the passer and getting your hands up and open, you let your teammate know you want the ball.

Catch and Face (or Square Up) – The first thing a player should do when she receives the ball is to square up to the basket by pivoting so that her hips and shoulders are facing the goal. From this position, she is able to see the entire floor.

Change of Pace Dribble – A type of dribble where the ball handler changes his speed by moving faster and then slowing down in hopes of getting his defender off balance.

Chest Pass – A two-handed pass thrown from the chest.

Chin the Ball – When a rebounder secures the ball, she should come down with elbows out and the ball protected under her chin.

Clear Out – When offensive players vacate an area of the court so the ball handler has room to move with the ball.

Coachable – A term describing a player who is eager to learn, willing to listen to his coach and take criticism without making excuses for his mistakes.

Contest the Shot – Any time your opponent has an opportunity to shoot, you should aggressively contest the shot by putting your hand in the shooter's face. Don't swing at the ball in an attempt to block it, but just go straight up to avoid a foul. You should also yell, "SHOT!" to give your teammates a heads up to go to the basket for a possible rebound.

Control Dribble – A low dribble close to the body that is used when a ball handler is being closely guarded.

Court Sense – The ability of a player to be able to see what is developing on the court at all times.

Cover Out (or Deny) – The position a defensive player takes to deny her opponent the opportunity to receive a pass easily. It involves facing your opponent, standing with knees slightly bent about an arm's length away from her, extending an arm into the passing lane, and adjusting your body so that you can see your player and the ball at the same time without having to turn your head away from either.

Cover Down (or Drop) – Whenever the ball penetrates the free throw lane area on a pass or a dribble, all defensive players need to drop down and give help to try to stop an easy score.

Crossover Dribble – A type of dribble, which helps the ball handler change direction to get passed his defender. It involves dribbling with one hand in one direction and then crossing the ball over quickly in front of the body to the other hand to change direction.

Cut – When an offensive player tries to get past a defender by moving quickly toward the basket or to get open for a pass.

Basketball Terms

Dead – Once a ball handler ends his dribble and picks up the ball, his defender should yell, "DEAD!" to alert his fellow defenders that the ball handler is in trouble. The player guarding the ball should belly up to the ball handler and wave his arms around to take away any passing or scoring opportunities. The rest of the defense should cover their players closely to make it hard for them to receive a pass.

Deeper (or Lower) – When a player or the ball is getting closer to the baseline, they are said to be getting lower or deeper.

Defensive Stance – The position a defender assumes which allows her to most effectively guard her player. You should stay on the balls of your feet with feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, back straight (like you're sitting in a chair), head up, hands out, and palms up.

Deny (see Cover Out)

Double Double – When a player reaches double-digit figures in 2 of 5 offensive categories (points scored, assists, rebounds, steals, or blocked shots.)

Double Team – When two defenders guard the same offensive player in order to put a lot of pressure on her.

Drive – When the ball handler dribbles hard toward the basket.

Dunk – A shot where the ball is pushed through the basket with one or both hands.

Drop (see Cover Down)

Drop Step – When the player with the ball has her back to the basket, drops one leg back with a low dribble and goes toward the basket for a shot. It's a move often used by post players.

Duck-In – A move used by an offensive player away from the ball who pins her help-side defender behind her in order to receive the pass.

Basketball Terms

Elbow – The area of the court located at each end of the free throw line. There are 2 elbows, one on the right side of the free throw line and one on the left. 

Basketball Terms

Fast Break – When the defense gains control of the ball they break quickly to the other end to try and score before their opponents can set up.

Flash – When an offside offensive player cuts hard toward the ball, usually through the lane.

Forcing the Shot – Taking a bad shot, either by shooting out of position, shooting with someone closely guarding you, taking a low percentage shot, or shooting in a hurry without seeing better options.

Free Throw Line Extended – Imaginary line extending from the free throw line to the sideline. It's used as a point of reference and is often used to describe the position where the wing is located.

Full-Court Press (see Press)

Basketball Terms

Gap - Distance between the defensive and offensive players.

Give and Go – One player passes the ball to a teammate then breaks toward the basket to receive the pass back.

Glass – Another word for the backboard.

Guard Position – The perimeter area on the court extending from the top of the key to the free throw line extended.

Basketball Terms

Half-Court Defense – A defensive set in which the defenders pick up their players at half-court.

Head and Shoulder Fake – When a player with the ball gives a pump with the head and shoulders to fake going up for a shot.

Help (or Seal and Recover) – While on defense, dropping off of your offensive player to help a teammate whose player has gotten by him. Once the ball is stopped and your teammate recovers, you jump back to your player.

Help-Side – On defense, if you are two passes away from the ball, you are in help-side position. You should drop a couple steps off of your player toward the ball so you can be in a position to help on the drive if needed. You should drop about a step below the line of the ball and open up your body so that you can see your player and the ball at the same time with your peripheral vision while looking straight ahead.

High Percentage Shot – A shot that has a high likelihood of going in the basket because it's within the shooter's range and is wide open.

Higher – When a player or the ball is getting closer to center court.

Hoops – Slang for the game of basketball.

Basketball Terms

Inbounds Pass – A pass that is thrown in from out of bounds.

Influence – As a defender, using your body position to force your opponent to go where you want her to go.

Inside-Out Attack – Passing the ball from the perimeter inside to players in the key. If the defense collapses and closes down the inside, the ball is passed back out to the wing player who should be open.

Basketball Terms: "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 to get him back on his heels, so he can dribble by him.

Jump Shot – A shot taken when the shooter takes off from both feet and shoots the ball at the peak of her jump.

Jump Stop – When a player receives a pass, she should catch it after coming to a full stop by jumping off of 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 Terms: "K"

Key – The area inside the free throw lane.

Basketball Terms: "L"

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

Loose Ball – A ball that is loose on the floor and is not controlled by either team.

Low Percentage Shot – A shot that is not likely to go in because it is out of the shooter's range, or the shooter is closely guarded, rushed, or off balance.

Lower (see Deeper)

Basketball Terms: "M"

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

Man-to-Man Defense – A type of defense in which each defender is responsible for guarding one specific opponent.

Basketball Terms: "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 Terms: "O"

On Balance – Having your feet under you about shoulder width apart so you are prepared to move in any direction.

One Pass Away – An offensive player who is in a good position to get the ball because he is one pass away from the ball. A defender should deny this player the pass by covering out and having one arm in the passing lane.

One-on-One – Two players opposing each other with one on offense and the other on defense.

Open – When an offensive player is unguarded.

Open Up – When a defensive player is on help-side, he should take a couple steps off of his player toward the ball and open up his body so that he can point to both the ball and his player as well as see them at the same time without turning his back on either.

Outlet Pass – A pass made by a rebounder to a teammate out on the wing, which starts 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.

Overplay (or Turning a Player) – When a defender wants to force a ball handler to dribble in a different direction, she overplays her by getting her body in the dribbler's way forcing her to turn and go another direction.

Basketball Terms: "P"

Paralleling – The manner in which a defender plays the ball handler nose-to-nose to force him player to go from sideline to sideline (or parallel) as opposed to straight down the floor. This is useful in slowing down the ball.

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 to ensure a safe pass, 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 he can pivot in any direction on the other foot.

Point Guard – The player responsible for bringing the ball down the court and running the offense. He is the extension of the coach on the floor and must provide leadership for the team.

Pop Out – The best way to get open for a pass is to wait until there is 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 is set in the low post area with her back to basket, with her defender pinned on her hip, and with 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 get off a shot. The shooter looks toward the basket, pumps the shoulders and raises the ball over the head as if he is going up for a shot, and 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 is out of control.

Basketball Terms: "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 Terms: "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 Terms: "S"

Safety – The offensive player whose main responsibility is to hustle back on defense first to stop the fast break and protect the basket until the rest of her teammates gets there. Usually, the safety is the point guard since she is often the player closest to half-court who can get back the quickest. If the point guard takes the ball in for a shot, another player closest to the top of the key needs to hustle back to safety.

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 are set no more than a step away from the defender with the screener having a solid, wide base. The screener must remain stationary; he can't move or lean once he gets set. It is up to his teammate to lead his defender into the screen and brush by the screen to get open.

Seal and Recover (see Help)

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 would be held on 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 pulling the ball behind you and reversing your 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 you'll be likely to shoot in a game.

Square Up (see Catch and Face)

Step and Slide – The proper way to move your feet when you're guarding a ball handler. You should step first with the foot that is closest to the direction the dribbler is going and then slide the other foot to meet it. Stepping and sliding with your opponent as opposed to crossing your feet allows you to keep up with the dribbler without getting tripped up.

Strong Side (see Ball Side)

Swing the Ball (see Ball Reversal)

Swish (see Nothing but Net)

Basketball Terms: "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.

Trap– When two defensive players double team the ball handler and position themselves to make a "V" so that the defender cannot dribble or pass between them.

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 Terms: "W"

Weak Side – The side of the court that does not have the ball.

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

Basketball Terms: "Z"

Zone Defense – A defense in which players are responsible for guarding an area (not a specific player). Zone defenders are responsible for any players that come into their area.

This glossary of basketball terms should be a pretty good reference for you. And remember, if there are words you come across that you can't find on this list, check out more basketball terms that relate specifically to the rules of basketball.

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