Common Basketball Terms that Coaches, Players & Fans Should Know

basketball terms

Learn some common basketball terms and phrases, and you'll be talking "hoops" like a pro in no time! The list below, though it certainly isn't all-inclusive, contains many of the words you need to be familiar with as a fan of the game.

This list includes terms relating to basketball offense and more general terms. For definitions of defense-related words, click here.

The words are listed alphabetically for ease of reference. Follow the links to learn more.

Basketball terms A-I

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 still in the air.

Anticipate – The ability to recognize what's 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.

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 move 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 passed or dribbled 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 re-position, 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.

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 the passing lane, a bounce pass helps get the ball to a teammate by bouncing it under or around the defender's arms.

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 a teammate is ready to receive the pass. Yelling for the ball isn't usually the best option because it tips off the defense that a player is open. Looking directly at the passer and holding the hands up and open, communicates a desire to get 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's 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.

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

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

Crossover dribble – A type of dribble which helps the ball handler change direction to get past 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

Deeper (or Lower) – When a player or the ball approaches the baseline, they're said to be getting lower or deeper.

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

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

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

Drop step – When a player in the low post area has the ball with her back to the basket, drops one leg back toward the goal with a low dribble and takes it in 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 where the free throw line intersects the lane line. There are two elbows at each end, one on the right and one on the left. 

Basketball Terms

Fast break – When the defense gains control of the ball and breaks 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, 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.

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

Head and shoulder fake – When a player with the ball gives a quick pumping motion with the head and shoulders to fake going up for a shot.

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's thrown in from out of bounds.

Inside-out attack – Passing the ball from the perimeter 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.

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Basketball Terms
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Defensive Basketball Terms

Basketball Rules

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