30 Key Basketball Terms Beginners Should Know

With March Madness just around the corner, it’s time to do away with your normal bracket-creation strategy of choosing the winning teams based on their mascots. After all, just because you’re a basketball newbie doesn’t mean you can’t make educated guesses and take home the winnings from your office pool. At Knudtsen Chevrolet, we’d like to offer you some b-ball basics and definitions so that you can impress your coworkers. Here are 30 essential basketball terms you need to know in preparation for the NCAA tourney.

30 Key Basketball Terms Beginners Should Know

The 10 Basketball Basics

If you’re very new to basketball, you’ll want to start by understanding the game’s most basic definitions.

  1. Foul – Fouls can be the most confusing elements of a basketball game at any level of play. Here are a few common types of fouls you’ll see and hear called:
  • Personal Foul – Any significant contact between players can result in a personal foul.
  • Charging – A personal foul handed out to an offensive player who makes excessive contact with a defensive player who had already established their position.
  • Loose-ball Foul – When a player is contacted when the ball isn’t in control by either team.
  • Flagrant Foul – A more violent foul toward the player rather than to gain control of the ball. These are categorized as Flagrant 1 and Flagrant 2, with the latter resulting in an ejection.
  • Technical Foul – Sometimes referred to as a “Tech” or “T,” this foul is unrelated to gameplay. Many technical fouls are related to unsportsmanlike conduct, like cursing at a ref or player.
  • Team Foul – All personal fouls contribute to this category. When a team reaches a certain amount of fouls, any subsequent fouls will put the opponents in the “bonus,” giving them free throws.
  1. Free Throws – Unopposed shots from the free throw line after a foul. If the player is fouled during the act of shooting a field goal, they will typically be awarded one-point foul shots that equal the attempted field goal point total. For example, if the player is fouled trying to shoot a three-point field goal, that player will be given three free throws.
  2. Assist – Any pass made to a teammate that results in an immediate score.
  3. Defense – Defense can be drawn in several ways to pressure and prevent scoring, including man-to-man, half-court, zone, press, and full-court press formations.
  4. Field Goal – Any shot made as the game clock is running.
  5. Layup – A close-range shot using the backboard.
  6. Offense – When a team controls the ball, they can utilize different offensive formations to score effectively, such as isolation, motion, high-post, triangle, zone, and “Run and Gun.”
  7. Rebound – Gaining possession of the ball after a missed shot. This can be segmented into defensive rebound (when rebounding as a defensive player) and offensive rebound (when rebounding your own team’s missed shot) categories.
  8. Slam Dunk – A shot in which the player lifts the ball over the rim with one or both hands and scores.
  9. Turnover – Any violation or error that results in loss of possession. Turnovers include traveling, shot clock violations, stepping out of bounds, and having the ball stolen.

Advanced Basketball Terms

Once you’ve got the basic terms down, it’s time to step up your game. Here are a few more advanced definitions you can study up on.

  1. Air Ball – A player shoots a ball that fails to hit the basket rim or backboard. You may hear fans chant “air ball!” proceeding such a shot.
  2. Alley-Oop – An offensive player passes the ball near the rim where a teammate will catch and score, typically with a slam dunk or layup.
  3. Bench – Players on the team that do not start the game but may be inserted as substitutes throughout the game.
  4. Block – A shot that is missed due to a defensive player’s deflection or tip.
  5. Box Out – Players widen their stance and use their bodies to get a better position when rebounding missed shots.
  6. Buzzer Beater – Any shot that leaves the shooter’s hand right before the game clock or period expires (and a buzzer sounds).
  7. Cherry Picking – When a player does not “transition” back on defense and instead waits near their opponent’s basket for a pass and easy score.
  8. Fast Break – Typically occurs on a turnover, a fast break is an offensive possession in which a team tries to score before their opponents can get into a defensive position.
  9. Flop – A player exaggerates physical contact to influence a foul call by the ref on the opponent.
  10. Goaltending – Any interference with the ball as it makes its downward flight toward the basket. If the defense goaltends, the opposing team is granted points for the shot; if the offense goaltends, they relinquish possession.
  11. Jump Shot – The standard overhead shot players make when shooting. It involves jumping and releasing the ball at the peak of the shot.
  12. Paint – The paint (also “the key”) refers to the free throw lane. It’s normally the area where bigger players are positioned to increase scoring and rebounding potential.
  13. Pivot Foot – A technique used by a player to keep one foot planted on the court at all times. Lifting the pivot foot will result in a traveling violation.
  14. Post Up – When an offensive player is positioned in the paint with their back toward the basket. Using their body, they can protect the ball and dribble for a better scoring opportunity.
  15. Possession Arrow – At the collegiate level, the basketball possession arrow determines which team is awarded the ball in the event of a “dead ball” situation, such as simultaneous possession or when the ball gets stuck in the rim. The possession arrow alternates between both teams after each of these situations unfolds.
  16. Shot Clock – Players must shoot the ball before the shot clock expires. If the ball touches the rim and is rebounded by the offensive team, the shot clock will reset; if the shot is missed, it will result in a turnover. In the NBA and WNBA, the shot clock is set to 24 seconds, while the NCAA’s timer is set to 30 seconds.
  17. Starters – The five starting players on the team. These five starters can be comprised of any combination of guards, forwards, and centers.
  18. Swish – “Nothing but net.” It’s the sweet-sounding shot all players strive to make.
  19. Three-Pointer – A shot from beyond the three-point line that equals three points if made.
  20. Travelling – A violation wherein the player lifts his pivot foot, takes more than three steps without dribbling the ball, or illegally moves without dribbling. This results in a turnover.

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Your b-ball class here at Knudtsen Chevrolet University has concluded, but there’s always more to learn. If you want to get a “W” in the win column this 2017, come visit our Chevy dealers at 1900 E Polston Ave in Post Falls, ID, and test drive the newest 2017 Chevrolet Silverado. It’s a game-changer and available right now for sale or lease at our dealership near Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. Call us at 877-270-3220 to learn more about our Silverado deals, specials, and selection of new Chevys and used cars.



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