14 basketball terms you should know
All sports can have some difficult lingo. However, the fast-paced nature of basketball can make learning the language of hoops even more of a challenge. We thought it might be a good idea to pull together a quick glossary, defining some of the trickier basketball terms. While not a complete list, the following terms should help you navigate some of the sports announcers’ patter.
By far the most amusing basketball term to say out loud, the alley-oop refers to a high pass near the rim of the basket that another player dunks or tips in. The word ultimately comes from a French exclamation “allez-hop!”, used to encourage or draw attention to an athletic feat such as a leap or lift upwards.
2. buzzer beater
When a player takes a shot before the end of quarter buzzer but it goes into the basket after the buzzer has gone off, you would refer to that shot as a buzzer beater.
Although it is tempting to somehow ascribe this strategy to the tallest player on the court, cherry-picking actually describes the strategy of a player who does little defensively and instead waits around the opponent’s basket for scoring opportunities. A controversial tactic, cherry-picking is often a violation in amateur leagues and results in a penalty.
A double is a statistic that refers to a player accumulating double digits in any one of 5 categories during a game: points, assists, steals, blocked shots, and rebounds. When someone refers to a double-double, this means that they have doubles in two of the five categories; triple-double means the player has doubles in three of the five, etc.
5. fast break
The fast break is an offensive strategy that involves moving the ball up the court as quickly as possible, with the goal of getting in position for scoring opportunities before the defense is allowed to set up. A fast break sometimes involves cherry-picking.
6. field goal
Nope, not football—still basketball. A field goal is the term to describe both two- and three-point shots, excluding free throws. The field goal percentage of a player or team looks at the total number of baskets made to shots taken.
7. full-court press
A full-court press is when a team plays defense for the entire length of the court (rather than just on the half-court). This defense is sometimes deployed by teams for the entirety of a game, but is more often seen when a team is trailing late in the game and trying to force turnovers.
The two rectangle-shaped keys on a basketball court (one directly in front of and partly beneath each basket) are defined by the end line, the free-throw line, and the two lines that connect them. Officially called the free throw lane, the area is also called the paint.
9. pick and roll
The pick and roll is one of the most common offensive plays. The play typically starts with the member of the offense who is in possession of the ball being guarded by a member of the defense. Another member of the offense then comes up behind the defensive player and sets a screen, or “pick,” behind the player. The ball-handler then “rolls” around his teammate, leaving the defender to choose between defending the player who picked him or continuing to defend the ball-handler.
10. posting up
Posting up describes when a player on the offense sets up close to the basket below the foul line, usually facing away from the basket with his back is to the defender. This positioning allows him to use his body to protect the ball, as well as open up different sorts of scoring opportunities.
Run-and-gun refers to a fast-paced offensive style emphasizing fast breaks and scoring opportunities. Typically, teams playing with a run and gun offense both score and allow lots of points.
12. sixth man
With five players on the court for a team at the same time, the sixth man refers to the first non-starting player off the bench, who is considered more valuable than other reserve players.
13. triple threat
When a player first receives a ball and has not yet dribbled, she is considered a triple threat, meaning that she can either pass, shoot, or dribble (the full range of offensive options).
Turnover describes any of the various ways in which possession of the ball moves from one team to another.
What are your favorite basketball terms? Tell us in the comments below!