Measurements and time limits discussed in this section often vary among tournaments and organizations; international and NBA rules are used in this section.
The object of the game is to outscore one’s opponents by throwing the ball through the opponents’ basket from above while preventing the opponents from doing so on their own. An attempt to score in this way is called a shot. A successful shot is worth two points, or three points if it is taken from beyond the three-point arc 6.75 metres (22 ft 2 in) from the basket in international games and 23 feet 9 inches (7.24 m) in NBA games. A one-point shot can be earned when shooting from the foul line after a foul is made.
Games are played in four quarters of 10 (FIBA) or 12 minutes (NBA). College men’s games use two 20-minute halves, college women’s games use 10-minute quarters,and United States high school varsity games use 8 minute quarters. 15 minutes are allowed for a half-time break under FIBA, NBA, and NCAA rules and 10 minutes in United States high schools. Overtime periods are five minutes in length except for high school, which is four minutes in length. Teams exchange baskets for the second half. The time allowed is actual playing time; the clock is stopped while the play is not active. Therefore, games generally take much longer to complete than the allotted game time, typically about two hours.
Five players from each team may be on the court at one time. Substitutions are unlimited but can only be done when play is stopped. Teams also have a coach, who oversees the development and strategies of the team, and other team personnel such as assistant coaches, managers, statisticians, doctors and trainers.
For both men’s and women’s teams, a standard uniform consists of a pair of shorts and a jersey with a clearly visible number, unique within the team, printed on both the front and back. Players wear high-top sneakers that provide extra ankle support. Typically, team names, players’ names and, outside of North America, sponsors are printed on the uniforms.
A limited number of time-outs, clock stoppages requested by a coach (or sometimes mandated in the NBA) for a short meeting with the players, are allowed. They generally last no longer than one minute (100 seconds in the NBA) unless, for televised games, a commercial break is needed.
The game is controlled by the officials consisting of the referee (referred to as crew chief in the NBA), one or two umpires (referred to as referees in the NBA) and the table officials. For college, the NBA, and many high schools, there are a total of three referees on the court. The table officials are responsible for keeping track of each teams scoring, timekeeping, individual and team fouls, player substitutions, team possession arrow, and the shot clock.
The only essential equipment in a basketball game is the ball and the court: a flat, rectangular surface with baskets at opposite ends. Competitive levels require the use of more equipment such as clocks, score sheets, scoreboard(s), alternating possession arrows, and whistle-operated stop-clock systems.
A regulation basketball court in international games is 91.9 feet (28.0 meters) long and 49.2 feet (15 meters) wide. In the NBA and NCAA the court is 94 by 50 feet (29 by 15 meters). Most courts have wood flooring, usually constructed from maple planks running in the same direction as the longer court dimension. The name and logo of the home team is usually painted on or around the center circle.
The basket is a steel rim 18 inches (46 cm) diameter with an attached net affixed to a backboard that measures 6 by 3.5 feet (1.8 by 1.1 meters) and one basket is at each end of the court. The white outlined box on the backboard is 18 inches (46 cm) high and 2 feet (61 cm) wide. At almost all levels of competition, the top of the rim is exactly 10 feet (3.05 meters) above the court and 4 feet (1.22 meters) inside the baseline. While variation is possible in the dimensions of the court and backboard, it is considered important for the basket to be of the correct height – a rim that is off by just a few inches can have an adverse effect on shooting.
The size of the basketball is also regulated. For men, the official ball is 29.5 inches (75 cm) in circumference (size 7, or a “295 ball”) and weighs 22 oz (623.69 grams). If women are playing, the official basketball size is 28.5 inches (72 cm) in circumference (size 6, or a “285 ball”) with a weight of 20 oz (567 grams). In 3×3, a formalized version of the halfcourt 3-on-3 game, a dedicated ball with the circumference of a size 6 ball but the weight of a size 7 ball is used in all competitions (men’s, women’s, and mixed teams).
The ball may be advanced toward the basket by being shot, passed between players, thrown, tapped, rolled or dribbled (bouncing the ball while running).
The ball must stay within the court; the last team to touch the ball before it travels out of bounds forfeits possession. The ball is out of bounds if it touches a boundary line, or touches any player or object that is out of bounds.
There are limits placed on the steps a player may take without dribbling, which commonly results in an infraction known as traveling. Nor may a player stop his dribble and then resume dribbling. A dribble that touches both hands is considered stopping the dribble, giving this infraction the name double dribble. Within a dribble, the player cannot carry the ball by placing his hand on the bottom of the ball; doing so is known as carrying the ball. A team, once having established ball control in the front half of their court, may not return the ball to the backcourt and be the first to touch it. A violation of these rules results in loss of possession.
The ball may not be kicked, nor be struck with the fist. For the offense, a violation of these rules results in loss of possession; for the defense, most leagues reset the shot clock and the offensive team is given possession of the ball out of bounds.
There are limits imposed on the time taken before progressing the ball past halfway (8 seconds in FIBA and the NBA; 10 seconds in NCAA and high school for both sexes), before attempting a shot (24 seconds in FIBA, the NBA, and U Sports (Canadian universities) play for both sexes, and 30 seconds in NCAA play for both sexes), holding the ball while closely guarded (5 seconds), and remaining in the restricted area known as the free-throw lane, (or the “key”) (3 seconds). These rules are designed to promote more offense.
Basket interference, or goaltending is a violation charged when a player illegally interferes with a shot. This violation is incurred when a player touches the ball on its downward trajectory to the basket, unless it is obvious that the ball has no chance of entering the basket, if a player touches the ball while it is in the rim, or in the area extended upwards from the basket, or if a player reaches through the basket to interfere with the shot. When a defensive player is charged with goaltending, the basket is awarded. If an offensive player commits the infraction, the basket is cancelled. In either case possession of the ball is turned over to the defensive team.
An attempt to unfairly disadvantage an opponent through certain types of physical contact is illegal and is called a personal foul. These are most commonly committed by defensive players; however, they can be committed by offensive players as well. Players who are fouled either receive the ball to pass inbounds again, or receive one or more free throws if they are fouled in the act of shooting, depending on whether the shot was successful. One point is awarded for making a free throw, which is attempted from a line 15 feet (4.6 m) from the basket.
The referee is responsible for judging whether contact is illegal, sometimes resulting in controversy. The calling of fouls can vary between games, leagues and referees.
There is a second category of fouls called technical fouls, which may be charged for various rules violations including failure to properly record a player in the scorebook, or for unsportsmanlike conduct. These infractions result in one or two free throws, which may be taken by any of the five players on the court at the time. Repeated incidents can result in disqualification. A blatant foul involving physical contact that is either excessive or unnecessary is called an intentional foul (flagrant foul in the NBA). In FIBA, a foul resulting in ejection is called a disqualifying foul, while in leagues other than the NBA, such a foul is referred to as flagrant.
If a team exceeds a certain limit of team fouls in a given period (quarter or half) – four for NBA, NCAA women’s, and international games – the opposing team is awarded one or two free throws on all subsequent non-shooting fouls for that period, the number depending on the league. In the US college men’s game and high school games for both sexes, if a team reaches 7 fouls in a half, the opposing team is awarded one free throw, along with a second shot if the first is made. This is called shooting “one-and-one”. If a team exceeds 10 fouls in the half, the opposing team is awarded two free throws on all subsequent fouls for the half.
When a team shoots foul shots, the opponents may not interfere with the shooter, nor may they try to regain possession until the last or potentially last free throw is in the air.
After a team has committed a specified number of fouls, the other team is said to be “in the bonus”. On scoreboards, this is usually signified with an indicator light reading “Bonus” or “Penalty” with an illuminated directional arrow or dot indicating that team is to receive free throws when fouled by the opposing team. (Some scoreboards also indicate the number of fouls committed.)
If a team misses the first shot of a two-shot situation, the opposing team must wait for the completion of the second shot before attempting to reclaim possession of the ball and continuing play.
If a player is fouled while attempting a shot and the shot is unsuccessful, the player is awarded a number of free throws equal to the value of the attempted shot. A player fouled while attempting a regular two-point shot thus receives two shots, and a player fouled while attempting a three-point shot receives three shots.
If a player is fouled while attempting a shot and the shot is successful, typically the player will be awarded one additional free throw for one point. In combination with a regular shot, this is called a “three-point play” or “four-point play” (or more colloquially, an “and one”) because of the basket made at the time of the foul (2 or 3 points) and the additional free throw (1 point).
Common techniques and practices
Although the rules do not specify any positions whatsoever, they have evolved as part of basketball. During the early years of basketball’s evolution, two guards, two forwards, and one center were used. In more recent times specific positions evolved, but the current trend, advocated by many top coaches including Mike Krzyzewski is towards positionless basketball, where big guys are free to shoot from outside and dribble if their skill allows it. Popular descriptions of positions include:
Point guard (often called the “1”) : usually the fastest player on the team, organizes the team’s offense by controlling the ball and making sure that it gets to the right player at the right time.
Shooting guard (the “2”) : creates a high volume of shots on offense, mainly long-ranged; and guards the opponent’s best perimeter player on defense.
Small forward (the “3”) : often primarily responsible for scoring points via cuts to the basket and dribble penetration; on defense seeks rebounds and steals, but sometimes plays more actively.
Power forward (the “4”): plays offensively often with their back to the basket; on defense, plays under the basket (in a zone defense) or against the opposing power forward (in man-to-man defense).
Center (the “5”): uses height and size to score (on offense), to protect the basket closely (on defense), or to rebound.
The above descriptions are flexible. For most teams today, the shooting guard and small forward have very similar responsibilities and are often called the wings, as do the power forward and center, who are often called post players. While most teams describe two players as guards, two as forwards, and one as a center, on some occasions teams choose to call them by different designations.
Main article: Basketball playbook
There are two main defensive strategies: zone defense and man-to-man defense. In a zone defense, each player is assigned to guard a specific area of the court. Zone defenses often allow the defense to double team the ball, a manoeuver known as a trap. In a man-to-man defense, each defensive player guards a specific opponent.
Offensive plays are more varied, normally involving planned passes and movement by players without the ball. A quick movement by an offensive player without the ball to gain an advantageous position is known as a cut. A legal attempt by an offensive player to stop an opponent from guarding a teammate, by standing in the defender’s way such that the teammate cuts next to him, is a screen or pick. The two plays are combined in the pick and roll, in which a player sets a pick and then “rolls” away from the pick towards the basket. Screens and cuts are very important in offensive plays; these allow the quick passes and teamwork, which can lead to a successful basket. Teams almost always have several offensive plays planned to ensure their movement is not predictable. On court, the point guard is usually responsible for indicating which play will occur.
Shooting is the act of attempting to score points by throwing the ball through the basket, methods varying with players and situations.
Typically, a player faces the basket with both feet facing the basket. A player will rest the ball on the fingertips of the dominant hand (the shooting arm) slightly above the head, with the other hand supporting the side of the ball. The ball is usually shot by jumping (though not always) and extending the shooting arm. The shooting arm, fully extended with the wrist fully bent, is held stationary for a moment following the release of the ball, known as a follow-through. Players often try to put a steady backspin on the ball to absorb its impact with the rim. The ideal trajectory of the shot is somewhat controversial, but generally a proper arc is recommended. Players may shoot directly into the basket or may use the backboard to redirect the ball into the basket.
The two most common shots that use the above described setup are the set shot and the jump shot. The set shot is taken from a standing position, with neither foot leaving the floor, typically used for free throws, and in other circumstances while the jump shot is taken in mid-air, the ball released near the top of the jump. This provides much greater power and range, and it also allows the player to elevate over the defender. Failure to release the ball before the feet return to the floor is considered a traveling violation.
Another common shot is called the lay-up. This shot requires the player to be in motion toward the basket, and to “lay” the ball “up” and into the basket, typically off the backboard (the backboard-free, underhand version is called a finger roll). The most crowd-pleasing and typically highest-percentage accuracy shot is the slam dunk, in which the player jumps very high and throws the ball downward, through the basket while touching it.
Another shot that is becoming common is the “circus shot”. The circus shot is a low-percentage shot that is flipped, heaved, scooped, or flung toward the hoop while the shooter is off-balance, airborne, falling down, and/or facing away from the basket. A back-shot is a shot taken when the player is facing away from the basket, and may be shot with the dominant hand, or both; but there is a very low chance that the shot will be successful.
A shot that misses both the rim and the backboard completely is referred to as an air ball. A particularly bad shot, or one that only hits the backboard, is jocularly called a brick. The hang time is the length of time a player stays in the air after jumping, either to make a slam dunk, lay-up or jump shot.
The objective of rebounding is to successfully gain possession of the basketball after a missed field goal or free throw, as it rebounds from the hoop or backboard. This plays a major role in the game, as most possessions end when a team misses a shot. There are two categories of rebounds: offensive rebounds, in which the ball is recovered by the offensive side and does not change possession, and defensive rebounds, in which the defending team gains possession of the loose ball. The majority of rebounds are defensive, as the team on defense tends to be in better position to recover missed shots.
See also: Assist (basketball)
A pass is a method of moving the ball between players. Most passes are accompanied by a step forward to increase power and are followed through with the hands to ensure accuracy.
A staple pass is the chest pass. The ball is passed directly from the passer’s chest to the receiver’s chest. A proper chest pass involves an outward snap of the thumbs to add velocity and leaves the defence little time to react.
Another type of pass is the bounce pass. Here, the passer bounces the ball crisply about two-thirds of the way from his own chest to the receiver. The ball strikes the court and bounces up toward the receiver. The bounce pass takes longer to complete than the chest pass, but it is also harder for the opposing team to intercept (kicking the ball deliberately is a violation). Thus, players often use the bounce pass in crowded moments, or to pass around a defender.
The overhead pass is used to pass the ball over a defender. The ball is released while over the passer’s head.
The outlet pass occurs after a team gets a defensive rebound. The next pass after the rebound is the outlet pass.
The crucial aspect of any good pass is it being difficult to intercept. Good passers can pass the ball with great accuracy and they know exactly where each of their other teammates prefers to receive the ball. A special way of doing this is passing the ball without looking at the receiving teammate. This is called a no-look pass.
Another advanced style of passing is the behind-the-back pass, which, as the description implies, involves throwing the ball behind the passer’s back to a teammate. Although some players can perform such a pass effectively, many coaches discourage no-look or behind-the-back passes, believing them to be difficult to control and more likely to result in turnovers or violations.
Dribbling is the act of bouncing the ball continuously with one hand, and is a requirement for a player to take steps with the ball. To dribble, a player pushes the ball down towards the ground with the fingertips rather than patting it; this ensures greater control.
When dribbling past an opponent, the dribbler should dribble with the hand farthest from the opponent, making it more difficult for the defensive player to get to the ball. It is therefore important for a player to be able to dribble competently with both hands.
Good dribblers (or “ball handlers”) tend to bounce the ball low to the ground, reducing the distance of travel of the ball from the floor to the hand, making it more difficult for the defender to “steal” the ball. Good ball handlers frequently dribble behind their backs, between their legs, and switch directions suddenly, making a less predictable dribbling pattern that is more difficult to defend against. This is called a crossover, which is the most effective way to move past defenders while dribbling.
A skilled player can dribble without watching the ball, using the dribbling motion or peripheral vision to keep track of the ball’s location. By not having to focus on the ball, a player can look for teammates or scoring opportunities, as well as avoid the danger of having someone steal the ball away from him/her.
A block is performed when, after a shot is attempted, a defender succeeds in altering the shot by touching the ball. In almost all variants of play, it is illegal to touch the ball after it is in the downward path of its arc; this is known as goaltending. It is also illegal under NBA and Men’s NCAA basketball to block a shot after it has touched the backboard, or when any part of the ball is directly above the rim. Under international rules it is illegal to block a shot that is in the downward path of its arc or one that has touched the backboard until the ball has hit the rim. After the ball hits the rim, it is again legal to touch it even though it is no longer considered as a block performed.
To block a shot, a player has to be able to reach a point higher than where the shot is released. Thus, height can be an advantage in blocking. Players who are taller and playing the power forward or center positions generally record more blocks than players who are shorter and playing the guard positions. However, with good timing and a sufficiently high vertical leap, even shorter players can be effective shot blockers.
At the professional level, most male players are above 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) and most women above 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m). Guards, for whom physical coordination and ball-handling skills are crucial, tend to be the smallest players. Almost all forwards in the top men’s pro leagues are 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) or taller. Most centers are over 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m) tall. According to a survey given to all NBA teams,[when?] the average height of all NBA players is just under 6 feet 7 inches (2.01 m), with the average weight being close to 222 pounds (101 kg). The tallest players ever in the NBA were Manute Bol and Gheorghe Mureșan, who were both 7 feet 7 inches (2.31 m) tall. The tallest current NBA player is Sim Bhullar, who stands at 7 feet 5 inches (2.26 m). At 7 feet 2 inches (2.18 m), Margo Dydek was the tallest player in the history of the WNBA.
The shortest player ever to play in the NBA is Muggsy Bogues at 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m). Other short players have thrived at the pro level. Anthony “Spud” Webb was just 5 feet 7 inches (1.70 m) tall, but had a 42-inch (1.1 m) vertical leap, giving him significant height when jumping. While shorter players are often at a disadvantage in certain aspects of the game, their ability to navigate quickly through crowded areas of the court and steal the ball by reaching low are strengths.