I’m a couple of years into my acute basketball obsession now and I still discover new basketball terms and phrases on the regular.
Players and coaches and announcers all over the world are coming up with new slang all the time. Some of this stuff ends up being obscure, limited to a regional context. Like, maybe everyone in Australia knows what you’re talking about, but in Philly they call it something completely different.
Even when the meaning is widely agreed upon, sometimes the concept itself is tough to understand. Something like “hedging”, for instance. Easy enough, it’s a reaction to encountering a screen. But, like, what does it actually look like?
Maybe this stuff comes natural to some people. I am not one of those people. So here I’ve compiled all of the goofy phrases I’ve learned over the past couple of years. I’m trying my best here to describe this stuff in words that are easy to grasp. That’s not always an easy task.
Have at it…
The 45 cut describes a cut made by an offensive player, in which the player cuts at a 45-degree angle towards the basket. This cut is often used in conjunction with a screen and can be an effective way for a player to get open for a shot or a pass.
3 Second Rule
The 3-second rule in basketball restricts players from remaining in the paint for more than three consecutive seconds. The rule is intended to prevent players from camping out under the basket. Violation of the rule is often referred to as a ‘lane violation’. If an offensive player commits a lane violation, it results in a turnover, possession awarded to the opposing team. If a defensive player commits a lane violation, they receive a technical foul.
A backdoor cut is a basketball term used to describe a cut made by an offensive player, in which the player cuts behind the defender who is guarding them, towards the basket, in an attempt to get open for a pass or a shot. This cut is often used when the defender is overplaying the offensive player on the perimeter.
Standing for Baseline Out of Bounds, this is an offensive strategy used when a team is inbounding the ball from the sideline or the baseline. The strategy here is limitless. Anything you can cook up to get the ball from the sideline to your basket is valid.
The Low Block
You know those little lines that show up around the paint? Well, on some courts, like the one pictured below, there’s also a little box painted down near the goal.
That’s the low block. You’ll often hear reference to ‘the low block’ or sometimes just ‘the block’ when discussing the positioning of the Center as an offense is initiated. The 3 second rule keeps your post from just hanging out in the paint, but they can hang out on the block until the shot clock runs out.
In basketball, boxing out (or blocking out) is the act of positioning oneself between your opponent and the ball in order to increase yours or your teams chances for a rebound.
Bunnies are shots that are close to the basket. These shots are typically uncontested and are should be high-percentage shots in theory. Usually, this is just any layup, but it sometimes covers dunks or mid-range floaters.
The center option is a basketball term used to describe a play that is designed to get the ball to the center of the court. This play is often used when a team is having difficulty advancing the ball up the court and needs to reset its offense.
In basketball, “cheating up” is a defensive strategy where a defender moves closer to the perimeter or beyond their assigned defensive area in anticipation of a potential drive or shot attempt by the offensive player they are guarding. This strategy is often used when a defender believes that their opponent has an advantage in speed or shooting ability.
When a defender “cheats up,” they are essentially gambling on the offensive player’s next move and attempting to cut off any potential scoring opportunities before they can occur. This can be a risky strategy, as it leaves the defender vulnerable to fakes or quick changes in direction by the offensive player. However, if executed correctly, cheating up can be an effective way to disrupt an opponent’s offensive rhythm and force turnovers.
It’s important for defenders to be strategic in their use of cheating up, as doing it too frequently or at the wrong time can lead to defensive breakdowns and easy scoring opportunities for the opposing team. Defenders must also be aware of their team’s defensive scheme and the positions of their fellow defenders on the court in order to make the most of this strategy.
Closing out refers to the defensive maneuver of moving quickly towards an offensive player who has received the ball and is preparing to shoot or drive towards the basket. The objective is to contest the shot or discourage the offensive player from making the drive.
A dime is an assist. The details are a little ambiguous here, but any time you set a pass that directly results in a bucket, you’ve made an assist. Any assist can be referred to as a ‘dime’ but it should probably be reserved for particularly attractive assists.
A dribble handoff involves a ball-handler dropping off a close-range bounce pass to a teammate traveling the opposite direction. This is a good way to quickly reverse the direction of ball movement, particularly if it goes undetected.
Dump and Chase
This is more common as a hockey term, but I have seen it crossover into the basketball world. A player throws the ball into a region of offensive pressure on the court and immediately chases after it. Usually this means quickly accepting a return pass on a charge to the basket. In hockey, this means tossing the puck over a line of defenders to create a chaotic rush for the puck near the opposing goal.
A flare screen is an off-ball screen. Usually on the perimeter, a player who is 2 passes from the ball handler sets a screen for the player closest to the ball handler to roll to the basket or to the wing for a pass. Basketball Coach Allen has a clear explanation if you need a video.
The legendary Nike Air Force 1 is a pivotal shoe model in sneaker culture. You’ll often hear these referred to as ‘The Force’ or ‘Forces’. AF 1’s were gracing NBA courts until at least 2013. These serve as great outdoor hooper kicks to this day, and they are beloved in hip hop and fashion subcultures.
A frontdoor cut is a basketball term used to describe a cut made by an offensive player, in which the player cuts in front of the defender who is guarding them, towards the basket, in an attempt to get open for a pass or a shot. This cut is often used when the defender is anticipating a backdoor cut.
Fronting the Post
Fronting the post is a defensive strategy used to deny an offensive player who is posting up the ball. It involves positioning oneself between the ball and the offensive player, making it more difficult for them to receive a pass and score.
Get action is a basketball term used to describe a play in which a player receives a pass and then immediately makes a move towards the basket. This play is often used to catch the defense off guard and create scoring opportunities.
A ghost screen is a basketball term used to describe a play in which a player fakes setting a screen for a teammate, in order to create confusion among the defenders and to get the offensive player open for a shot or a pass. This play is often used to create a mismatch or to get a good shooter open for a shot.
Give and Go
Give and go is a basketball term used to describe a play in which a player passes the ball to a teammate and then immediately cuts towards the basket. The teammate then passes the ball back to the cutting player, who is often open for a shot or a layup.
A Horns Set is a common offensive play in basketball that involves two players stationed at the top of the key and two players at the elbows. It is often used to create scoring opportunities for the players stationed at the elbows.
Hostage dribble is a basketball term used to describe a dribbling technique in which a player keeps the ball low and close to their body, in order to protect the ball from the defender. This technique is often used when a player is being heavily guarded and needs to maintain control of the ball.
The Lanes refer to the area on a basketball court where players typically run during a fast break. These are also sometimes referred to as the “wings” depending on context and are the spaces on the court between the sidelines and the key.
The nail is a location on the court, near the free-throw line, marked by a physical nail in the hardwood. This location is often used as a starting point for an offensive play or to initiate a pick-and-roll.
Off Ball vs. On Ball Defender
An off-ball defender is a player who is guarding an offensive player who does not have possession of the ball, while an on-ball defender is guarding the player with the ball. Both types of defenders are important for an effective defensive strategy.
Off Ball vs. On Ball Screen
An on-ball screen is a screen set for the ball handler, often creating separation for the ball handler to penetrate or drop back for a shot. An off-ball screen is a screen set for a player who does not have possession of the ball. An off-ball screen serves more to allow a player to get open for a pass, either on a cut or for a catch-and-shoot scoring opportunity. Of course, both screens can also serve to simply create confusion and/or setup for a more intricate progression.
The Paint, also known as the “key” or “free-throw lane,” is the rectangular area under the basket that is painted a different color than the rest of the court. The paint is 16 feet wide and 12 feet long. This is where most rebounding and post-up action occurs.
Pick and Roll
A screen is set for the ball-handler to drive to the basket. The screener follows closely behind for passing opportunities. Want to know everything you need to know about the P-N-R? Watch this video over and over again.
The pinch post is a basketball term used to describe a location on the court, near the free-throw line extended, where a player can receive a pass and then make a move towards the basket. This location is often used as a starting point for an offensive play or to initiate a pick-and-roll.
A pindown screen is a basketball term used to describe a screen set by a player for a teammate who is moving towards the ball. This play is often used to create space for a shot or a pass, and can be an effective way to get a good shooter open.
A post-up is an offensive play where a player positions themselves in the low post area of the court, usually with their back to the basket. This is often done to create a scoring opportunity through a hook shot or layup, or to draw fouls from defenders.
Show is a basketball term used to describe a defensive strategy in which a defender leaves their assigned player for a brief period of time, in order to provide help defense on another player. This strategy is often used to disrupt an opponent’s offensive play or to prevent a scoring opportunity.
The slob offense is a basketball term used to describe an offensive strategy that is used when a team is inbounding the ball from the sideline. This strategy involves using screens and cuts to get a player open for a shot or a pass.
The slot is a location on the court, just inside the three-point line and on either side of the key. This area is often used as a thoroughfare for offensive plays, and can be an effective place to receive a pass and drive towards the basket.
A snake dribble is a basketball term used to describe a dribbling technique in which a player dribbles the ball in a zig-zag pattern, in order to avoid defenders and to create space for a shot or a pass. This technique is often used by point guards and other ball-handling players.
The Split Line refers to an imaginary line that runs down the center of the basketball court, perpendicular to the sideline. It is often used as a reference point for players to move between the strong and weak sides of the court.
A staggered screen is a play in which two players set sequential screens for a teammate. This play is often used to create extra space for a shot or a pass, and can be an effective way to get a good shooter open.
Stampede action is a basketball term used to describe a play in which all five offensive players move towards the basket at the same time, in an attempt to overwhelm the defense and create scoring opportunities. This play is often used as a surprise tactic and can be difficult to defend against.
Strong Side vs Weak Side
In basketball, the strong side is the side of the court where the ball is currently located, while the weak side is the opposite side. Defenses often position themselves differently on the strong side versus the weak side, with more defenders typically located on the strong side to prevent scoring opportunities.
Stunting is a defensive strategy where defenders move quickly to double-team an offensive player with the ball, often in order to force a turnover or disrupt the offensive play. This is often used in response to a particularly skilled offensive player, or when a team is behind and needs to make up ground quickly.
A defensive maneuver where the ball handler is pinned between two defenders, typically pressed up against an artificial barrier like the sideline, baseline or the half court line. Trapping is approached as a surprise attack, pressuring the ball handler to a vulnerable location where the secondary defender switches and closes out unexpectedly. If the ball handler is successfully forced to pick up the ball, the only outlet is a pass through two tight defenders.
Wings describe the areas on the court along the sidelines between the baseline and the free-throw line extended. This term can just as often refer to the players who hang out in these positions, typically your small Forward or Power Forward.