The A-Z of NBA: A Glossary

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BetMGM @BETMGM Jun 16, 2021, 2:27 PM

basketball players and coach having a teamtalk
The actual game of basketball isn’t that hard to understand, but if you’re a beginner or are looking to get into sports betting then there are some NBA terms and other basketball jargon that is essential to understand. This is a sport that has very unique rules and lingo which have evolved along the many years it’s been played. We’ve created an NBA glossary to help you learn all the basketball terms you need to understand the sport and assist in winning at online sports betting.

We’ve tried to include every term we can think of in our basketball glossary to ensure that your conversion into an avid fan or adept gambler on sports betting sites is an easy process.

The most common basketball terms you need to know

There will undoubtedly be some NBA terms that have been left off the list and where possible we have tried to clear up where two words (or more) mean the same thing.

Number phrases

  • 3-and-D: This is a valuable wing player that is great in defense and also has the ability to hit three-point shots. These are not normally the heroes of the team but they are incredibly important, particularly in the modern game, where they can support star players by shooting and also by getting back into defense.
  • 3x3: This isn’t something that you’re going to see in the NBA any time soon, but it’s where each team has three players and they play on half a court. This version of the game will debut at the 2020 Olympics.
  • 8-second violation: The offensive team is given 8 seconds to advance the ball beyond the half-court line. The violation is given if this doesn’t happen and the other team is given a ‘turnover’ ball.


  • Air Ball: A shot that misses the rim and backboard. If it misses the entire net, then the shot clock will not reset.
  • Alley-Oop: This is when the player with the ball in an offensive position passes the ball to a teammate that is already in the air and the ball is caught, dunked or laid up by the player, all while still in the air.
  • And One: This happens when a player is shooting and fouled but still makes the basket. The shot counts and the team is given an additional shot.
  • Arm Bar: When a defensive player uses their arm to foul or get in the way of an offensive player.
  • Assist: When a player passes a ball that immediately leads to a basket.


  • Backboard: The surface behind the goalpost to which the rim is attached.
  • Backcourt: The half of the court that is furthest from the offensive team’s basket.
  • Backcourt Violation: Once the ball has passed the half-court line, the offense cannot cross back into the backcourt again if the defense hasn’t touched the ball and knocked it out of their possession. If this happens, a violation is called.
  • Backdoor: When an offense player without the ball cuts toward the basket along the baseline (usually).
  • Back Screen: An offensive player without the ball acts as a screen for a teammate to cut in behind their defender.
  • Balanced floor: When there is optimum spacing between offensive players around the perimeter.
  • Ball: A basketball term used on the court when the ball is loose and nearby players can try and grab it.
  • Ballhandler: The offensive player dribbling the ball.
  • Ball Fake: When the ball handler fakes a pass or shot.
  • Ball Side: The half of the court that falls either left or right of the basket on which the ball is being handled.
  • Bank Shot: A shot that hits the backboard before going through the rim.
  • Baselines: The boundary underneath the basket on either side of the courts.
  • Baselines Out-Of-Bounds Play: When an offense inbounds the ball from the baseline, normally when passing out from underneath a guarded hoop.
  • Baseline Pass: An offensive where a ballhandler passes the ball to a cutter or teammate running along the baseline of the court.
  • Basket: Where the rim and net connect at the backboard. Also a term for scoring a goal.
  • Behind the back dribble: Where an offensive player dribbles the ball from one hand to the other behind their back.
  • Behind the back pass: A pass that is thrown behind the back to another player.
  • Bench: The subs and the place where players who aren’t on the court sit.
  • Benchwarmer: A player who spends much of their time on the bench.
  • Block: A defensive player stops the shot by swatting the ball away. It’s also a statistic tracked on defense.
  • Blocking: A foul when a defender uses their body to impede a player.
  • Bonus Free-Throw: Another name for “one-on-one” when a team exceeds the allotted number of fouls in a quarter or half.
  • Box-and-One Defense: A combination defense where one defender sticks to a specific player on offense and the other players for a zone to defend the rest.
  • Brick: When a shot hits the rim or backboard and bounces off without going into the basket.
  • Bricklayer: A player that has a high percentage of missed shots.
  • Bump the Cutter: When the defense bumps an offensive player that is cutting into the basket.
  • Buzzer beater: A shot attempted just before the buzzer goes to show that time is up.


  • Carry: A travelling violation where a ballhandler holds the ball too long or takes too many steps between dribbles.
  • Catch and face: When a player receives the ball and immediately swings to face the basket.
  • Centre: Traditionally the largest player that guards the paint, takes rebounds and blocks shots from frontcourt.

One short and one tall basketball players standing next to each other against a wall, both holding basketballs.

  • Charge: When a ballhandler runs over a defender.
  • Clear Out: When the offensive players move from the paint to perimeter to help the ballhandler find some space.
  • Clear-Path Foul: When an offensive player is fouled on the way to the basket without any of the defensive players between them or the basket.
  • Close Out: A defender quickly moves towards an offensive player to limit their space to shoot or pass.
  • Conversion: A successful shot.
  • Cut: When an offensive player accelerates fast in a different direction.
  • Cylinder: Another name for the rim, basket or hoop.


  • Dead Ball: Time between fouls or in other stoppages between play.
  • Defense: The team stopping their competition from getting a basket.
  • Defensive Rebound: When an offensive player takes a shot, misses, then the shot is retrieved by defense.
  • Dish: Basketball jargon for when one offensive player passes to another.
  • Double Double: Double-digit figures reached by a player in two different areas of statistics like rebound or points, etc.
  • Double Team: When two defensive teammates guard one offensive player.
  • Downtown: A shot taken from long range.
  • Down Screen: A screen from an offensive player close to the baseline.
  • Dribble: Ballhandlers bouncing the ball to move along the court.
  • Drive: When the player with the ball makes a move to get closer to the basket.
  • Drop Pass: A pass dropping into the path of a teammate by the ballhandler.
  • Dunk: When a shot is put straight into the rim without actually releasing a shot.


  • Elbow: Where the key meets the end of the free-throw line.
  • End Lines: The same as a three-point, they are boundaries that mark the end of the area of play.
  • Entry Pass: Playing the ball in from out of bounds.


  • Fadeaway: When a player takes a shot while jumping or falling backward.
  • Fake: When the offensive player pretends to make a move that makes the defender move in another direction.
  • Fast Break: When the offensive team quickly breaks towards their hoop.
  • FIBA: “Fédération Internationale de Basketball.”
  • Field Goal: A shot made while the ball is in play — i.e. not a free throw.

Someone scoring a field goal by slam dunking the basketball

  • Five-Second Violation: When a team takes longer than 5 seconds to put the ball in field.
  • Flagrant Foul: An obvious, over-the-top foul.
  • Floor: Another word for the court.
  • Foul: An illegal point of contact made with an opposition player.
  • Foul Line: Line at the top of the key where fouls are taken.
  • Free Throw: A shot taken from the free-throw line fifteen feet in front of the basket that is unguarded.
  • Free-throw Line: Foul line.
  • Front Court: The area from baseline to midcourt in front of the offensive basket.
  • Full-Court Press: A defensive strategy.


  • Get Back: When a player retreats to their own basket to defend after making a shot.
  • Goaltending: Illegally stopping a shot after its apex as it travels down to the rim or in the basket.
  • Guard: Used when defending player or for two backcourt players.


  • Half-Court Defense: Where players set up in front of their basket to defend.
  • Half-Court Offense: Where offensive players get in front of their basket and use motions, screens and cuts to try to get it in.
  • Half-Court Press: When defensive players press defensively as soon as offense crosses the half-court line.
  • Halftime: The period of rest between the first two courters of play and before the second two.
  • Hand Check: Using their hands, a defender tries to get the ballhandler to go in a specific direction. They can call a hand check foul if they illegally touch the player or ball or otherwise impede play.
  • Hang Time: The amount of time in the air a player spends after jumping.
  • Heating up: When a player starts to hit more of their attempts.
  • Holding: A foul caused by a defender grabbing the ball or impeding the player illegally.
  • Hook Shot: An overhead shot with one hand normally taken on the post.
  • Hoop: Rim or basket.


  • Inbound Pass: Throwing the ball into play from the baseline or sidelines.

Player in orange kit taking an inbound pass

  • Incidental Contact: Contact with no foul.
  • Inside Cut: The ballhandler passes the ball and runs towards the basket to receive it again.
  • Inside Shot: Shot taken within the paint or close to the basket.
  • Intentional Foul: A foul committed on purpose.
  • In the Paint: The area that stretches from the baseline under the basket to the free throw line fifteen feet away and from block to block.


  • Jab Step: A quick step meant to fake the ballhandler taking off in that direction.
  • Jump Ball: When two opposing players grab the ball, and neither can wrestle away possession in time, the ball is put into the air by the referee and a player from each team jumps and tries to tip the ball towards their players.
  • Jump Shot: When an offensive player releases a shot while in the air.


  • Key: The paint or lane.
  • Kicking: When a foot is used to foul a player.


  • Lane: The paint or key.
  • Lane Violation: When a player enters the lane before the shot leaves the free throw shooter’s hand in a free throw.
  • Lay-In: A shot where the offense just tips the ball into the basket with one hand.
  • Lay-Up: A close-range shot usually made with one hand while a player drives straight towards the basket.
  • Live Ball: A ball in play.


  • Man-to-Man: Where each member of the defending team defends a player — i.e. not zonal marking.
  • Mid-Range: A shot taken outside of the lane or a few feet from the basket that’s within the three-point line.
  • Moving Violation: Travelling violation.


  • NBA: The National Basketball Association.
  • NCAA: The National Collegiate Athletic Association.
  • Net: The mesh or chain that hangs from the rim.
  • NIT: The National Invitation Tournament.


  • Offense: The team with the ball, attempting to score.
  • Off the Dribble: Jumping up for a shot immediately after getting the dribble.
  • Offensive Rebound: A missed shot that’s kept by an offensive player and they can try shoot again.

Basketball player about to catch a ball for an offensive rebound

  • Offensive Foul: A foul committed by an offensive player.
  • Open: When an offensive player is not being marked.
  • Out of Bounds: The area beyond the lines of play.
  • Over the Back: A foul where a player jumps over or pushes forward the upper body of an opponent.
  • Overhead Pass: A pass made over the head with both hands.
  • Overtime: When the four quarters end in a tie, extra time is added.


  • Paint: Same as the lane of key.
  • Palming: A form of travelling violation.
  • Pass: Passing the ball from one player to another.
  • Period: A time frame.
  • Perimeter: The area of the half-court along the three-point line and beyond.
  • Personal Foul: Where a player makes illegal contact with an opponent.
  • Player Control Foul: An offensive foul when the ballhandler charges into a defender that is planted in position.
  • Pocket Pass: A pass with one hand down near the waist.
  • Point Forward: A larger player who plays forward, but with excellent ball-handling skills, such as LeBron James.
  • Point Guard: A position normally occupied by the best ballhandler on the team.
  • Points in the Paint: The points scored from field goals within the lane.
  • Possession: When a player or team has the ball, they are in ‘possession’ of the ball.

Someone holding a black basketball meaning he has possession

  • Post: The area near the basket just outside of the paint on the blocks.
  • Prayer: An unlikely shot taken from far away with little chance of going in.
  • Press: Another term for the full-court press.
  • Pull-Back Dribble: Dribbling back down the court after breaching the defense in order to reset the offense.
  • Push Pass: A passing technique used while dribbling.


  • Quadruple Double: When a player records ten or more totals in four different statistics, such as points, rebounds, steals, assists, or blocks.


  • Rebound: Where a player following a missed shot attempt that hits either the backboard or rim, gets the ball again.
  • Rejected: When a player’s shot is blocked.
  • Reverse Pivot: Taking a step backward while using a pivot foot.
  • Run: When one team has a long stretch of outscoring their opponent.


  • Screen: Same as a pick.
  • Set Shot: A shot taken without a jump.
  • Shot: An attempt to get the ball into the basket.
  • Shooter: The player that attempts to score.
  • Shooting Guard: The player who normally receives the ball on offense and scores a large percentage of their attempts.
  • Sixth Man (or Sixth Woman): A player that doesn’t start but is usually the first substitute off the bench.
  • Sidelines: The boundaries that run the length of the court.
  • Splash: Another word for a swish.
  • Squaring Up: When an offensive player with the ball turns to face the basket.
  • Starting Lineup: The five members of the team who begin the game.
  • Substitute: The act of taking off one of the five players on the floor with another from the bench.
  • Swish: A shot that goes in without touching the backboard or rim.
  • Switch: When defensive players change guarding following a pick set by the offense.


  • Team Fouls: The number of fouls the team has committed.
  • Technical Foul: A foul called as a result of an infraction like cursing at an official or shoving an opposing player during a dead ball.
  • Three-Point Field Goal: Any basket shot from beyond the three-point line.

Someone taking a 3 point shot during a basketball game

  • Three-Point Play: When an offensive player is fouled during the act of shooting a two-point shot or layup but makes it anyway. They then receive a free throw and the opportunity to score three points total on the single play.
  • Three-Point Shot: Any shot attempt from beyond the three-point line.
  • Three-Second Violation: Any player that stands in the lane for longer than three seconds.
  • Timeout: Stop play available to both teams.
  • Tip-Off: The opening ball at the start of every game.
  • Top of the Key: The arc area above the free-throw line but inside of the three-point line.
  • Travelling: A moving violation in which a player takes too many steps with the ball.
  • Triple-Double: When a player records totals of ten or more in three different statistical areas.
  • Turnover: When the ball is given to the other team.


  • Up-Court: When the offense is going forward towards the three-point to try and score.


  • Violation: When a rule is broken.


  • Walking: Another term for a travelling violation.
  • Weak Side: Same as the help side.


  • Zone Defense: Where players guard zones and locations, not players.

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These are just some of the most important terms to know if you want to know how to bet on sports like basketball. If you are looking for legal online sports betting with great sports betting odds, then look no further than BetMGM. We are the best online sportsbook with a variety of options and tons of sports betting tips for beginners.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.