3.2 Glossary of common basketball terms
Where on the Court is it?
Areas on the court that coaches commonly refer to:
either end of the free throw line;
Low Post or “Block”
where the offensive rebounder lines up during a foul shot;
at the 3 point line, opposite the free throw line;
is the area at the top of the key.
at the foul line;
between the key and the 3 point line, opposite the basket;
the middle of the court. The “line” is imaginary going from one basket to the other.
What do Words Mean?
“1 Pass Away”, “2 Passes Away” etc.
The number of “passes away“ an offensive player is from the ball, is used to define the position of their defender.
It describes how close the offensive player is to the ball. Generally, the closer an opponent is to the ball, the closer the defender needs to be to them.
- Player 1 has the ball.
- Players 2 and 3 are “one pass away”
- Player 4 is “two passes away”
- Player 5 is “three passes away”
- Player 2 has the ball
- Players 1 and 5 are “one pass away”
- Player 3 is “two passes away”
- Player 4 is “three passes away”
When defending the person with the ball, the defender should keep one hand in front of the ball and the other hand “active” to make it hard for player to pass the ball. If the player is dribbling, keep the hand opposite the ball low to prevent a crossover and the other hand up to prevent a pass.
However, a common mistake that defenders make is to reach for the ball (taking them off balance). “Active Hands” are in combination with moving the defender’s feet: when the offensive player moves their feet, the defender must first move their feet.
“Back Door” Cut
A “Back Door” cut is a quick cut, usually toward the basket. The cut is performed if a player is being denied and cannot receive a pass.
- Step away from basket, showing hand (as a passing target)
- Push off the foot that is furtherest from the basket and cut to the basket.
Do NOT take only one or two steps
A “back cut” can also be performed off a screen.
The defender may step in the path of the cutter so that they cannot go over the top of the screen. The cutter steps into their defender (as if cutting over the top of the screen) and then changes direction to “back cut” towards the basket.
A pass from one wing to the other is a type of ball reversal and is called a “Skip Pass”. It takes a lot of strength (particularly in the tricep muscle) to throw this pass and most young players cannot throw it effectively.
“Big to Bigger” (or “Defensive Slide”)
“Big to Bigger” is used to describe defensive footwork.When moving laterally to guard someone with the ball, defenders shouldbe taught to use “big to bigger” footwork, sometimes called “defensive slide”. The premise is simple – when moving to your right, step with the right foot first. The second step brings you back to a balanced stance.
This footwork is important to “take a charge” or to contain a dribbler. However, the footwork is slower than running and defenders may only take one or two steps before they need to change to running to be able to stay in front.
“Box Out” or “Block Out”
When a shot is taken, each defender must first make contact with their player and stop them from rebounding. This is called “boxing out”. Players should box out 1-2 metres away from the basket. If they are too close to the basket the rebound will bounce over their head.
Bump the Cutter
“Bumping” the cutter is simply getting in the way of a person cutting into the keyway to stay between them and the ball and to make them cut behind the defender
Channelling the Dribbler
To “channel” a dribbler, the defender should be in front of the dribbler with the foot closest to the dribbler approximately at the dribbler’s shoulder.
The hand closest to the dribbler should be low (to stop a cross-over dribble) and the other hand should be shoulder height to stop a pass. If the dribbler tries to move to the middle, the defender must step into their path.
When an offensive player catches the ball, their defender must sprint to get within an arm’s length of them by the time they catch the ball. This “close-out” is a difficult skill. The defender sprints and then as they get close to their opponent, take small, quick steps. Head position is critical as it affects the defender’s balance if it is too far forward or back.
Defender’s should be encouraged to raise both hands as the end of the close-out as this will help to keep them balanced and ready to move laterally. If they reach forward with one hand, that makes it more difficult to then move laterally.
Close-out – Long and Short
If the offensive player catching the ball is a “shooter”, the defender may close-out “long” even running past them to ensure they get their hand to pressure the shot. If the offensive is a “driver”, the defender may close-out “short”- stopping 2-3 metres before them in order to be able to guard any drive.
Cross Over Step (see also Onside Step)
A cross over move is when a player steps across their body either to change direction or to start moving.
If the defender stays below the screen (to stop a “back cut”) the cutter steps toward them and then cuts off the top of the screen.
If the defender “locks” to the cutter to run behind them, the cutter curls to cut to the basket. As the defender is behind them, if they made a straight cut, the defender may be able to get to a position to interfere with the pass.
“Denial stance” is used to stop a player that is “one pass away” from the ball from receiving a pass.
In denial stance the defender’s back is to the ball and their chest faces their opponent. The arm closest to the ball is stretched out, thumb pointed to the ground and palm facing the ball.
When two defenders both guard the player with the ball. The defenders must remain close to each other so that the offensive player cannot step in between them. The players should also keep their hands high, rather than reaching for the ball.
A down screen is set by a player moving towards the baseline, for example:
- high post player setting a screen for a low post player;
- guard setting a screen for a wing perimeter player.
Typically the screener’s back will be facing the ball.
Rather than passing the ball, a “dribble entry” is where the ball is dribbled to the wing. The player that is dribbled at moves. They can simply replace the dribbler – a shallow cut.
Rather than making a shallow cut, the player may cut to the basket or drop to the corner.
Driving Lane (see also Passing Lane)
The “driving lane” is simply the path between a dribbler and the basket. On a fast break, if the defender does not commit to the driving lane, the player should drive to the basket. If the defender does commit, they should pass.
To get open, an offensive player must try to get their foot past their defender - “foot advantage”. This applies equally to defenders - move your feet to beat an opponent.
A “fast break” is where a defensive team get position of the ball and then try to move into offence as quickly as possible, before there are defenders in position.
A “Freeze Dribble” is where the offensive player dribbles at a particular defender in an effort to commit that defender to guarding the ball, which will stop them from guarding another teammate.
It is used most effectively against zone defences.
If Player 1 simply catches the ball and quickly passes it to Player 3, the defender (x1) may simply move across to defend 3.
If the defender moves under the screen, in order to beat the cutter to the “other side” of the screen, the cutter should move toward the screen and then move away from the screen, so that the screener is between them and their defender.
The screener may also turn to face the defender and “re-screen”
This is a defensive concept and is used to emphasise to defenders that they must be able to see both their immediate opponent and the player that has the ball. In the diagrams below, each defender adopts a position, based upon how close their opponent is to the ball. The blue triangles represent the defender’s vision – being able to see both the player with the ball. opponent.
A “floating defender” is not denying the ball from being passed to their direct opponent and is in a position to help defend the ball.
Front the Post
“Fronting” the post player, means that the defender stands between the post player and the perimeter player. There are two methods – “toes in” and “toes out”.
“Fronting defence” requires both good pressure on the person with the ball and also “split line” help (a defender near the basket that can intercept any attempted lob pass).
The defender’s back faces the potential passer. This position makes it easier to adjust position if the ball is passed to another teammate on the perimeter.
A “Gap Dribble” is simply dribbling between two defenders in a zone defence. Whichever defender moves to stop the dribble, leaves a player on their side of the court open.
A “hand off” is where an offensive player that has the ball, is stationary and a teammate runs past and grabs the ball from them. It may be a guard cutting past a post player, or a player dribbling, coming to a stop and another team moving past them. This “dribble hand-off” is often done whilst both players are moving. The player with the ball holds it with one hand on top of the ball and one underneath (“north-south grip”). The player taking the ball grabs it from the side (“east-west grip”).
Head on the Ball
To make a player change direction, the defender must get in front of them and get your “head on the ball” (see also Turning the Dribbler).
“Head Snap” (“Chin to Shoulder”)
In denial stance, the arm closest to the person with the ball is extended in the passing lane and by placing “chin to shoulder” the defender can see the player with the ball and the player they are guarding.
As the defender cuts to the basket (denying their opponent) they get to a point where, in order to keep sight of both ball and their player, they need to turn their head and put the other arm in the passing lane. This technique is called “head snap” or “head and hands” snap.
The point where the defender needs to “head snap” is when they get to the line of the ball.
Hedge (or Help) & Recover
“Hedging” is a defensive fake - starting to move toward a position (e.g. going to guard the ball) but not going all the way to that position.
For example x3 takes two steps towards Player 2, wanting them to think that they are coming to guard them. As Player 2 changes direction or stops, x3 “recovers” back to guard their player.
This movement is called “hedge and recover” and is used in full court and half-court defence.
“Kick” the Ball
To kick the ball is to make a pass and, in particular, to make a pass quickly after receiving a pass.
An “L Cut” is a sharp change in direction, forming an “L shape”
- Walk up the key and make a quick change of direction to cut to the perimeter
“Line of Ball”
The “line of the ball” is an imaginary line across the court level with the person that has the ball. This concept applies mostly in defence where players move “below” the “line of the ball” even if their player is above the ball. This is done in order to be in a position to help guard a dribbler.
When Player 2 receives the ball, X1 moves to the “line of ball” and is now in a position to guard Player 2 if they dribble toward the middle.
The shaded vertical line is the “split line”.
“Man to Man” Defence
Defensive structure where each defender is responsible for guarding one particular opponent. During play, defenders may switch (or change) who they are guarding or may help a teammate defend a particular player. However, each defender remains responsible for guarding a particular player.
“Motion Offence” is an offensive structure that is recommended be taught to beginning athletes. Rather than having strict pre-determined movements, in “motion offence” players are taught principles of court spacing and movement.
On Ball Stance
The defender guarding the person with the ball has their chest facing the offensive player and their nose at the height of their chest. One foot should be slightly in front of the other and they should be close enough to touch the ball.
Team defences will often force the player to dribble with their non-preferred hand. To force them left, the defender’s nose should be level with their right shoulder and the defender’s right foot must be outside the left foot.
In an open stance, the defender generally has their back to the basket or sidelined and is standing “side on” to both the player they are guarding, and the player with the ball.
Pass and Cut (or “Give and Go”)
Perhaps the simplest play in basketball is “pass and cut” or “give and go”. The player passing the ball, then cuts to the basket looking to receive a pass back.
An imaginary line between the player with the ball and a teammate that they may pass to. Defenders may want to be as close to the passing lane as possible, provided that they can still see both the player with the ball and their direct opponent.
For offensive players on a fast break, if the defender is in the “passing” lane this is a cue for the dribbler to attack the basket. For a perimeter offensive player, if the defender is “in the lane”, it is a cue to cut to the basket (“back door”).
Penetration is getting the ball into the keyway, either by dribbling it, or by passing it to a teammate who is in the keyway.
Pick and Roll
A “pick and roll” is where a screen is set for a teammate that has the ball. The basic action is that the screener then moves toward the basket (the “roll”). They are also called an “on ball screen”.
A pivot is where one foot remains on the ground and the player steps with the other foot. The “pivot foot” is the stationary foot that remains on the ground. Players may pivot forward or backwards (“reverse pivot”).
Once a player that has a ball (and is not dribbling) pivots, they cannot change to pivot on their other foot. If a player catches the ball with feet in the air and lands on both feet at the same time, they may then choose to pivot on either foot. If they land one foot after the other, then the first foot to land is their pivot foot.
A “post player” is generally situated in the keyway or alongside it. All players need to be able to “post up”, however generally taller players play in the post most often. With young players, coaches must ensure that tall players also play on the perimeter (and that small players learn basic skills to play in the post).
“Post Side” or “Strong Side” (see also “Weak Side”)
The “Post Side” of the court is the side that an offensive player is occupying a post position near, or in the key.
“Receiver Principles” are an offensive concept, setting out where offensive players should move to when the ball is dribbled into the keyway (this can also apply equally to when the ball is passed into the keyway). Generally, two offensive players should be in the keyway, with at least one player in a “safety” position at the top of the key.
With the increased use of the 3 point shot, teams often now have “receivers” on the perimeter opposite the ball and one person that moves behind the ball (and is an easy pass if there is pressure).
Replace Cut (or “Replace”)
A “Replace Cut” (often just called “Replace”) is where an offensive player moves to the position that a teammate had occupied. The Replace Cut is made after the teammate has cut or dribbled away from that position.
“Pass, Cut and Replace”
After cutting to the basket, the player nearest to the “gap” cuts toward the ball and then “fills” the space on the perimeter. The other players then balance to fill the positions on the perimeter.
Sometimes when a team sets an off-ball screens, the defence will “cheat” or move to a position, anticipating where the cutter will go, before the cutter has actually cut off the screen. In this situation, the screener may need to adjust their position (or “re-screen”) in order to be in a position to get their teammate open.
A “Screen” is where one offensive player stands in a position on the court in an attempt to block the path of a defender and to accordingly free their teammate. A screen may be used for a teammate that has the ball or a teammate that does not have the ball.
Skip Pass (see also “Ball Reversal”)
A “skip pass” is a pass from one side of the court to the other side of the court. Accordingly, it is a way to “reverse” the ball, however, it is slower than making two passes (as a skip pass must be thrown high to avoid interception).
“Spacing” is simply the distance between players. It may be used in connection with a whole team (e.g. offensive players spreading across the court) or in connection to the distance between two players.
Split Line (or Help Line)
The “split line” is an imaginary line from basket to basket (the vertical shaded line). It is mostly a defensive concept, indicating the position on the court that a defender should get to when the player they are guarding is on the opposite side of the court to the ball.
The horizontal line shown is the “line of the ball”.
“Square Up” means to face the basket. It is mostly used in connection with a player catching the ball and then turning to face the basket.
The cutter moves towards their defender and then cuts over the top of the screen.
If the defender steps in, the screener makes a straight cut.
“Trailing” is a specific technique when guarding a player that is cutting off a screen – the defender follows closely behind the cutter. On offence, the player that took a defensive rebound or passed the ball in from out of bounds is often the last player to reach the front court to play offence.
This is often called the “trailer” and many teams will use this person to either take a perimeter shot or pass the ball to another player.
Turn Out Cut
A “turn out” cut is used off a screen that is set at the side of the keyway, with the screener having their back face the sideline, away from the keyway.
Turning the Dribbler
“Turning” the dribbler is simply making them change direction and is a strategy used particularly whilst they are in their back court.
To turn the dribbler, the defender must get their “head on the ball” and be directly facing them. In this position, the dribbler cannot continue in this direction and must change direction.
An up screen is set by a player moving away from the baseline, for example:
- Wing perimeter player setting a screen for a guard;
- High Post player setting a screen for a perimeter player.
Generally, the screener has their back facing the baseline or the baseline/sideline corner.
A “V Cut” is where an offensive player moves in one direction and then moves (usually back toward the ball) in a different direction – forming a “V”.
- After cutting toward the basket, change angle to get into the path of defender
- Establishing “Foot advantage” is important to create a passing lane as is using a change of pace.
The V-cut can also be done effectively with two separate cuts.
First, Player 2 cuts to the basket using a back cut. They look to establish position at the basket to receive the ball there, or at least hesitate before leading back to the perimeter.
The hesitation is particularly effective if the player can cut from the basket to either side of the court.
Weak Side or “Open Side” (see also “Post Side”)
The “Weak Side” is the side of the court opposite to where a post player is in or near the keyway. There is not always a “weak side”. For example if all players are on the perimeter, or if there is a post player on either side of the keyway.