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Basketball is a game that’s incredibly simple and infinitely complex at the same time. Unless you can interpret basic jargon, abbreviations, and slang used on the court, it is nearly impossible to understand the game.
This glossary of basketball terms will help you keep it simple.
Common Basketball Terms & Definitions
This is some of the basic terms that you need to know in order to understand the game of basketball.
1 and 1
A 1 and 1 is a specific kind of foul shot that happens only in college basketball. For the seventh, eighth and ninth foul of a half the fouled player goes to the line to shoot one foul shot. If they make the first shot then they are awarded a second free throw.
One-and-ones are awarded only after non-shooting fouls. Starting with the tenth foul two free throws are awarded regardless of the outcome of the first shot.
An airball is a missed shot that doesn’t even make contact with the rim, net, or backboard.\
An and 1 occurs when a player is fouled while shooting but makes the shot anyway. The basket counts and the player shoots one free throw.
An assist is a pass that results in a score. Assists are one of the most fundamental statistics in the game.
Boards are a slang term for rebounds.
The bonus occurs after a team has received a certain amount of fouls, resulting in two free throws, even on non-shooting fouls. Teams enter the bonus after the tenth foul of the half in college basketball or the fifth foul of the quarter in the NBA and WNBA.
Boxing out is the art of a player positioning themselves to get a rebound while simultaneously blocking an opposing player from getting the board. When boxing out a player positions themselves between the basket and their opponent and uses their body to prevent their opponent from getting a good angle on the rebound.
A bucket is another term for a made shot, similar to “scores” or “baskets.”
A player is considered clutch when they perform well under pressure. “The clutch” is the period of time when the game – or season – is in doubt.
A cutter is a player that makes a move toward the basket without the basketball.
A dime is a slang term for an assist (see above). It comes from the phrase “dropping a dime,” an old euphemism for calling someone.
A double dribble is a foul that occurs when a player either stops then restarts their dribble or simultaneously uses two hands to dribble the basketball. Palming the basketball is also considered a form of double dribbling.
Double Dribble is also an early basketball video game famous for its innovative and realistic (for the time) gameplay.
Dribbling is the act of bouncing the basketball so as to retain position and avoid traveling and double dribble fouls (see above). It is one of the most fundamental aspects of the game of basketball.
A player that’s ejected from the game is forced to leave the court area entirely and cannot return to the game. Ejections are given whenever a player gets two technical fouls (see below) or for particularly egregious acts of violence and misconduct.
A flop is an attempt by a defender to draw a charging foul by playing up the force of the impact. Flopping is considered a savvy defensive maneuver by some and a distasteful abuse of the rules by others.
A foul is a violation of the rules. Fouls can be awarded for a number of reasons including excessive physical contact, improper ball handling, or illegal spacing or movement.
The goal is another name for the hoop that a given team is attempting to score on. It can also refer to a score itself.
Goaltending is a foul that occurs when a player illegally alters the trajectory of a shot, typically when it is on the way down or within the cylinder of the hoop. Offensive goaltending results in the basket being waived off, while defensive goaltending leads to the altered shot being counted as made.
Guard is one of the primary positions on the basketball court. Guards, also known as backcourt players, are typically smaller, faster players that are positioned further from their own basket so as to protect against the fast break.
Technical fouls are fouls that are awarded for bad behavior beyond the simple fouls of the game. Examples of this can be excessive violence or taunting of the other team, as well as disrespectful treatment of the officials.
Traveling is a foul that occurs when a player moves illegally with the basketball, such as without dribbling.
Basketball Abbreviations & Meanings
If you don’t know you’re abbreviations, you’ll be lost on the court. Mistake your SG for an SF and you’re likely to commit a TO – so best learn these terms, playa.
BEEF is an acronym that’s used to teach proper shooting technique. It stands for “balance, eyes, elbows, follow-through.”
C is the abbreviation for “center,” one of the five primary positions on a basketball court. Centers typically play in the middle of a team’s frontcourt and are often the largest, strongest players on the team.
FG is the abbreviation for a “field goal,” or any made shot from the floor (excepting free throws).
GB stands for “games back,” a reference used in the standings to denote how far out of first place (or the playoffs) a team is.
PER is short for “player efficiency rating,” a metric that is used to account for everything that a player does on the court, both good and bad. It is calculated by combining adjusted values for points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals while subtracting adjusted values for turnovers, fouls, and missed shots.
PF is an abbreviation for either “personal fouls” or “power forward.”
PG is the abbreviation for “point guard,” one of the five traditional positions on the court. PGs are often a team’s primary ballhandler and playcaller.
RPI is short for “Ratings Percentage Index,” a metric used to measure the quality of a team’s wins and losses based on the difficulty of the opponents that they’ve faced.
SF is the abbreviation for “small forward,” one of the five traditional positions on the court. Small forwards can be used both as wing players or in the frontcourt, depending on a team’s offensive or defensive alignment.
SG is the abbreviation for “shooting guard,” one of the five traditional positions on the court. Shooting guards tend to play on the wing and in the backcourt alongside the point guard.
TO is short for “turnovers,” or the number of times a team loses possession without getting off an official shot.
UTIL is an abbreviation for “utility,” a slot on a fantasy basketball roster that can be filled by players of any position.
Playing basketball isn’t just about working out or getting some burn. It’s about looking cool – or at least faking it ‘til you make it.
Cookies is a term used after stealing the ball from someone, particularly off the dribble, such as “I stole your cookies.”
Gumping involves aggressively running all over the court, including pushing the ball in transition, making aggressive cuts, or getting back quickly on defense.
The Jelly Fam is a lloose collective of players from New York City centered around Isaiah Washington and others. Jelly Fam puts an emphasis on bringing playground creativity to their games, especially when it comes to layups and dunks.
Knocking the Bottom Out
Knocking the bottom out means making a high volume of shots. When the game was first invented actual peach baskets were used, so the idea is that you’re making so many shots that they break the basket by knocking the bottom out of it.
Mad ups is common slang for a player with exceptional leaping ability.
Nothing But Net
Nothing but net is a slang term for a perfect shot. It refers to a jumper that is so dead on that it doesn’t even make contact with the rim or the backboard, touching nothing but the net on its way through the hoop.
Rods is a term used for the legs of a player with excellent jumping ability.
On the Cookout
A player is said to be on the cookout if they are playing exceptionally well.
Onions is a term coined by Bill Raferty that means bravery, audacity, chutzpah… and male anatomy.
A player that’s wet has a pretty jump shot. A shot that’s wet is a made jumper.