Basketball is one of the most exciting and popular sports in the world, but also more sectorial in its own way. In fact, if you have tried to watch a game on TV you will have realized that basketball is very spectacular. But also that commentators use language that can be difficult for a novice to understand. And that the same rules of basketball – as simple as they may appear – hide secrets that are almost impossible to decipher by deduction.
So if you want to try to understand something better, we have prepared for you a guide as complete but not boring as possible to the main rules of this sport. We will move from the calculation of points to the differences between Europe and the USA, passing through the various types of fouls and infractions.
Furthermore, in closing, we will also dedicate space to the most common jargon of commentators and the main game tactics. So that watching a game will not only be fun but also understandable.
Because in addition to knowing what the rules are, it can also be useful to understand what this elusive ” pick & roll ” (or its variant of “pick and pop”) that everyone is talking about, what does it mean that a player “is floated “, What are a” high low “and a” low post “.
And understand, perhaps, what were the tactics that led the names of Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, or even our Ettore Messina to dominate the world.
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In short, there is material to discuss at length. But now let’s start with the ABC: here are the main rules of basketball, essential to understanding something.
1. How Points Are Scored
Since the purpose of a basketball game is to score more points than the opponent, let’s first try to clarify how the scores are calculated in this sport.
First, the points are scored by making a basket, that is, by directing the ball towards the basket and letting it enter. Depending on the shots, however, the distance from which they are taken, and the different game actions, the baskets may be worth a different score.
If you look at the field (and later in this article you will also find a pattern that you can possibly study) you will notice that at a distance of about 6-7 meters from the basket there is a line that draws a semicircle. It’s called the three-point line.
If you pull behind that line and the shot hits, you collect 3 points. If, on the other hand, you shoot from inside that area, any basket is worth 2 points.
Fouls and punishments
It can happen, however, as we shall see, that a player is fouled, either while he is walking around the field or while he is taking a shot. In this case, he may be entitled to what is called ” free throws “.
These are shots that are made when the game is stopped and that the player who has suffered the foul takes within a circle located just under 6 meters from the basket. Each free throw scored is worth 1 point.
It should also be noted that free throws and baskets can be combined. In fact, let’s say that a player is shooting but, during the shooting movement, he suffers a foul and that in any case, his ball hits the target.
In that case, he is awarded the 2 or 3 points of the basket and in addition, he is granted an extra free throw due to the foul. An action, thus, can lead to up to 4 points. Additional free throws, as we shall see, can also be awarded for fouls when the game is stopped or for protests.
The Baskets and Records
Last two notes on this topic. The first: in the event that at the end of regular time the two teams find themselves in a situation of equality, extra time will be played to the bitter end. In fact, there is no draw in basketball and one of the two teams must necessarily win.
So at the end of regular time, if the two teams have reached the same score, there is overtime of 5 minutes. If even at the end of these 5 minutes the points are the same, a second extra period is played. And then, if needed, a third, a fourth, and so on, until at the end of 5 minutes a team prevails.
The second: in the photo you see on the side is Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest players in history, photographed while celebrating an epic match that took place on March 2, 1962.
In that match, his Philadelphia Warriors beat the New York Knicks 169 to 147. And they did so thanks to 100 points in a single game – an unbeaten and probably unbeatable record – of their top player.
2. The Dribble and the Various Infractions
The main purpose of a basketball team is, as mentioned, to make a basket. In order for this to be achieved, however, you must first get the ball to the other side of the pitch and get closer to the opponent’s basket. And this – steps aside – can only be done by dribbling.
Each player, in order to move with the ball, must in fact make the ball bounce on the ground. If he does not do so, he falls into infractions that the referee can and must punish by awarding the ball to the opponents.
Let’s say right away that generally not all players on a team are called to dribble often. Particularly high basketball players such as the centers (those who play under the basket), in fact, would risk having the ball stolen easily.
So in general we rely on the “little ones” of the team, that is the point guard and the guard. The two of them are nimble and snappy and are generally tasked with getting the ball across the pitch to kick off the action.
The Third Time, the Steps
The infractions, as regards the dribble, can be of various types. The most common is that of ” steps ” and consists either in starting from a standing position without dribbling or taking a series of steps after having stopped dribbling.
You will tell me, however, that often you see players stop dribbling, take a step or two and throw or pass the ball without the referee whistling anything. That type of athletic gesture is in fact called the third time and is allowed by the regulation
In practice, a player – if he receives the ball in the running or if he stops dribbling while in motion – can take two steps, alternating the right and left foot, before throwing or passing the ball.
But beware of stationary stars. If you receive the ball and move both feet before starting to dribble (without using one as a ” pivot foot “, as they say) the steps are whistled and you lose possession.
The Double Dribble and the Accompanied Ball
Let’s report a couple more infractions before we change the subject. The most common is the double dribble, which consists of dribbling, stopping dribbling, and then resuming the dribble, which cannot be done. The dribble must in fact always be continuous, without pauses.
Finally, there is also the possibility of whistling the ” accompanied ball ” infringement. This is very rare among professional players, but more common among youngsters. In practice, the whistle is blown if the setter, instead of pushing the ball from the top down, in a certain sense accompanies it, catching it from below.
3. Fouls and Related Punishments
Since we have anticipated it, let’s talk a little about the main types of faults that can be committed. The most common is the so-called personal fouls. That is, fouls are committed through physical contact with an opponent.
There is usually ample tolerance for contacts considered to be in play. It is not uncommon, in fact, to see players – perhaps during a “low post” action – pushing each other chest to back, or trying to snatch the ball from each other. Or, again, that they collide at great speed against each other during a regular block.
On the other hand, all touches that affect a shot (for example a shot on the shooter’s arm) are sanctioned. Or those clashes in which a player does not maintain his position but changes it precisely to provide contact with the opponent.
The breakthrough and the technician
Another very common foul is that of a breakthrough, which can be committed when attacking.
In fact, if a player starts with his head down towards the basket and impacts against an opponent who at that moment is stationary in his position (and is therefore not moving to block his way), he commits a breakthrough foul. In that case, the action is stopped and the ball assigned to the defending team.
There are also fouls that occur when the game is stopped, but they are no less important. The most common is the technical foul, in which the referee blows his whistle against a player or coach who goes overboard in protests or scoffs at opponents.
The punishment consists of two free throws and possession to the opposing team. Also, when you commit two technical fouls in a match, you are sent off.
The most violent fouls
Then there is the unsportsmanlike or intentional foul, which consists of a dangerous foul committed without the intention of stealing the ball. This costs the opponents two free throws and possession. Finally, for very dangerous fouls or for too vehement protests there is also the possible direct expulsion.
In the NBA, these latter fouls have a slightly different name and the penalties may vary as well. The technical foul involves a free throw for the opponents but not necessarily possession.
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The flagrant foul instead derives from a foul considered excessive and involves two free throws and the ball to the opponents. However, in the case of “flagrant 2” (ie the most serious, in the opinion of the referees) there is also the expulsion of the player.
Finally, we also see the penalties for common fouls. In the event that the foul occurs during the shooting movement, i.e. when the player has stopped dribbling and is about to shoot, the penalty is free throws. These can be one (if the basket hits), two (if the shot was from two points), or three (if it was from three points).
However, in the event that the foul occurs during normal game action, there are two possibilities. Generally, the fouled team resumes action from a lineout.
However, it can also happen that one of the two teams has already made 4 fouls in that portion of the game and has therefore put the opponents ” in bonus “. In the latter case, each foul (except those made on offense) involves two free throws for the opponents.
When a player commits his fifth (in Europe) or sixth (in America) foul, he can no longer take part in the game.
4. The Importance of Times
As any novice immediately notes, basketball is a game in which the influence of time and rhythms is very heavy. So much so that we talk about “shots in rhythm”, “playmaker-metronomes” and seconds that are about to expire.
To prevent the game from slowing down and defensive tactics from being activated, in fact, over time the various European and US organizations have introduced a series of rules that serve to reduce playing times.
The primary objective of each federation, in fact, is to guarantee the spectacularity of the matches. And this is preserved when teams are forced to create a play, perhaps even with a timer that bites their tail. So let’s see, point by point, what are the main times to keep in mind when playing.
The Duration of the Races and the Changes
Firstly, each game is made up of 4 periods, which are in turn grouped into 2 halves. Basically the first and second periods – or fourth – make up the first half and the third and fourth periods the second half.
In Europe, each period lasts 10 minutes, in NBA 12. Between the first and second half, there is a longer break, usually 15 minutes, and the teams return to the locker room.
Changes can occur at any break in the game. There is no limit to substitutions and the important thing is that there are always 5 players on the pitch for each team. Generally the benches, not surprisingly, are made up of 5-7 other players ready to take over at any time to the owners to make them catch their breath or for specific tactical needs.
Each team has 8 seconds to pass their own half and 24 seconds to make a shot that hits or touches at least the iron, that is, the ring of the basket. If he fails in that time, he loses the ball, which passes to the opponents.
The 3 Second and 5 Second Rules
The presence of a player inside the 3-second area (the area painted in a different color under the basket) is also regulated. When on offense, a player cannot be stationed in that zone for more than 3 seconds. He is in fact constantly forced to go in and out of it if he wants to gravitate around it.
In addition, there is also a 3-second defensive rule in the NBA. For them, not even a defender can stay in the area for more than 3 seconds, which makes it rather difficult to put in place an effective zone defense.
Finally, there is also a 5-second rule: throw-ins must be performed within 5 seconds, otherwise the ball will be lost. In Europe, moreover, a player on the pitch who holds the ball still in his hand for 5 seconds at a time when he is marked tight loses the ball automatically.
5. The Differences Between Fiba and Nba
We conclude by pointing out some of the main differences between NBA and FIBA rules. As we have already mentioned in the course of this article, the NBA – the North American professional league – and FIBA - the International Federation that supervises the Olympics, the World Championships, and the European ones – use slightly different rules.
In reality, the differences have narrowed considerably in recent years. In fact, FIBA has often met American standards, which are more devoted to guaranteeing the show. But know that not everything you see the great overseas champions doing can be done in Italy.
Beyond the difference in the duration of the matches, which we have already explained, the playing fields are also different, for example.
In fact, in the NBA the parquet measures about 30 meters by 17, while in Europe it is satisfied with 28 by 15. Consequently, the distance of the 3-point shooting line from the basket is also different, given that in America it is placed at 7, 25 meters (even if its path is irregular and in the corners, the distance is only 6.71 meters) while in Europe it is 6.75 meters.
Furthermore, the management of time-outs is also different, i.e. the breaks that a coach can take to talk to his players. In America, in fact, the time-out – even if in this case it is a short pause of only 20 seconds – can be called directly by the player who has the ball in his hand.
This usually happens to get out of the way in situations where he is stuck or if he is running out of time to put the ball back into play.
Finally, the referees’ interpretation in the face of fouls and infractions is also often different. The most striking case is that of the starting steps, which is when a player who has the ball in his hand starts from a standstill by lifting the pivot foot just before starting the dribble.
In Europe, footsteps are always whistled in such a situation; in America, however, this behavior is more often tolerated. All in order not to interrupt the flow of action excessively.
Furthermore, for many decades in the United States zone defense was banned, precisely because it was considered unspectacular, a defense that was instead widely used in Europe.
Starting from 2002, however, even in the NBA, you can defend in the zone, even if this tactic is little used because the three-second defensive rule we were talking about before tends to make it impractical.
Another 14 Expressions, Technicalities, and Tactics to Know About Basketball, in addition to the 5 Rules Already Reported
As we said at the beginning, it’s not just the fundamental rules that make basketball complicated. When you watch a game on TV, in fact, you can feel overwhelmed by the technicalities, by words in English whose meaning is not known at all.
For this reason, we have decided to extend our list, including a sort of glossary of the most used and most important terms in the world of basketball. There he is.
Pick & Roll and Pick & Pop
One of the expressions most used by television commentators, when they tell a basketball game, is “pick & roll”. When they are overly prepared commentators, they even let out a “pick & pop”. But what is it about?
Basically, it is one of the most basic – and most used – attack strategies. The ball is usually brought into the opponent’s half of the field by the point guard, but he finds himself marked by a defender. For this reason, he often calls a ” block “: that is, he asks the center to advance and hinder the defender who marks it with his body.
After the block, the center can suddenly spring towards the basket, rotating quickly on itself: if the point guard manages to pass the ball to him, the so-called ” pick & roll ” occurs, which generally ends with a dunk or with a third time unmarked.
The “pick & pop” is a variation of this scheme. After blocking, the long does not cut towards the basket but makes a “pop”, that is, it widens towards the three-point line. Also in this case he can find himself unmarked and can be served by the point guard for a shot from medium or long distance.
Dunk and Alley-oop
But what is the dunk we just mentioned? In reality, it is one of the most spectacular and famous actions of basketball, which consists in leading a player to support the ball more or less violently inside the basket, thanks to its height or its elevation.
Sometimes these dunks can be particularly spectacular, as is the case with alley-oops. This occurs when the ball carrier throws the ball into the air towards the basket and the attacker catches it by squeezing it into the basket before falling back, in one motion.
The assist is one of the most important technical gestures in a basketball game. It is no coincidence that it is measured: there are counting how many assists each player manages to register but the team assists are also counted. When a team makes a lot of them, it typically means they have a well-structured attack, which can create choral action.
An assist, on the other hand, is a pass that leads a teammate to score a basket. The teammate who receives the ball can shoot directly once he has received the pass but can also dribble to go to the basket. Obviously, the assist is counted only if the basket is then made.
Even the block is a very spectacular technical gesture, which however is done in defense and not in attack. It consists of blocking an opponent’s shot before he reaches the basket, sending the ball away, or, more rarely, even blocking it. But be careful: the block can be regular or irregular.
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The distinction is that the block must be made before the ball begins the descending phase of the shooting parabola, and therefore only while it is still rising. Furthermore, it is always illegal to stop a shot that has already touched the backboard. An illegal block gives points to the opposing player as if the ball had entered the basket.
Layup and Jumper
If you hear the expression layup, do not despair: it is nothing more than the American name of our third half, that particular shot that leads the attacker to interrupt the dribble during the race and to take two steps before throwing the ball towards the basket.
However, there are two basic types of shooting in basketball: in addition to the third time, there is also the jump shot. In English, the latter is called Jump Shot or, with a faster term, Jumper. This is a long shot, made by jumping up vertically and starting the shot when in the air, before falling back.
Catch and Shoot
To be precise, there are actually different types of shooting in basketball. Listing them all would be too long, but we can present another one. This is the so-called Catch and shoot, literally “Catch and shoot”. It is a shot that needs special specialists, and sharpshooters who are placed on the perimeter.
The attack action, in this case, is generally structured as follows: the ball carrier, perhaps after a pick and roll, penetrates towards the basket, attracting the opposing defense on himself; at this point, however, he does not shoot, but ” unloads ” the ball towards foreign countries, to a shooter positioned on the perimeter. This receives and immediately rolls. And usually, he shoots.
As you know, basketball games have a set duration. Sometimes one team takes a big advantage over the other, and then the last few minutes of the game become almost useless, as a comeback becomes impossible. In this case, the last piece of the competition is sometimes called ” garbage time “.
Other times, however, the games are played point to point until the last second. And in some cases – not too rare – a match is literally decided on the last shot, while the siren sounds at the end of the game. In that case, if the shot enters, we speak of a “buzzer-beater”, a shot that defeats the opponents precisely at the sound of the “buzz”.
We were talking before about the Catch and shoot, a particular shot taken immediately after a discharge. There is a possibility, however, that the action will get complicated. Imagine: the point guard penetrates and immediately passes the ball to the outside. The shooter, however, is marked and the space for shooting is immediately closed. So what to do?
The tendency of recent years is to continue to pass the ball quickly, perhaps to his side mate, who is also stationed on the perimeter and perhaps free. When a shooter gives up a complicated shot and makes an extra pass to an unmarked teammate, it is called an Extra pass. One thing that the coaches really appreciate.
Another expression that is often heard during a basketball game (and even more often at the end of the year, when the prizes of the season are awarded) is that of the “sixth man”. What does that mean, given that basketball is a five-on-five sport?
Well, when we talk about the sixth man we mean that particular player who, although starting from the bench, nevertheless plays a large number of minutes. In short, he is the first of the reserves: he can be a young man on the rise or, more often, a veteran, who no longer has the strength in his legs to play as a starter but still manages to be decisive.
In the NBA every year, at the end of the season, the prize is awarded to the best sixth man. But a myriad of other awards are also given, the most important of which is the title of MVP (which is read in English, “em-vi-pì”). An acronym that stands for Most Valuable Player, that is, best player.
The MVP of the league is therefore the player who was recognized as the strongest of that year. However, he also assigns the title of MVP of the Finals (for that player who dominates the last games of the play-offs) and, ideally, also the title of MVP of every single game.
High Post and Low Post
Let us now describe some specific attack and defense tactics. The first, in reality, is an area of the pitch rather than a tactic. In fact, sometimes it is decided to bring the ball “in the high post” or “in the low post”, and from there to start the attacking action. But where are these areas?
The reference point is the 3-second area, the painted area under the basket. This is shaped like a trapezoid, with the basket on one base and the free-throw line on the other. The high post is located in one of the vertices of the latter base, at the height of the free-throw line; the low one instead towards the other base, more or less at the height of the basket.
And now, before we say goodbye, let’s see three of the tactics most frequently cited by commentators. The first is a defensive tactic that we too have already referred to: zone defense. A not very common situation in which it is decided not to “mark by man” but to have the defenders preside over specific areas of the field.
The variants of this defense are different, but the two most common are zone 2-3 and zone 3-2 . In the first case, two players guard the perimeter while three defend the lower part of the area, one near the basket and the other two on the corners. In zone 3-2 the opposite happens: 3 players are on the perimeter and 2 under the basket.
The triangle attack, or Triangle Offense, is a particular attack technique developed between the 40s and 60s but made famous above all from the 80s onwards. It is due to Sam Barry, historic coach of the University of Southern California, and above all to Tex Winter, who brought her into Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
It is a tactic that requires players to position themselves in specific positions of the attack to continuously form triangles, in order to easily find clean passing lines. Essential in this system is the so-called ” spacing “, ie the distances to be created between one player and another to maximize the spaces.
Another famous type of attack is the Princeton Offense, also developed several decades ago at the university level but arrived in the NBA between the 90s and 2000s. While it is no longer used in its purest form today, it has undoubtedly influenced various recent schemes.
The basic principle is to have fairly interchangeable players on the pitch, all skilled in passing, cutting, and shooting. In fact, four players remain on the perimeter, ready to make sudden cuts towards the basket, while the only inside is the center, which must however be able to act as an added point guard.
This creates a dense network of passes and cuts (as well as, in the most recent evolutions, blocks) that leads the players to break free and penetrate towards the basket, disorienting the opposing defenses.