Basketball Basics - Great for the Beginner to Basketball

Basketball Basics

The game of basketball was invented by Dr. James Naismith during the winter of 1891 when he was trying to keep his physical education students in shape. Naismith wanted to create a fun, competitive indoor activity and the game of basketball was formed when he wrote the basic rules and nailed peach baskets 10-feet high in the air.

Original Basketball Rules

The following were Naismith’s original rules for the game of basketball:

  • The ball may be thrown or batted in any direction with one or both hands.
  • A player cannot run with the ball.
  • A player must throw the ball from the spot they catch it.
  • The ball must be held in or between the hands without using any part of the body.
  • A foul will be called for shouldering, holding, hitting, tripping, and pushing. The second violation results in the player being ejected until the next basket is scored.
  • Hitting the ball with one’s fist is deemed a foul.
  • Three straight fouls for one team results in a goal for the opposing team.
  • A goal is counted when the ball is thrown or batted from the ground into the basket.
  • If the ball goes out of bounds, it will be thrown into play by the first player touching the ball. When the player throwing the ball in bounds possesses the ball for five seconds, the ball is rewarded to the opposing team.
  • The referee will throw the ball into play should there be confusion who should be rewarded the throw in.
  • An umpire is assigned to keep track of fouls and inform the referee when one team has committed three straight fouls.
  • The referee is in charge of keeping score, time, and who is rewarded the ball should it go out of bounds.
  • The game is consisted of two 15-minute halves with a five minute halftime.
  • The team with the most points within the designated time is declared the winner.

The game of basketball has transformed significantly in the past 100 years and it is a much quicker paced game than the one played by Naismith’s students in the late 19th century.

Basketball fans will notice that there was no dribbling, three-point line, or violation for goal-tending.

Dr. Naismith’s original rules for the game of basketball are on display at the University of Kansas.

The Game of Basketball Today

Modern basketball is still contested between two teams and each team has five players on the court. The game is played on a rectangular wooden court with a basket on each end of the playing surface.

Peach baskets are no longer used but have been replaced with circular rims with a nylon net hanging at the bottom to allow the ball to fall to the court. A rectangular glass backboard is attached to the rim and can be used to throw the ball into the hoop.

The ball can now advanced by dribbling the basketball or passing it to a teammate. Each team contains five positions with a unique skillset and responsibilities on the court.

At every level the game is played, the game is contested in two halves or four quarters. After the first half, there is a brief halftime to allow each team to rest and adjust for the second half.

Basketball has evolved into one of the world’s most popular games and the Summer Olympics has a competition for men’s and women’s teams on the global stage. The FIBA World Cup is another international competition for the world’s most talented players to represent their countries and compete against one another.

The National Basketball Association is the highest level of professional competition for men’s basketball around the globe. The Women’s National Basketball Association is the highest level of competition for women’s basketball in the United States. There are numerous competitive professional leagues for men and women in Europe, Asia, Oceania, and other regions of the world.

The Court and Ball

The length and width of the basketball court can vary depending on the level of competition. NBA and collegiate regulation basketball courts are 94 feet long and 50 feet wide. High school basketball teams compete on a smaller court that is 84 feet long and 50 feet wide.

The free throw line, otherwise known as the foul line, is 15 feet from the front of the backboard.

The paint, also called the key, is a rectangular box between the backboard and free throw line. This area is 16 feet wide for NBA courts and 12 feet wide for collegiate courts.

The three point line is a greater distance from the rim for NBA courts than youth and collegiate courts. An NBA three point line is 23 feet and 9 inches from the rim at its greatest length. Collegiate three point lines are 20 feet and 9 inches from the basket. College basketball courts will soon transition to a longer three point line to increase the difficulty of the shot.

The distance from the top of the rim to the floor is 10 feet for all age levels. All rims measure 18 inches in diameter.

NBA and collegiate basketball courts have a restricted arc inside the paint. This is a designated area where defensive players cannot create a charging foul against an offensive player.

The arcs for professional courts have a greater extended radius than collegiate courts.

Basketball sizes are adjusted for gender and age. Youth basketballs have a 27.5 inch circumference. Women’s basketballs have a 28.5 inch circumference. Men’s basketballs have a 29.5 inch circumference.


Point Guard – The primary ball handler on the team. This position is considered the leader of the offense. The point guard can call out plays from the coach and direct the offense to the correct positions. They are usually one of the shortest and quickest players on the court.

Shooting Guard – The player who is the most accurate taking jump shots. Shooting guards are particularly skilled at scoring three point baskets. This position must have tremendous endurance to run around screens to get an open shot. They normally play outside the paint in a set offense and move consistently to escape defenders.

Small Forward – This player is normally capable of being positioned within the paint or along the three point line. A small forward typically has a versatile skill set that allows him to dribble to the basket, make jump shots, and play close to the rim. Usually, the small forward is taller than the point guard and shooting guard.

Power Forward – This position is one of your tallest players on a team. Power forwards typically play in and around the paint with their back to the basket. They will usually secure the majority of the team’s rebounds and will not dribble the ball up the court. In recent years, the evolution of basketball has allowed power forwards to play outside the paint more to shoot jump shots outside the paint.

Center – Normally, this position will be the tallest player on a basketball team. The center protects the rim on defense by attempting to block any shots that are attempted inside the paint. Offensively, this position relies on scoring inside the paint and will not dribble the basketball. Normally, the center will be one of the players with the most rebounds on the team.

Types of Shots

Two Point Field Goal – A shot that is taken when the player is standing inside the three point line. If a player’s foot is touching the three point line when the shot is taken, it is considered a two point shot.

Three Point Field Goal – A shot that is taken when the player is standing beyond the three point line. Both feet have to clearly be behind the three point line to count as three points.

Free Throw – A shot that is rewarded when a player is fouled while shooting the basketball. A free throw can also be granted when a player is fouled without taking a shot and the defensive team has committed a certain number of fouls in one half.

The player taking the free throw stands at the free throw line and a successful free throw is worth one point.

Lay Up – A two-point field goal that is scored directly beside the basket. The shot can either be deflected off the backboard or thrown straight into the net.

Dunk – A two-point field goal that is scored when a player throws the ball through the rim while grabbing onto the rim with one or both hands.

Jump Shot – A two or three point shot that is released with proper shooting form. A jump shot can be taken inside or outside the three point line from every angle in front of the rim.

Types of Basketball Passes

Chest – When the basketball is passed from the player’s chest with two hands. A proper pass is delivered to the chest of a teammate without the ball hitting the court.

Bounce – When the basketball is passed from the player’s chest with one or two hands. A proper pass is delivered to the chest of a teammate when the ball bounces off the court one time.

Overhead – A pass thrown when the ball is held directly above the head of a player with two hands. A proper pass is delivered to the chest of a teammate without the ball hitting the court.

Baseball – A pass thrown with one hand mimicking the motion of a baseball pitcher. The pass is normally utilized when a player must throw the ball a long distance across the court.  

Game Play

Substitutions – The head coach of a basketball team can replace one of the five players on the court with a player on the bench. One player can be substituted at a time or every player on the court can be taken out at once. Coaches have an unlimited number of substitutions per game.

Substitutions can only step onto the court to replace their teammate when signaled by the referee during a stoppage of play. Failure to wait for the referee’s signal can result in a technical foul.

Time Outs – A stoppage of play that occurs when the coach or player of one team signals to the referee to stop the clock. Timeouts can only be rewarded to a team in possession of the ball or immediately after a scored basket.

The number of timeouts each team has per game is dependent on the level of play. Usually, timeouts are 30 seconds or one minute long.

Coaches use these stoppages of play to adjust, make play calls, and substitute players from the bench into the game.

Shot Clock – A timer that indicates the allotted time an offensive team has to shoot the basketball. If the basketball is not shot within the allowed time, a shot clock violation is the result. The shot clock resets when the ball touches the rim.

The NBA has a 24-second shot clock and collegiate basketball has a 30-second shot clock.

Overtime – If the contest is tied after regulation, an overtime period is contested to determine a winner. The extra period is normally five minutes but could vary for different leagues. Should the game still be tied, extra overtime periods should continue until the tie is broken.

Types of Fouls in Basketball

Basketball is a game that features much contact and fouls are called against players who create unnecessary contact against an opposing player. There are numerous types of foul calls to officiate the game and protect players from injuries.

Pushing – Occurs when a player shoves an opponent with one or two hands to forcefully move them on the court. A violation can also occur when a player bumps into an opponent with their shoulder or body.

Holding – A player who grabs onto the body or jersey of an opponent to restrict their movement.

Reaching In – A defensive player who attempts to steal the ball from an offensive player and contacts the wrist, arm, or body.

Blocking – Occurs when a defensive player impedes the movement of an offensive player without establishing correct defensive position.

Charging – An offensive player who runs into a defensive player who has established correct defensive position.

Technical Foul – An unsportsmanlike conduct foul due to a player, coach, or staff member causing a disruption during a basketball game or displaying inappropriate behavior. Causes of a technical foul include screaming at the referee, throwing/slamming the basketball or other equipment, and cursing at another player or coach.

Two technical fouls for a player or coach over the course of a basketball game warrants an ejection.

Flagrant Foul – A physical foul made by a player during a basketball game that includes excessive or harmful contact to another player. Kicking, elbowing, pushing, and punching are all actions that can potentially warrant a flagrant foul.

Intentional Foul – A contact foul by a player who made no obvious intention of making a play on the basketball. Pulling a player’s jersey or wrapping arms around a player can warrant an intentional foul.


Traveling – Occurs by taking two or more steps without dribbling the basketball. Once a pivot foot has been established when picking up the basketball, it cannot be lifted off the court.

Double Dribble – When a player dribbles the basketball, picks it up, and dribbles once again without the ball being knocked out of the player’s hands. Also, bouncing the basketball with two hands is a double dribble.

Goal-tending – An interference of the basketball when it is contacting the rim, backboard, or is directly above the rim. If the basketball is touched on its way down toward the goal, then it is a violation.

When an offensive player commits goal-tending, the basket is automatically waived off and the opposing team receives the ball.

When a defensive player commits goal-tending, the appropriate number of points are counted for the offense and the opposing team receives the ball.

Out of Bounds – A player who his touching the ball while standing on the out of bounds line is considered out of bounds. The basketball is given to the opposing team.

A player who steps on the out of bounds line while dribbling the basketball is considered out of bounds. The basketball is rewarded to the opposing team.

When the basketball touches the out of bounds line when not possessed by a player of either team, the ball is given to the team who did not touch it last.

Back-Court – Once the team with the basketball crosses the half-court line, the ball cannot be possessed behind half-court. If the ball is thrown behind half-court or the ball is possessed while standing on the half-court line, the ball is given to the opposing team.

If the defense deflects the ball behind the half-court line, the offense can reestablish position without it being ruled a turnover.

Held Ball – Occurs when a player from each team battles for the ball without a single player holding clear possession of the ball.

When the referee blows the whistle to signal a held ball, the basketball is given to the team who currently has the possession arrow.

Illegal Screen – An offensive player who moves their feet or body in attempt to set a screen on an opponent. Contacting the defender results in a violation and turnover.

Learning the Fundamentals

Players of any age can pick up a basketball and learn how to play the game. The best way to develop into a quality basketball player is to learn the basic rules, violations, and skills. Having a thorough understanding of the game rules and practicing fundamentals are a necessity before joining a team.

Below are essential skills to practice when first learning to play basketball:


  • Shooting – Precise mechanics are required to shoot a basketball with proper form. The body has to be balanced and the palm should be positioned underneath the ball. The elbow needs to be at a right angle and the body must be balanced with toes pointed to the basket. When the ball is released, the player’s dominant hand must follow through to guide the shot.


  • Dribbling – Being able to bounce the ball without losing control of it is especially important for guard positions. The ball should be kept waist level or below when dribbling the ball down the court. A goal for players is to be able to dribble without looking at the basketball. The ball can be protected from defenders with a low dribble and a guard hand up to protect the ball.


  • Passing – This skill is the best way to give a teammate the basketball. A pass should be thrown where teammates can easily catch the ball. Most passes should be thrown from the chest and players must step into the pass to have full control of the ball’s flight path.


  • Defense – Defensive skills are crucial during the development of a player. Players should practice guarding fundamentals in the half-court and the full court. The correct knee bend, shuffling feet without crossing them, and staying directly in front of an offensive player are goals of proper defense.


  • Pivot Foot – This allows players to step forward or backward during the game. When a pivot foot is established, that foot cannot come off the ground. Unlimited steps can be made as long as the pivot foot stays on the court. Changing pivot foots is a violation that results in a turnover.


  • Jab Step – A quick movement of the non-pivot foot that enables an offensive player to throw a defender off balance to dribble around them. Unlimited jab steps can be made by a player with the ball who keeps his pivot foot on the ground.


  • Jump Stop – Used by a dribbling offensive player to pick up the ball and come to a stop without committing a traveling violation. When a dribbling player jumps to a stop with both feet landing on the court at the same time, either foot can be established as a pivot foot.


  • Rebound – The ability to grab the basketball when it bounces off the rim after a missed shot. Rebounds often have to made in a congested area and proper body positioning is needed to secure the ball.


  • Blocking Out – A skill that significantly improves the chances of a player to secure a rebound. Bending the knees and moving an opponent away from the rim with the lower body can negate them from reaching the basketball.


  • Lay Ups – The majority of shots made in a basketball game are lay ups. The right hand should be used when shooting a lay up on the right side of the rim. The left hand should be used when shooting a lay up on the left side of the rim.


  • Screens – A correctly set screen consists of having two feet planted squarely on the court. The feet and body have to remain still until the teammate using the screen is completely past the screener. Attempting to move the feet or body to contact a defender is a violation.
Nov 07, 2019 Coach Chris

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