Intro to Sports Part 2: Basketball

Basketball Court

Basketball is played on a rectangular court that measures 94 feet horizontally and 50 feet vertically. On each end of the court, there are two baskets that hang ten feet from the ground, and the goal is to put the ball in the basket. The boundary lines under the baskets are referred to as “baselines,” and the lines along the sides of the court are called “sidelines.” 15 horizontal feet away from the basket is a free throw line, which is used for shots after fouls. The “key” is the painted area between the free throw line and the baseline. This is typically the section of the court where taller athletes play in an attempt to rebound missed shots. The rounded line that extends from each corner designates the three point line. Players who shoot the ball from behind that line score three points for every basket made.

basketball court

Time Management

In the National Basketball Association (NBA) each game is 48 minutes long and is divided into four 12 minute quarters. Two quarters are played before a 15 minute halftime, followed by the remaining two quarters. The game clock is stopped for various reasons including: fouls, timeouts, or when a player runs out of bounds. The NBA also incorporates a 24 second shot clock, meaning each team has that amount of time to shoot the ball during a single possession. Every time there is a change in possession between teams, the shot clock resets to the original 24 seconds. If an offensive player shoots, misses, and gets the offensive rebound, the shot clock will reset to 24 seconds.

College basketball games are 40 minutes long with two 20 minute halves. Between each half is a 15 minute halftime, and the same stoppage of play rules are enforced. The only difference between the NBA and college basketball is the duration of the shot clock. A 30 second shot clock is used in college instead of the shorter 24 seconds used in the NBA.


There are 10 total players on the court at once, with five players on each team. The typical positions include: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center.

The point guard is the primary ball handler who is usually given control of the offense. Their job is to run plays, set up teammates, and score if open. During the 1900’s, the point guard mainly passed the ball to other players instead of looking for scoring opportunities himself. In recent years, however, point guards are scoring at a higher rate as few of them are considered players who look to pass first. Athletes who play this position are typically the smallest on the team and are not usually taller than 6’4”. Point guards who are considered the best include: Magic Johnson, Jerry West, John Stockton, and Oscar Robertson.

The shooting guard does not handle the ball often, and tries to create shots for himself away from the ball. They are usually the leading scorers on their teams, and rely heavily on the point guard’s playmaking ability. Shooting guards are taller than point guards, being as tall as 6’7, and are typically the most athletic position. The best shooting guards include: Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Allen Iverson.

Athletes who are considered small forwards are required to have a versatile skill set that can translate into different aspects of the game. Depending on team needs, small forwards need to be able to score off the dribble, be a passer, or spot up for three pointers. The current NBA is filled with elite small forwards who fill multiple roles for their teams. The best small forwards include: Larry Bird, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Scottie Pippen.

The power forward and center positions have changed greatly in the last 20 years. Players in these positions used to play down low near the key, but now they are extending towards the three point line. Three pointers are being shot at a historic rate, which makes a typical “big man” less effective. Teams opt to play smaller, more versatile power forwards and centers who can shoot the ball better than others. These players are referred to as “stretch bigs” and are very valuable to teams. The best power forwards and centers include: Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett. The most dominant stretch bigs include: Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh, and Kevin Love.


Throughout a game, there are different opportunities which allow players to score either one, two, or three points at a time. If a player is fouled in the middle of the shot attempt, they are given either two or three free throws (depending on if the shooter was behind the three point line). For each free throw made, the team is awarded one point. Regular baskets made inside the three point line count for two points, and shots made behind the line are three points. If the player is fouled during a shot and proceeds to make it, they are given one free throw attempt. This allows players to score either three or four total points in one possession

Common Terms

Screen- When an offensive player blocks a defender from moving. The screener needs to be stationary and not push the opposing player.

Pick- Secondary term for screen

And One- When a player is fouled during their shot and makes the basket. This allows the player to receive one free throw attempt, which is referred to as “and one”.

Alley Oop- Term for when a player catches a pass in mid air and either converts a dunk or layup during that time.

Key- The painted area around the basket and inside the free throw line

Triple or Trey- Slang term for three pointers


“Basketball.” Britannica Kids, Britannica, 15 Nov. 2018.