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How to Play Basketball: The Basics, Rules, & Fundamentals

Everything you’d ever need to know about the sport of basketball

Interested in becoming the next Michael Jordan? Or maybe you simply want to know the rules so you can follow the game? In either case, you’re in the right place. In this article, we’ll break down all the rules of the great game of basketball. We’ll even help you learn the fundamentals of dribbling, shooting, and playing defense.

Things You Should Know

  • Basketball is played by 2 teams with 5 players each. You score by putting the ball through the hoop.
  • Dribble or pass to move the ball. Players are not allowed to take more than two steps after picking the ball up before shooting or passing it.
  • Points scored inside of the round arc on the floor are worth 2 points. If you shoot and make the ball outside of the arc, it’s worth 3 points.
  • Games of basketball are divided into 4 quarters of varying length depending on the level of play. When the game ends, the team with the most points wins.


Basic Rules

  1. Learn the basic terminology of the game. From the NBA to casual backyard games, every game of basketball has a few terms you should learn if you want to follow the game.[1] This includes:
    • Hoop/basket: If the ball goes in the hoop with the net, the offensive team scores. The glass, or backboard is the back of the hoop.
    • Dribble: Bouncing the ball off of the court (the floor). Players must dribble to move the ball. If you don’t dribble and you move your feet, it’s a traveling foul.
    • Free throw: When a player is fouled while shooting, they get to shoot free throws. These are worth 1 point each.
    • Jump ball: This is how you start the game. The ball is thrown into the air and players try to tip it to their team. This event is called the tip off
    • The paint: Also known as the interior, this is the area closest to the hoop. It is outlined by a rectangle. The two big squares near the bottom are the block. The top line is the free throw line.
    • The arc: Also known as the three point line, this is the round line on the ground surrounding the paint. Making the ball from behind this line is 3 points, not 2.
    • Jumper/jump shot: This is any shot outside of the paint. Other types of shot include dunks, where you slam the ball through the hoop, and layups where you attack the hoop and try to gently drop the ball in.
  2. Break into 2 teams with 5 players each. Basketball is played by 2 teams. Only 5 players can play for each team at a time, but you can substitute players out from the bench, which is where other players wait.[2] For a casual game, it’s okay to use 2 teams of 3 or 2 teams of 2, etc. The standard positions are:
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    • Point guard: Typically the fastest player on the team, the point guard brings the ball up the court. A good point guard is great at dribbling and passing.
    • Shooting guard: The shooting guard stays near the top of the court with the point guard. They’re usually the best outside shooter on their team, as the name implies.
    • Small forward: The small forward is usually a versatile player who is equally good at shooting, dribbling, passing, and defense.
    • Power forward: The power forward is a tall player who should be good at fighting in the paint, rebounding, and shooting close to the hoop.
    • Center: Typically the tallest player on the team, the center’s main job is typically to rebound the ball and block shots.
  3. Score points by shooting the ball through the hoop. In basketball, an offensive player can score between 1 and 3 points with a shot, depending on where the shot is taken on the floor. The winner of the game is whoever scores the most points by the end of the game.[3]
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    • Outside of the arc, any jump shot is worth 3 points. Some outdoor courts and smaller courts won’t have this line.
    • Inside of the arc, every shot is worth 2 points.
    • If you get fouled while shooting, you shoot free throws. Every free throw is worth 1 point. You get 2 free throws for a 2-point shot, or 3 free throws for a 3-point shot. If you make the shot where you’re fouled, it counts for 2 or 3 points and then you get 1 extra free throw.
  4. Move the ball by dribbling or passing it. When you have the ball, you have to be stationary with one foot planted on the floor to pivot. You can move by dribbling, though. Dribble by bouncing it up and down on the floor. You can also pass the ball to another teammate, which is a great way to throw defenders off or quickly get the ball to the basket.[4]
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    • If you stop dribbling, you cannot re-start dribbling. Dribbling again is a foul known as double dribbling.
    • If you’re driving in to shoot, you can pick up the ball and take two steps without dribbling before you shoot or pass. More than two steps is a foul called traveling.
    • You can still jump to shoot or pass, but when you come back down you need to have gotten rid of the ball.
    • When you start dribbling, you must dribble constantly as you move, until you pass, shoot, or stop dribbling to plant on your pivot foot.

Handling the Ball

  1. Hold the ball tightly with your knees bent. If you’ve got control of the ball on offense, you need to crouch in a low position to guard and protect the ball while you dribble. In a proper dribbling stance, you should be crouched, knees flexed and shoulder-width apart, standing on the balls of your feet.[5]
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    • As you’re learning, bounce the ball constantly with each hand, switching back and forth between your left and your right to get a feel for handling with both of your hands.
    • Stick your elbows out if you catch the ball and a defender jumps at you to block you.
    • If you’re trying to catch the ball, stand with your knees bent and your hands up to give the passer a good target.[6]
  2. Dribble the ball with your fingertips to maintain control. When beginners first touch the basketball, it’s common to slap or chop at it with the palm of the hand. Instead, push the ball down with your fingertips to maintain control. Once you get used to the feeling, try to dribble without looking at the ball![7]
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    • Just start bouncing the ball, standing still at first. Flex your wrist to bounce the ball and try to keep your elbow in to your hip and move your elbow as little as possible.
    • Keep your dribble low so you can control the ball more easily.[8]
  3. Try to keep the ball about waist-high when you dribble. It’s difficult to control the ball at first, and beginning players often have a hard time keeping the ball down. If you dribble too high, it’ll be easy for defenders to grab the ball. If you dribble too low, it’ll be hard to control the ball. Try to keep the ball at your waist.[9]
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    • It’s okay to change how high you dribble depending on the situation. For example, if a defender is close, you might dribble lower. If nobody is around, it’s okay to dribble higher.
  4. Keep your head up and know where the ball is. It’s hard to know where to go and where to pass when you’ve got your eyes locked on your sneakers. Whether you’re dribbling, looking to pass, or trying to get the ball, keep your eyes open and pay attention to where the ball is.[10]
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    • You head should be on a swivel at all times. Track the ball, get a feel for where your teammates are, and look for openings to take advantage.
  5. Practice making different kinds of passes to your teammates. Passing is one of the most important skills in the game. Get comfortable making passes that go straight to your teammate without making them move for it.[11] Types of passes include:
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    • Chest passes: Hold the ball tightly with both hands. Stick your elbows out. Bring it in to your chest, then flick both hands out to pass the ball without letting it touch the ground.
    • Bounce passes: Bounce passes are identical to the chest pass, but you intentionally throw the ball at the ground so it bounces once before it reaches the teammate.
    • Overhead passes: Grab the ball firmly and pull it back behind your head. Then, hurl the ball forward over your head towards your teammate.
    • Fullcourt passes: If you need to get the ball to the other end of the court quickly without being too accurate, pull the ball back and throw it like a football.


  1. Square up to the basket every time you shoot the ball. It’s important to square up, which means you point both of your feet straight at the hoop. Line your hips up over your feet, which should be shoulder-length apart. Your shots will be more accurate this way.[12]
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    • When you’re getting ready to take a shot, stop dribbling and take the ball in both hands, and square up to the hoop. Practice your pick-up step. Take one last dribble and turn your hips in one motion.
  2. Balance the ball in your dominant hand. Your shooting hand is your dominant hand. Keep your shooting elbow in tight to your hip, and keep the ball balanced on your finger-tips on the bottom of the basketball. Brace the ball with your other hand. Bring the ball up so it’s even with your chin and bend your knees.[13]
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    • You do not shoot with both hands, but you do use your nondominant hand to keep the ball balanced as you shoot.
    • To practice your shot motion, lay on the ground with the ball and hold the ball straight up with your shooting hand. Practice rolling the ball straight up into the air a few inches with backspin.
  3. Roll the ball off of your fingertips as you extend the shot. Extend your shooting elbow straight up and forward. Roll your wrist forward, as if you were trying to reach into a cookie jar on a high shelf. Let the ball pop forward when your arm extends to the end, rolling backward as you release it. Keep following through with your hand, putting it in the cookie jar, after you’ve released the ball.[14]
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    • The “follow through” is super important. It puts backspin on the ball, which increases the odds the ball goes in when it catches the rim or backboard.
  4. Push off with your feet, jumping straight up as you shoot. At the same time you extend your elbow to begin shooting, crouch down and jump up with your legs as you release the ball. When your arm is just about to reach the highest point, you should be at your highest point in the air.[15]
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    • Don’t jump forward towards the hoop; jump straight up.
    • Your arms help you aim when you shoot, but your power comes from your legs. The harder you jump as you shoot, the further the ball will travel.
  5. Aim for getting the ball just over the rim and into the basket. Some coaches will tell you to try and get the ball just over the rim of the basket. Keep your eye on the target and try to do everything in one fluid motion. Aiming can be difficult to figure out at first when you’re new, but you’ll get used to choosing the right power and arc for each shot.[16]
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    • As you practice, start close to the net to get used to the feeling of it.
    • You can also try to aim to bank the ball in off of the glass if you’re at an angle to the rim.
  6. Practice layups by dribbling to the net and jumping as you shoot. Layups are an important part of basketball. Good basketball players should have layups locked down so well they’ll never miss one in a game.[17] Here’s how to do them:
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    • Start at the corner of the free-throw line on your dominant side. Dribble in toward the hoop from an angle, and pull up when you get near the second to last line on the side of the lane-marker.
    • Pick the ball up as you take two long steps with the ball. Push up off of your nondominant foot to throw yourself into the air.
    • With one hand, roll the ball up towards the rim. Bounce the ball in off the backboard.


  1. Understand why playing defense is so important. It’s easy to get excited to shoot the ball, but defense is how you win championships! When your team doesn’t have the ball, your goal is to keep your opponents from scoring. Disrupt passes, try to steal the ball if possible, and block shots. It’s your job to be annoying and disruptive to the other team.[18] There are a few types of defense:
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    • Man-to-man: This is typical defense. Every player is assigned another player to guard and they follow them around.
    • Zone: Every player is assigned an area of the floor to cover and defend, regardless of who is there. The most common zone is “2-3,” where the guards take the top and the forwards and center take the bottom by the rim.
    • Halfcourt: This is when a team only defends the portion of the court that’s closest to the rim.
    • Fullcourt: This is when a team defends the entire court—usually because they’re trying to get a steal or exhaust the other team.
  2. Get into the proper defensive stance with your arms out. Get low and get wide. Crouch with your feet more than shoulder-width apart and put your arms straight out at your sides. Stand on the balls of your feet and make sideways movements to guard the opponent.[19]
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    • Who you face depends on where the ball is. If the player you’re guarding has the ball, face them directly. Otherwise, split the difference by facing your assigned player and the ball.
  3. Practice your side-to-side movements to stay nimble. The hardest thing about playing defense is staying in your defensive crouch and sticking to the opponent like glue. It’s hard to move side-to-side quickly, so the more experienced you are at doing the side-to-side shuffle step, the better a defensive player you’ll be.[20]
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    • Practice running sideways, taking a big step to the side in one direction, crossing your trailing foot just behind your lead foot, and pushing off again. Then, go back the other way.
  4. Stay on your feet unless you’re going for a block. Beginning basketball players often jump too often. Stay on your feet unless you are 100% sure your opponent is shooting. The more airborne you are on defense, the more vulnerable you are as a defender.[21]
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    • When an offensive player pretends to shoot to try and get the opponent to jump, it’s called a pump fake.
  5. Grab rebounds by boxing out your opponent. Another essential part of playing defense is training yourself to grab the rebounds when they come. If your opponents have taken a shot that’s failed, don’t let them have a second chance for it. When the ball is in the air, get between your opponent and the rim. Stick your butt out, face the ball, and push backwards to box out your opponent.[22]
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    • Jump up to meet the ball in the air when it’s coming down.
  6. Avoid common fouls to prevent giving your opponents an edge. While charging into a defender will earn you a foul on offense, most fouls that happen are called on the defense. In your attempts to be a disruptive presence on the court, you’ve also got to learn where the line is and avoid crossing it.[23] Common fouls include:
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    • Blocking: This is where you move your body to block a player dribbling when you aren’t already in their path.
    • Reaching: When someone is dribbling, you can’t knock their forearm or grab their arm. This is a reaching foul.
    • Over the back: When trying to rebound the ball, you cannot jump over an opponent in front of you.
    • Technical/flagrant foul: These are a set of serious infractions that include aggressive behavior, insulting the referee, etc. The opposing team automatically gets free throws and possession of the ball for these.

Playing Well

  1. Practice your fundamentals to improve your skills. If you want to be a better basketball player, practice your fundamentals. Dribbling, shooting, and defensive skills are the best way to spend time becoming a good player. Don’t practice fancy passes or lower the hoop so you can practice your 360 dunks.[24]
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  2. Pass frequently and keep the ball moving. Good basketball teams can keep the ball moving at all times. This keeps the defensive players off balance. When your team has the ball, keep your passes quick and crisp to move the ball around and find an open lane to the hoop.[25]
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    • It’s a common misconception that basketball needs to be played by virtuosic ballers who all dunk non-stop and hog the ball. Good players pass.
  3. Learn to set picks for your teammates on offense. As you learn to work as a team, you’ll eventually want to start working out plays. The foundation of most plays is the pick and roll. To set a pick, stand still and upright. Put your hand over your crotch. Then, your teammate will use you as an obstacle to get the defender off of them.[26]
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    • If the defending player slams into you, they’ll be charged with a foul.
    • After your teammate dribbles past you, peel off and look for an opening to get the ball. This is the “roll” part of the pick and roll.
  4. Learn to make cuts to get open for the ball. When your teammates have the ball, don’t stand still! Move around to keep your defenders on their toes. If you get an opening where your defender loses you, put your hands up to signal you want the ball.[27]
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    • Try not to get frustrated if your teammates miss you when you’re open. It’s hard to keep track of everything going on when you have the ball.

Fun Variations

  1. Play “horse” to see who is the most creative shooter. If you don’t want to play a full game of basketball, “pig” or “horse” are great ways to have fun on the court and work on your shooting at the same time. To play, take a shot. If you miss, the next player shoots. When someone makes a ball, their opponents have to make the same exact shot.[28]
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    • If a player misses a shot someone else made, they get a letter (an H to start, if you’re playing “horse”). The first player to fully spell HORSE out loses.
  2. Try “21” if you’ve got an odd number of players. 21 is the perfect game to play when you’ve got an un-even number of players. In 21, every player plays against every other player, in an attempt to be the first to 21 points. Every shot inside the arc is worth one point, and every shot outside is worth two.[29]
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    • After scoring a basket, that player shoots free throws. They’re worth 1 point each. They shoot until they miss or make 5 in a row.
  3. Play “knockout” to practice your free throws and layups. A good game for practicing free-throws and playing with a big group of people is knockout. All players line up at the free throw line. The first person in line shoots a free throw. If the shot is missed, the player must grab the rebound and keep shooting the ball until making a shot. As soon as a basket is scored, the player returns to the end of the line.[30]
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    • As soon as the first player’s ball touches the rim, the second player may shoot. If the second player in line scores a basket before the first player, the first player is knocked out.
    • As soon as one player scores, the next person in line may shoot.
  4. Give “baseketball” a try for a fun, competitive shooting drill. Baseketball is like a shooting drill plus baseball (and maybe a little trash talking!). Basically, 2 teams that alternate trying to score points from three different “bases,” while the other team tries to psych them out. Each missed shot is an out.[31]
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  • Professional games of basketball are divided into 4 quarters of 12 minutes each for a total of 48 minutes. However, younger and amateur leagues will often be shorter. Pickup games can be played indefinitely.[32]


Quick Summary

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  11. [v161639_b01]. 9 March 2021.
  12. [v161639_b01]. 9 March 2021.
  14. [v161639_b01]. 9 March 2021.
  23. [v161639_b01]. 9 March 2021.
  24. [v161639_b01]. 9 March 2021.

Source: Wiki How