Playing and watching basketball long enough brings you in contact with basketball terms and jargon. Some of them are pretty elementary, but others are incredibly creative. These creative basketball terms, often called “basketball slang,” get so popular that they blend into everyday vocabulary. What is basketball slang? What are some examples of basketball slang terms? Read on and also see the ultimate list of basketball slang terms.
What is Basketball Slang?
“Slang” is defined as informal and is more often common in the spoken word than in writing. Therefore, applying that definition in basketball, basketball slang gives an informal twist to otherwise common basketball terms. Most casual fans do not recognize basketball slang, so the more knowledgeable demographic often uses them.
Using slang also brings out the swagger culture of basketball. These terms are highly descriptive, evoking emotions from both sides of the spectrum.
Do you want to sharpen up your basketball slang knowledge? Let’s start slow and work your way up.
What are the Most Common Slang Words in Basketball?
- Air Ball
An airball is a shot attempt that hits nothing but “air.” The ball doesn’t touch any part of the rim or backboard. It is an utterly embarrassing play if he shoots an airball.
- Dropping Dimes
Dropping dimes (or dropping a dime) is a term for giving fancy assists. An assist is a pass that directly leads to a field goal. This slang probably originated from “assisting” or “helping” the police with a piece of valuable information, often through the telephone. The coin needed to make that phone call is a dime or 10 cents.
A dagger is a shot that effectively puts away a team for good. Barring any miraculous turnaround, the term that hit the field goal already won. Consider this scenario: Golden State leads Cleveland 103-100 with only 40 seconds to play. The Warriors have ball possession with 10 seconds on the shot clock. At the 32-second mark, Kevin Durant hit a three-pointer to extend the lead to six, 106-100. KD’s shot can be described as a “dagger” since coming back from a six-point deficit is extremely difficult to do with the time left.
KD DAGGER pic.twitter.com/8gySyoodu1
— SB Nation (@SBNation) June 7, 2018
An ankle-breaker is a dribbling move that completely fakes the defender, leaving him a step or two behind. In the worst-case scenario, the defense may even slip and stumble trying to keep up with the offense. An ankle breaker is usually done with a crossover dribble, an intermediate dribbling move done by faking one direction and going the other.
Getting “stuffed” or “denied” is slang for getting your shot blocked.
- Put on Skates
The phrase is often used within the context of the defense. It is slightly similar to ankle breakers, but “putting the defender on skates” can be achieved by using any deceptive dribbling move. The defender tumbles or loses his balance that he appears to be balancing on skates.
Basketball is often referred to with this abbreviated form. Another slang term for basketball is “hoops.”
- Making it Rain
The term is used to describe taking long-distance shots consecutively from anywhere, hence the name. “Making it rain” is more often used in association with three-pointers.
- From Downtown
When you hear this term used in a basketball game, it simply means “the three-point area.” For example, when somebody says, ‘Steph Curry hasn’t made a shot from downtown,’ it means he has not converted a three-point basket yet.
- Buzzer Beater
A buzzer-beater is a made field goal right before the buzzer sounds, whether that’s the shot clock buzzer or the game clock buzzer.
A “brick” is a term generally used for a missed shot, although you have to miss the shot badly for the attempt to be called that way in the modern context. They call a person who shot bricks a bricklayer in the same vein. In many ways, “brick” and “bricklayer” are two of many funny basketball slang terms.
An alley-oop is an offensive play involving two players in which the passer makes a lob pass to a teammate and the latter simultaneously catches the ball and puts it to the basket, either by a dunk or layup. It is one of the most electrifying plays in basketball and a sure-fire way to rile up the crowd.
Abbreviation for “Greatest of all Time.” It may refer to one person or a group of persons that people feel are the best to ever play. The GOAT discussion often centers around Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and other NBA greats.
“Handle” refers to the dribbling abilities of a player. To say that Kyrie Irving has the best “handles” means that he has the best ball-handling ability of any basketball player.
“Hops” refers to the jumping abilities of a player. Another term you hear that means the same thing is “vertical.” To say that a player’s “hops” or “vertical” is otherworldly means he can jump really high.
Commentators may use this term when a player is hitting shots, preferably from his favorite spots. For example, a 15-foot fadeaway is “automatic” for Michael Jordan. Or Steph Curry is “automatic” from the free-throw line because he is making over 90% of his shots.
“Buckets” is the slang term for made baskets.
“Boards” is another word for rebounds.
- Sixth Man
Basketball is a team game, and a coach could field a combination of 5 players in a 12-man roster. The sixth man is often the first person off the bench to play after the starting five. However, the term may also be used for any player that comes off the bench. For example, in 2020, the Los Angeles Clippers had two finalists for the Sixth Man of the Year award, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell.
- On Fire
When a player couldn’t miss a shot from anywhere, you may hear the slang term “on fire” to describe what’s happening. It is related to the terms “hot,” but “on fire” adds a little bit of pizzazz to it.
A splash is a shot made from far away, often from the three-point area. The concept of naming Steph Curry and Klay Thompson the “Splash Brothers” came from this slang term.
Other Basketball Slang Terms
A 2-for-1 is a clock management strategy used inside the game’s final minute or a quarter. If a team chooses to do a 2-for-1, the goal is to ensure that they have the final possession.
Example: With 31 seconds remaining and his team down 95-98, Luka Donic attempts a three. Whether he makes the shot or not, Dallas will still get the ball back for the final possession even the other team uses up the whole 24-second shot clock. Therefore, the Mavs get two possessions for one, hence the name.
- And One
An “and one” is a made basket plus a foul on the defense. Thus, the offense has the basket counted, plus the fouled player is entitled to one free throw. Hence, the name “and one.”
Backcourt may mean one of two things. First, it may refer to the guards who are on the court. (Example: Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are the Warriors’ starting backcourt.)
Second, it may refer to the half area of the court separated by the halfcourt line where the ball must be advanced in eight seconds. It contains the basket of the defending team.
(Example: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander must bring the ball past the backcourt to the frontcourt in eight seconds, or a violation will be called.)
- Ball Hog
A ball hog is a derogatory term for a player who doesn’t like to pass to his teammates. Another similar slang term is “chucker.”
- Box Out
To box out is to establish a better rebounding position than the opponent. It involves putting your body in between the basket and the opponent, widening your stance so that the player from the other team could not get around you.
- Charity Stripe
This term refers to the free-throw line or the foul line.
Cherry-picking is a strategy where one player hangs back on his own court while the rest plays defense. It is not an illegal strategy, but it puts the defense at a disadvantage if the offense decides to settle down and look for a good shot.
- Crashing the Glass/Boards
“Crashing the glass/boards” is an effort play that indicates the tenacity of the player/s to go for a defensive or offensive rebound.
Example: Reggie Evans crashed the boards on every play to give his team multiple chances.
“Clutch” is a term that is not only limited to basketball but in all sports. It refers to the ability of players to perform well in high-stress situations.
Example: Kobe Bryant made a tough clutch bucket late in Game 6 of the 2010 Western Conference Finals.
- Creating His Own Shot
When a player is said to have the ability to ‘create his own shot,’ he can beat the defender off the dribble to put up a clean shot attempt.
- Combo Guard
A combo guard is a player that can play both point and shooting guards equally well.
- Denying the Ball
Also called ball denial, it is a defensive strategy that aims to put a defender between the person handling the ball and the person he is guarding.
- Drawing the Defense
The defense is drawn when a player, possibly through a drive or penetration, attracts another defender. It is now the ballhandler’s responsibility to find the open man and make the right play/
The elbow is the part of the court where the free-throw line and the corner of the paint meet.
- Emptying the Bench
To “empty the bench” means the players have already pulled out the starters and put seldom-used bench players in their places. This happens when the game is already out of hand.
A “flop” happens when a player exaggerates the contact he receives to get a foul call. A flop may occur both ways, an offensive player trying to draw a defensive foul or a defender trying to fish for an offensive foul.
The frontcourt is the one-half area of the court where the offense shoots.
- Foul Trouble
When a player is in foul trouble, that means he is in danger of reaching the personal foul limit. (This also applies to the team.)
- Getting Back on Defense
To get back on defense means the defending team must retreat back across the halfcourt line to prevent the other team from scoring. More often than not, getting back on defense is needed during fast break situations.
- Hang Time
Hang time refers to how long the players can stay high in the air after a jump.
A heat check is a low percentage shot that a player takes to see if he can continue a hot shooting streak.
An illegal screen is when the screen-setter is still moving when making contact with the defender. This is also called a “moving screen.”
Short for “isolation.” “Isolation” is a play that allows a player to take on a defender 1-on-1 on a specific part of the court. For instance, the Brooklyn Nets always like to isolate Kevin Durant at the top of the key and let him go to work.
- Jab Step
If there’s a fake shot or a fake pass, a jab step is a fake step that aims to make the defender move and react. This opens up a driving lane in the opposite direction or space big enough to rise and shoot.
- Kick Out
A kick out is a play when a player penetrates the paint, draws the defense, and passes the ball back to an open perimeter shooter.
- Locking a Player Up
To “lock a player up” means to prevent an offensive player from doing what he wanted to do by playing good, hard, aggressive defense.
The lane, also called the “paint,” is the area underneath the backboard extending to the free-throw line. It is often painted a different color than the rest of the court. In the NBA, the lane is 16 feet wide and 19 inches long.
- Low Percentage Shot
A low percentage shot is a type of shot with a low chance of getting converted. This is either because it is far away from the basket or a shot that is well-defended.
- Nothing But Net
Also called a “swish,” this is a made shot that does not hit any part of the backboard or rim. A shot that hits “nothing but net” makes a swishing sound as it goes through the net. It’s a basketball lingo for scoring.
- Over the Limit
A team that is over the limit uses up all of their fouls in a quarter. They are now in the penalty, which means every foul from that point results to free throws for the other team, whether the foul is called in the act of shooting or not.
To “posterize” someone means to dunk on a defender so hard that it won’t be forgotten anytime soon. It’s memorable enough to be put on a “poster,” so to speak.
A “putback” is a completed field goal attempt from under the basket after an offensive rebound. Some may call it “stickback,” but the idea is that the player ‘puts the ball back’ to the basket after a missed shot.
- Putting on a Clinic
This modern basketball slang could refer to a player or team. That means good basketball is being played individually or a team concept.
Example: John Stockton is putting on a clinic tonight with his pinpoint passing.
A “swingman” is another word for a wing player, a player that can play two wing positions well, which are shooting guard and small forward.
- Taking it to the Hole
This is another one of those basketball words and phrases that refers to a drive. A drive starts with a dribble move from the outside that aims to penetrate and score in the painted area.
- Ticky-tack Foul
A ticky-tack foul is a foul that should have been let go by the referees. There is minimal contact and no damage done to warrant a coil. It may also be called a “touch foul.”
- Weak side
The weak side is generally considered to be the side of the court where the basketball is.
Wrapping Things Up: The Ultimate List of Basketball Slang Terms
By definition, basketball slang words are informal basketball terms that mainly begin in the streets and many non-fans are not familiar with. They could either be a single word like “putback” or a phrase such as “putting on a clinic.”
Regardless, basketball slang terms add a touch of fun and swagger to the game. Most of them are funny and self-explanatory if you’ve watched the game long enough, while some are straight-up derogatory. On top of that, it seems like many more basketball slang words are springing up by the day! Whatever the case may be, we hope that this ultimate list of basketball slang terms is helping you sound more like a basketball native than a complete newbie.
We hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, be sure to check out our other basketball FAQ articles here.
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