What is a Steal in Basketball? Basketball 101

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If you are reading this, chances are, you would like to know what is a steal in basketball? Or maybe, you would like to know how to steal a ball in basketball. When we say steal, we are not talking about taking what is not yours. We will be looking at the definition of steal in basketball terms today. Many players always wonder how some players like Ben Simmons and James Harden may be able to get so many strips and interceptions on a nightly basis. A steal in basketball is a significant stat on the defensive end of the court, so it is essential that we, as basketball players, work on getting better at it.

In today’s piece, we will be comprehensively covering how what constitutes a steal and how you can improve your steal numbers. We will look at some of the greatest steals in the past and also some strip tricks that you can add to your game

What Defines a Steal in BasketballWhat Defines a Steal in Basketball?

Steals are crucial in a basketball game. Steals can reduce the shot attempts of an opposing team while increasing those of yours. When the ball is stolen/stripped from a player when a pass is intercepted, or a fumble is recovered from the opposing team, your team will gain possession of the ball, and your offense can begin.

Steals are often used to start fast break opportunities that usually can be easily converted into points. Whenever this happens, this can cause a huge drop in morale for the players on the team from which the ball was stolen.

Imagine you run baseline to baseline, only to see your ball handler lose the ball due to a steal. You will just feel your heart drop to the gym floor. If you and your team can manage to steal the ball regularly and put together a good run, the momentum of the game will shift drastically in your favor.

So, what constitutes a steal in basketball? In the NBA, a steal is recorded when a player intercepts a pass, legally takes the ball away from an opponent or otherwise obtains possession on the ball following an opponent’s turnover if the clock hasn’t stopped and the ball remains inbounds.

If a player disrupts a pass by touching it or strips a dribble and controls his deflection or intentionally directs the ball to a teammate resulting in eventual possession for the defense, the player that caused the deflection is awarded the steal. The defender cannot touch the ball handler’s hands, or otherwise, a foul is called. This is “reaching” in basketball.

How are Steals Recorded in a Basketball GameHow are Steals Recorded in a Basketball Game?

On the stats sheet, defensive stats are not usually the focus of attention to the average fan. Coaches and defensive-minded players who know the value of defensive contributions will see things differently. Defensive production, just like offensive production, can tell a lot when reading on the stat sheet. A player whose defensive numbers stand out on the stat sheet can easily be viewed as an engine of the team, a passionate player, and someone who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Those players are considerable assets to any squad.

How are Steals Recorded in a Basketball Game

Similar to blocks, steals may be low in numbers for individual players, usually under three per game. If the entire team is defensive-minded, the combined steals for the whole of the team could be quite high.

To locate steals from a game online, you may have to search for the box score of that game as steals are not shown in major stats. In the box score, the steals will be listed under the Steal (STL) column. The total team steal amount will be tallied at the end.

How is Steal Different from a TurnoverHow is a Steal Different from a Turnover?

A steal is always credited to the defensive player, while a turnover can only be picked up by the offensive player. A turnover can only be made if you lose possession of the ball and a steal can only occur when you gain procession of the ball.

A steal in basketball will always result in a turnover for the offense. However, a turnover, isn’t always a result of a steal. This is like sedans are cars, but not all cars are sedans. A steal requires a player to “steal” the ball, but a turnover can occur when the offense throws the ball away by committing a violation. These can be forced and unforced. Violations include traveling, double dribbling, making the ball go out of bounds, offensive fouls, and unsportsmanlike conduct.

In the NBA, there is a minor stat that is called the steal to turnover ratio. This stat keeps track of a player’s efficiency as it relates to taking care of the ball while disrupting the opponent’s offense. Players with a great steal to turnover ratio are considered very efficient and great ball handlers/perimeter defenders. This stat is generally more focused on guards.

How Do You Steal a Ball in BasketballHow Do You Steal a Ball in Basketball?

So, for us to be credited with a steal, we need to gain possession of the ball from our opponents. We can do this by legally stripping them of the ball at any time on the court, intercepting a pass, or gathering fumbles. It takes a special kind of concentration and dedication to defense to read the opponent and time their plays to get 1v1 steals. To get steals while working with your team, you need communication and commitment to defense. You can sit in the chair, be disciplined, time and anticipate your opponent’s dribbles, and when the moment is right, you can attempt to tap the ball away from the ball handler. It is usually easier to cut your opponent’s options for driving past you by forcing them to the boundary lines of the court. If you want to intercept passes, you can watch out for passing options available to the ball handler. Keep loose and stay on your toes. Wait for the passer to release the ball and then make your move to intercept. Go at the ball as hard as you can to ensure that you get to it in time.

How Do You Steal a Ball in Basketball

You can always work with your teammates to initiate double teams and force turnovers. To force these turnovers, communication will be critical. Many players will try to pass out of double teams, so do not stick to the side of your mark. Remember to form a triangle with the passer, your mark, and yourself. This will allow you to intercept passes easier. You can also trap the player in double teams and steal the ball if they don’t want to pass. An essential thing to remember is that even though steals have high rewards, the risks are also very high. Attempting a steal of any kind can leave you out of place if it fails. This will allow the offense to get favorable positions that can enable them to score.

What is the Best Time to Steal the Ball in BasketballWhen is the Best Time to Steal the Ball in Basketball?

There is no single best time to get a steal in basketball. There are so many things that change in our dynamic, fast-paced game. Because of the constant changes, there are always opportunities for steals.

There are many similar situations with steal opportunities, but the degree of difficulty will vary, so analyze the situation before going in for a steal. For example, an excellent ball-handler dribbling up the court may not be as susceptible to a half-court trap as a poor ball-handler may be.

There are generally great steal opportunities available when the offense makes lob passes, so be on the lookout for those. Crosscourt passes are most times vulnerable if the defense reacts quickly enough. If you can, no one will beat you for attempting a steal on a crosscourt pass. 1v1 steals can be attempted if the ball handler is not a good dribbler. You can also attempt these when the dribbler fumbles while dribbling or if somehow the ball gets away from the dribbler. If the opposing player holds the ball within reach and looks away, by all means, definitely go for it.

Attempting to steal a lob pass into the post while coming from a close weak side position is often fruitful as well. You can also double down on the post player after they start dribbling if your mark is not an outside threat or if you can recover in the event of a pass to your guy. Players are taught to pass out of double teams, so a planned trap will likely result in a pass. If you prepare and get to the passing lane, you can get an easy steal. Please remember, none of these are guaranteed, so be ready to get back and play defense. 

Videos of the Greatest Steals of All TimeVideos of the Greatest Steals of All Time

Our first video shows steals that happened in the Clutch. These are steals that literally stole the game.

This next video shows the players who were best at stealing the ball. Their defensive prowess gave their teams great extra opportunities.

Wrapping Things Up: What is a Steal in Basketball?

A steal is a vital but often overlooked stat in basketball. A steal gives your team extra possessions while robbing your opponents of scoring opportunities. Steals are credited to players upon legal strips, interceptions of when they gain possession of fumbled lose balls.

Until next time ballers, remember, it’s not a crime to steal in basketball.

Did you enjoy this article? You might also like our other basketball FAQ articles here.

> What is an Assist in Basketball?

> How to Do a Layup Correctly?

> What is Rebounding in Basketball?

> What is Dribbling in Basketball?

> How to Palm a Basketball

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Hoops Addict

Hoops Addict was created to help basketball fans of all ages learn more about the sport and find the best basketball gear to improve their ability to hoop. He has been a huge basketball fan for decades, watching thousands of basketball games through the years to learn the ins and outs of the game.

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