How Well Do You Know NBA Lingo?



By: Jonnathan Chadwick

7 Min Quiz

Image: xjben / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

The game of basketball is simple: put the ball through the basket more times than the other team. With such a simple game comes extremely complex rules. And with so many rules come so many official terms every fan must learn in order to enjoy the game. And there's trash talk, which is as old as the game itself. Unlike other sports, basketball players are in each other's faces without helmets for the entire game, so back and forth banter is only expected. With all the trash talk comes a dictionary of slang, plus all the official terminology, that creates a glossary of lingo that is essential to the game.

It's almost impossible to follow a basketball game without knowing the lingo. It's even more difficult to play. How can you shoot a shot from the parking lot? Where is the block? What is the key? And when's the best time to kill the clock? This quiz won't be a layup or a free throw, but if you're an avid fan, it could be a slam dunk. You have to start somewhere, and you have to take baby steps before you become a high flyer, so let's see how much you know about NBA lingo.

One of the maddest parts of March Madness is all the last-second shots known as ...

Buzzer beaters are last-second, game-winning baskets. They can be layups or dunks or heaved from the other end of the court with one hand. It is what makes NCAA March Madness mad and is one of the most exciting parts of the NBA game.


If you shift a defender side to side with a move like a crossover, it can be said that you broke their what?

Breaking someone's ankles means you shifted the defender in a way that trips them up, crosses them up or even makes them fall. There are a variety of individual moves that can be used to break one's ankles.


What's it called when one player tosses the ball to a player in midair for a slam dunk?

The alley-oop comes the French circus cry "allez-hop," which was yelled to announce an acrobat's leap. A player can also throw an alley-oop to themselves if they throw the ball off the backboard, jump, catch it in midair and dunk it.


Someone who doesn't pass the ball and takes all the shots is known as what?

Ball hogs are those who hog the ball and are usually found playing on the playground. By the time a player makes it to NCAA Division I or the NBA, they know enough about the game to know that being a ball hog is detrimental to winning.


What's it called when one team runs the floor and scores before the defense has time to set up?

The fast break is an essential part of basketball, and teams with the fastest players can get up the floor and score before the defense can get set up. Fast breaks usually happen after steals or turnovers and rarely occur after a made basket.


A late bucket that seals a team's victory is known as what?

One team's dagger is another team's joy. If a team that is up by two points with five seconds left hits a three-pointer, it could seal the team's victory, but it is a dagger for the other team. A buzzer beater is a dagger, but not all daggers are buzzer beaters.


A shot that hits nothing but net is called a swish. What is a shot that hits nothing but air?

The "air-ball air-ball" chant is synonymous with basketball games and happens every time someone shoots an airball. Every shot in basketball has a unique nickname, and everyone in the NBA has shot an airball at one point in their career.


What is it called when the basketball gets stuck between the rim and the backboard?

Sometimes, but very rarely, a basketball gets stuck between the rim and the backboard and it's nicknamed a wedgie when it does. When this happens in a game, the referee gives the ball to whatever team has the possession arrow.


The unwritten rules say a player should call backboard before making a bank shot. What is another word for backboard?

The NBA backboard is made out of glass, which is also a common nickname for the backboard. Regulation backboards are 72 inches wide and 42 inches tall with a smaller rectangle drawn in the center that is known as the sweet spot.


Muggsy Bogues was the shortest NBA player and Manute Bol was the tallest. If they guarded each other it would be a?

Muggsy Bogues is 5'3'' and Manute Bol was 7'7'' and they would never defend each other. If Bogues was guarding Bol in the paint, Bol would win the mismatch, but if Bol guarded Bogues on the perimeter, Bogues would win.


Rick Barry is known as the master of the granny shot, which is what kind of shot?

A granny shot is an underhanded shot and is also known as a diaper shot. Rick Barry was well-known for using the granny shot on free-throw attempts, and he shot 89% from the line for his career. Very few players brave the risk of embarrassment and utilize the shot.


If you get fouled during a missed shot, you get two or three free throws. If you get fouled during a made shot, what do you get?

If you get fouled during a made shot - two or three-pointer - you get one free throw attempt, commonly known as an "and one." Most players on the court use the phrase in a celebratory manner when they get fouled during a shot.


An assist is a pass that directly leads to a score. What is another word for an assist?

A dime is a really pretty assist. Penny, nickel and quarters aren't used in NBA lingo for passes. The use of dime to describe the assist probably stems from the fact the dime is the tiniest coin and dime assists usually thread a very small space. It can also mean a pass that is a perfect 10.


Shooting guards spend most of the game shooting. What do centers do most of the game?

The center is also known as the "five" and is usually the tallest and biggest player on each team. He spends most of his time posting up down low (on the post aka the block), which means he establishes position under the basket and calls for a pass.


What is the best offensive strategy for a team that is winning by several points late in the game?

If there is only 20 seconds left in a game and one team is up by just one point, the smartest offensive strategy is to hold the ball until the time runs out, which is also known as killing the clock. The defensive team will likely commit a foul to stop the clock.


Man-to-man defense is when each player guards a specific man. A 2-3, 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 are names for what kind of defense?

Zone defenses are seen more in NCAA basketball and were banned in the NBA until 2001. They tend to slow the game down, but with the NBA game evolving to see more perimeter offense, zone defenses have been used more and more. Each player defends a zone as opposed to a person.


A player who is allowed to do whatever they want on the court is said to have what?

Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are examples of players who have had a green light to do whatever they wanted. Very few players reach that level of freedom, and the green light is reserved for the best players in specific situations.


Allen Iverson's signature move was the crossover. What was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's?

At 7'2,'' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's almost unstoppable signature move was the skyhook shot. He raised the ball as high as possible in one hand and hooked it over his defender in a high arcing shot that very few players could defend.


What is it called when a player gets fouled with no one between him and his basket?

In its simplest terms, a clear-path foul is when an offensive player has an empty court in front of them and gets fouled on their way to scoring. The rule has undergone many changes over the past 10 years.


Dribbling is one of the most important skills needed to play basketball. What are dribbling skills called?

Kyrie Irving, Allen Iverson and Jason Williams are basketball players who are known to have really good handles. The players with the best handles in the NBA are usually point guards who control the ball a lot. Centers and forwards usually have the worst handles.


The free-throw line is 15 feet from the basket. What is the free-throw circle and free-throw lane together called?

The key is the 16-foot wide area from the free throw line to the backboard plus the free throw circle, which is painted around the free throw line at a six-foot radius. The top of the circle is the top of the key.


What is it called when a player hits five three-pointers in a row and then shoots from half-court?

A heat check is when a player who is on fire takes an impractical shot to check how "on fire" they actually are. This shot also ends up keeping their "heat" in check because it's usually a miss. If it goes in, that player then has the green light next time down the floor.


In the NFL, a field goal is worth three points. What is a three-point shot in the NBA called?

All two- and three-point shots in the NBA are called field goals. One-point shots are called free throws. Field goals are commonly known as baskets or buckets and there is no four-point shot in the NBA except at All-Star contests.


When a player sets a screen and rolls to the basket, it is called a pick and roll. If he sets a screen and moves to the corner, it is called what?

The pick and roll is a popular play and is usually run with a center picking and rolling. A pick and pop is usually run with a guard picking and popping open for a jump shot. The best shooters on the floor are selected to run the pick and pop play.


What defensive strategy focuses on fouling the worst free-throw shooter on the opposing team?

Shaq was notoriously bad at free throws and notoriously good at dunks, so whenever he had the ball in a dunking position, the opposing team would foul him and force him to shoot two free throws instead of letting him dunk. The defensive practice is still in use and is still known as Hack-a-Shaq.


Whose nickname is The Logo?

The NBA logo is a silhouette of Lakers great Jerry West, giving him the nickname The Logo. West is also known as Mr. Clutch but only won one championship and played in nine of them. He is the only player, however, to win finals MVP while on the losing table.


If a player is known to make a large percentage of their jump shots, especially three-pointers, they are what?

A nothing-but-net shot is called a swish and the ball makes a "drip" sound when it swishes through the net. Wet is an adjective that describes a player who hits a lot of swishes. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson - two of the best three-point shooters in the league - are known as the Splash Brothers.


The area five feet beyond the three-point line is known as what?

Anywhere beyond the three-point line is known as downtown. Way beyond the three-point line is known as way downtown, and there is no place on the court known as uptown. You can, however, be so far beyond the three-point line that you're shooting "from the parking lot."


Zion Williamson, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant are all ________ players

One-and-done is an adjective used to describe an NBA player who played just one year of college. Because of NBA rules, players can't enter the league directly out of high school, and this leads them to play one year of college ball.


If someone put up a prayer at half court, what did they do?

In football, a Hail Mary is a deep heave to the end zone at the end of a game. In basketball, a prayer is the same thing except the goal is to get the ball in the basket. A half-court prayer is a game-tying or winning shot from half court.


Shaq only made one three-pointer in his entire career, and he was known to ________ his free throws.

To brick a shot is to miss the shot by hitting the rim. A missed shot where the ball hits hard off the rim is also known as a brick, so the word can be used as a noun or a verb. Shaq was known for bricking his free throws but wasn't known for airballing them.


A deep threat in the NFL is a wide receiver who catches long passes. What does a deep threat in the NBA do?

Steph Curry, Ray Allen and Reggie Miller are all examples of NBA deep threats and are known for shooting an exceptionally high percentage of made three-pointers. Deep threats change the entire strategy of the game.


NBA fans are commonly known as what?

Each NBA team is made up of five players on the court at a time. The fans are known as the sixth man. The sixth man is also the non-starter who plays the most minutes for each team, and the NBA gives out a "Sixth Man of the Year" award each year.


What is a double nickel?

Michael Jordan famously dropped 55 points on the New York Knicks just five games into his NBA return in 1995. He was still wearing No. 45 and it is one of his highest scoring games. The Bulls won by two points.


What is it called when a player records 10 blocks, 10 steals, 10 turnovers and 10 assists in a single game?

A triple-double is when a player records double digit "positive" stats in at least three categories,. Turnovers are not a positive stat. Ten points, 10 assists and 10 turnovers is considered a double-double. Ten points, 10 assists, 10 turnovers and 10 rebounds is a triple-double.


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