DotB Hoops Glossary

Down on the Block prides itself on bringing a bevy of NBA knowledge to the table. Readers may not be familiar with all the lingo used in posts, or may have questions about general basketball terms, strategies, plays and on-the-court slang. We are here to help you dominate your next cocktail party hoops discussion or keep up with the trash talk in your weekend pickup games.

*Much thanks to and for many of the definitions

Down on the Block Hoops Glossary


Assist Percentage: An estimate of the percentage of teammate made field goals that a player assisted while on the court.


Ball side: The side of the court that the ball is on at any given time, also known as the strong side.

Block (The): Literally, the small painted square on either side of the painted area near the basket. Spiritually, it’s the domain of the big men – power forwards and centers. It’s the place Dikembe Mutombo protected with a wagging finger and where Shaq made a living. This blogger spends much of his on-court time on the block, hence the title of the site.

Bird Rights: A salary cap exception that enables a team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign its own free agents, up to that player’s maximum salary. To qualify, the player must play three seasons without clearing waivers or changing teams in free agency.

Block Percentage: An estimate of the percentage of opponent two-point field goal attempts blocked by a player while he was on the floor.

Box Plus/Minus(BPM): An advanced statistic. Per BasketballReference – a box score-based metric for evaluating basketball players’ quality and contribution to the team. BPM relies on a player’s box score information and the team’s overall performance to estimate a player’s performance relative to league average. BPM is a per-100-possession stat.


Clear-path foul: A foul that is committed by a defender on a dribbler that has nobody in front of him. It results in two free throws and possession for the fouled team.


Defensive Rating: A formula whose intent is to calculate the amount of points a player or team give up per 100 possessions. The formula is: Defensive Rating = (Opponent’s Points Allowed/ Opponent’s Possessions) x 100

Defensive Three Seconds: A penalty that prohibits a defensive player from standing in the paint for more than three consecutive seconds without guarding anyone. The infraction gives the offense one technical free throw and possession.


Early Bird Rights: Similar to Bird Rights, but to qualify for this exception the player must play for two seasons without clearing waivers or changing teams as a free agent. Team can only sign its free agent using the Early Bird exception for up to 175% of his salary in the previous season or 104.5% of the average salary in the previous season, whichever is greater.

Effective Field Goal Percentage: This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one more point than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).

Elbow: The court area where the free-throw line meets the side of the 3-second lane. A popular spot for big men to shoot jump shots.


Fast Break: Offensive tactic in which a team moves quickly down the floor in an attempt to score, without setting up their half court offense. Usually happens as the result of a turnover. Teams like the Warriors and Rockets will sometimes fast break after an opponent made basket.

FIBA: Basketball’s version of FIFA, the acronym comes from the French name Fédération Internationale de Basketball

Flagrant Foul (1&2): Unsportsmanlike foul in which the defender makes no effort to play the ball. Flagrant-1 is the more common, resulting in two free throws and possession for the offense. Two Flagrant-1’s committed by the same player results in ejection. A Flagrant-2 results in immediate ejection of the offending player, two free throws and possession for the offense.

Flop: An intentional fall by a player after little or no physical contact from an opponent, with the goal of drawing a personal foul call against the opponent. Made famous by Manu Ginobili. The NBA has started issuing fines for flagrant flopping in an attempt to rid the game of this scourge.

Four-point play: A very rare play where a player is fouled while making a three-point shot. He then gets to shoot one free throw; if he makes it that’s a four-point play.


General Manager: Team executive that is responsible for managing the team’s salary cap, drafting players, signing free agents and negotiating trades with other teams.


Hand-check: A foul wherein a player used his hands illegally to impede or slow the movement of his opponent, usually a ball handler. This tactic was legal until the mid-90s but not really enforced until around 2001. Grouchy old players often point to this as a reason scoring guards aren’t as tough nowadays, or that their exploits are less worthy.


Illegal Defense: An old rule, abolished in 2001-02, that restricted defenders to covering one specific man on in a half court defensive set. This eliminated zone defense and didn’t allow weak-side defenders to come across the lane to offer help defense. The rule was changed due to the proliferation of iso-ball it had led to and because fans/officials had trouble understanding it. Since the rule change, defenses in the NBA have gotten much more exotic and overall half court play has opened up, with more emphasis on ball movement.

Isolation (Iso-ball): When a ball handler isolates his defender and attempts to score on his own, without a screen or involving a teammate in the action. Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant are notable iso experts.


Jumper: A “jump shot”, in which a player jumps while shooting. Variations include fadeaway, step-back and turnaround jumpers.


Key: The free throw lane and free throw circle together.


Lane: The free throw lane.

Lottery: The process that determines draft position for the 14 teams that miss the playoffs each season. Ping pong balls are used to randomly select that year’s draft order, an exciting televised affair. The team with the worst record gets the most ping-pong balls and thus has the best chance of receiving the No. 1 overall pick.

Luxury Tax: In addition to the soft cap, the NBA utilizes a luxury tax system that is applied if the team payroll exceeds a separate threshold higher than the salary cap. These teams pay a penalty for each dollar their team salary exceeds the tax level. Teams that pay the luxury tax for consecutive years may be hit with the even more punitive Repeater tax.


Man-to-man defense: A defensive tactic where each defender guards one specific opposing player.

Mid-range: A shot that’s taken outside of the paint but inside the three-point line. Increasingly becoming less essential as advanced analytics prove it to be the most inefficient shot on the floor.

Motion offense: Offense predicated on a series of cuts and screens with most or all of the players moving simultaneously.



Offensive Rating: A formula whose intent is to calculate the amount of points a player or team score per 100 possessions. For teams, the formula is: 100 x Pts / (Tm FGA + .40 x Tm FTA – 1.07 x (Tm ORB / (Tm ORB + Tm DRB)) x (Tm FGA – Tm FG) + Tm TO). For players, the formula is: Offensive Rating = (Points Produced / Individual Possessions) x 100.

Outlet Pass: A pass thrown by a defensive rebounder to start a fast break the other way.


Pace and Space: A 21st century offensive methodology that emphasizes quick shots early in the shot clock, fast breaks and wide floor spacing between offensive teammates. The Phoenix Suns pioneered this trend with their “7 seconds or less” strategy under Mike D’Antoni.

Paint – The free throw lane, painted a distinct color from the rest of the court.

PER: Player Efficiency Rating is a metric created by former ESPN writer and current Memphis Grizzlies front office exec John Hollinger. In John’s words, “The PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.” The metric is standardized so that 15.0 is considered the league average. Click to view the very complicated formula.

Pick and Roll: An offensive play used heavily in the NBA in which a player sets a screen (pick) for a dribbling teammate and then slips behind the defender (rolls) to accept a pass. Another widely used play is the Pick and Pop, where the screen setter pops out to an open space after setting the pick, looking for a jump shot.

Pick Protection: When trading draft picks, prudent GMs can place protections on those picks to mitigate the risk of trading away a high Lottery pick. For instance, if a pick is Lottery-protected, it doesn’t convey to the team that traded for it unless the trading team finishes outside the Lottery.

Plus/Minus: The positive or negative number assigned to a player to represent how many points his team scored relative to the opponent while he was on the floor. For example, if a player starts the game and is taken out when his team is leading 22-20, his plus/minus at that time is +2. Each time he re-enters the game, his plus/minus number will change as the game score changes.

Point Forward: A forward with strong ballhandling and passing skills who can be called on to direct the team’s offense, i.e. LeBron James.


Quadruple-Double: An extremely rare occurrence in which a player accumulates ten or more “counting stats” in four different categories in a single game. For instance 15 points, 12 rebounds, 10 steals and 10 blocks.


Rock (The): Slang for the ball used in a basketball game.


Salary Cap: The total amount of money teams are allowed to spend on player contracts. The NBA has a “soft cap” meaning teams can go over it for certain reasons, such as re-signing their own players. The 2015-16 salary cap was $70M. It is expected to jump way up in 2016-17 to around $90-93M.

Secondary break: An offensive phase after a fast break is initially stopped, but before the opponent can enter into its set defense. Usually started by a trailing player setting a quick screen to free up a ball handler.

Sixth Man: A player that does not start, but usually is the first player off the bench. Generally someone who produces points off the bench or has a clearly defined role.

Stretch 4 / Stretch 5: A power forward (4) or center (5) that can stretch the floor by stepping out to make three-pointers or long two-pointers. Increasingly essential in the modern NBA pace and space offenses.

Swingman:  A player that can play both shooting guard and small forward.


Tanking: The sometimes not-so-subtle attempt to lose games near the end of the season in order to receive a better chance at the highest draft pick. Teams tank in a variety of ways, but most prevalent is shutting good players down for the rest of the season even if their injuries are minor. The Philadelphia 76ers took this to a new level by systematically tanking the last several seasons as a rebuilding strategy.

Technical foul: A foul assessed for unsportsmanlike non-contact behavior and for some procedural violations (for example, having too many players on the floor or calling timeout when none remains). The penalty is on free throw taken by any member of the opposing team’s choosing and loss of possession.

Three-and-D: A player, usually a wing, that is proficient at making three-pointers and playing perimeter defense.

Three-point play: Refers to either a player being awarded a free throw by drawing a foul while making a two-point basket (also called an And-1); or when a three-point shooter is fouled but misses the shot. That shooter is awarded three free throws.

Trade kicker: A bonus that can be written into a player’s contract that he receives upon being traded. Only can be used the first time a player is traded.

Transition offense/defense: Transition offense is synonymous with the fast break or secondary break. Transition defense is the term used to describe a team’s reaction to a quick loss of possession, in which a team hustles to “get back” on defense in order to stop the offense’s fast/secondary break. The 2015-16 Houston Rockets definitely don’t understand the term “transition defense”.

Triangle offense – An offense created by former assistant coach Tex Winter and made famous by Phil Jackson’s Bulls and Lakers teams that won 11 NBA titles combined. The offense is based on creating a three man triangle on the strong side, with two weak side players, and each player moves between four or five roles. For more in-depth look at the Triangle go here:

Triple-double: When a player accumulates ten or more “counting stats” in three different categories in a single game. The newest king of triple-doubles, Russell Westbrook, routinely posts stat lines like this: 26 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists.

True shooting percentage: A measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.


Up and down: A travelling violation wherein the ball carrier jumps vertically into the air and does not get rid of it before landing.

Usage Rate: An estimate of the percentage of team plays a player was involved in while he was on the floor.


VORP – Value Over Replacement Player, a box score estimate of the points per 100 TEAM possessions that a player contributed above a replacement-level (-2.0) player, translated to an average team and prorated to an 82-game season.


Win Shares: An estimate of the number of wins contributed to a team by a player. Click here for information on calculating win shares.

Wing: Noun form – the area located on either side of the court, outside the 3-second lane, along an imaginary extension of the free-throw line. Adjective form – A player who mainly operates from said area while on offense.




Zone defense: A defensive philosophy in which each defender is responsible for an area on the court rather than a specific man.