Defensive Basketball Terms

Basic basketball terms, skills, and concepts that players and those learning how to coach basketball need to know. The terms below will help you learn some of the rules of basketball and the lingo that applies particularly to basketball defense.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "A"

Anticipate – The ability to recognize what is developing on the court before it actually happens. It's the skill that helps a defender intercept a pass or an offensive player see an open teammate cutting to get open.

Advance (or Approach) - The position you should take when the person you are guarding receives the ball. Approach her in a position with your knees bent to guard against the drive and your feet in a position to force her toward the sideline.

This is an aggressive step at the ball handler to get her to react. Push with your back foot, and slide your front foot forward toward the ball. Stay down low with good balance. Keep your front hand up to contest the shot and keep the other hand low with your palm up to defend against a bounce pass or a dribble.

Approach (see Advance)

Defensive Basketball Terms: "B"

Ball Side (or Strong Side) – The side of the court where the ball is located.

Belly Up – When the ball handler picks up her dribble her defender should "belly up" to her by playing close and tight to pressure her into turning the ball over.

Block Out (or Box Out) – Positioning yourself to rebound the ball by getting between your man and the basket. Ideally, you would turn to face the basket with arms up, elbows out, backing into your opponent with your hips and backside to hold him off. This position gives you the rebounding advantage by forcing your opponent to fight to go over or around you to get the ball.

Blocking – A personal foul caused when the defender makes illegal personal contact with an opponent who may or may not have the ball. Blocking is called when the defender impedes the progress of the opponent.

Box Out (see Block Out) 

Defensive Basketball Terms: "C"

Chin the Ball – When a rebounder secures the ball, she should come down with elbows out and the ball protected under her chin.

Close Out - When you're playing help-side defense and the ball is passed back to your player, you need to quickly recover. Once the pass is made, run at the ball handler at full speed for about 2/3 of the distance and then lower your body to approach with a stutter step. Your knees should be bent and your hands up to prevent the drive and guard against the shot. 

Closely Guarded (or Five-second Violation) – Violation that occurs when a ball handler in his team's frontcourt is continuously guarded by any opponent who is within six feet of him while he is either dribbling or holding the ball. The offensive player has 5 seconds to either get rid of the ball or drive past the defender.

Coachable – A term describing a player who is eager to learn, willing to listen to his coach and take criticism without making excuses for his mistakes.

Contest the Shot – Any time your opponent has an opportunity to shoot, you should aggressively contest the shot by putting your hand in the shooter's face. Don't swing at the ball in an attempt to block it, but just go straight up to avoid a foul. You should also yell, "SHOT!" to give your teammates a heads up to go to the basket for a possible rebound.

Cover Out (or Deny) – The position a defensive player takes to deny her opponent the opportunity to receive a pass easily. It involves facing your opponent, standing with knees slightly bent about an arm's length away from her, extending an arm into the passing lane, and adjusting your body so that you can see your player and the ball at the same time without having to turn your head away from either.

Your lead foot and hand should be in the passing lane. See the ball and your man by keeping your head up and looking over the shoulder of your lead arm. Have the palm of your lead hand facing out with your thumb down so you can knock down the pass.

Cover Down (or Drop) – Whenever the ball penetrates the free throw lane area on a pass or a dribble, all defensive players need to drop down and give help to try to stop an easy score.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "D"

Dead – Once a ball handler ends his dribble and picks up the ball, his defender should yell, "DEAD!" to alert his fellow defenders that the ball handler is in trouble. The player guarding the ball should belly up to the ball handler and wave his arms around to take away any passing or scoring opportunities. The rest of the defense should cover their players closely to make it hard for them to receive a pass.

Deeper (or Lower) – When a player or the ball is getting closer to the baseline, they are said to be getting lower or deeper.

Defensive Slide (or Step and Slide) – The proper way to move your feet when you're guarding a ball handler. You should step first with the foot that is closest to the direction the dribbler is going and then slide the other foot to meet it. Stepping and sliding with your opponent as opposed to crossing your feet allows you to keep up with the dribbler without getting tripped up.

Keep a balanced defensive stance with your feet about shoulder width apart, staying about an arm's length away from the ball handler. When the dribbler goes to one side, slide with her trying to keep your head on the ball while sliding your feet. Use short, quick steps. Push off with the far foot and step with the foot closer to the direction you are going. Never cross your feet.

Defense – The team that does not have possession of the ball.

Defensive Stance – The position a defender assumes which allows her to most effectively guard her player. You should stay on the balls of your feet with feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, back straight (like you're sitting in a chair), head up, hands out, and palms up.

Deny (see Cover Out)

Double Fouls – When two opponents commit fouls against each other at the same time.

Drop (see Cover Down)

Drop Step (or Swing Step) – If an opponent dribbles by your lead foot, quickly drop step with your lead foot while making a reverse pivot off of your back foot. Drive your lead shoulder and elbow back to help accelerate your turn. Keep your head up and your eyes on your opponent's mid-section. As you reverse pivot, push hard off your pivot foot in the direction of your drop step. Your drop step should be at a 45-degree angle.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "E"

Established Position – The position held by a defender who is firmly set in place with both feet planted on the floor. If an offensive player runs into a defender who has established his position, he will be called for charging.  

Defensive Basketball Terms:"F"

Five-Second Violation (see Closely Guarded)

Flagrant Foul – A personal or technical foul, which is violent in nature. Examples are fighting, striking, kicking, or kneeing an opponent.

Foul – An infraction of the rules, which results in a player being charged and penalized. Each player is allowed 5 fouls before they are removed from the game.

Full-Court Press (see Press)  

Defensive Basketball Terms: "G"

Gap - Distance between the defensive and offensive players.

Goaltending – Occurs when a player touches a shot ball while it is in its downward flight above the rim. It also occurs when a defender touches a free throw attempt outside the basket.

Guarding – The act of legally positioning a defender's body in the path of an offensive player without making contact by extending an arm, shoulder, leg, or hip into the path of the opponent.  

Defensive Basketball Terms: "H"

Half-Court Defense – A defensive set in which the defenders pick up their players at half-court.

Hand Check – A personal foul caused by a defender making repeated contact with her hands on her opponent.

Held Ball – When at least two players on opposing teams are both holding the ball so firmly that neither can gain control of it without undue roughness.

Help (or Seal and Recover) – While on defense, dropping off of your offensive player to help a teammate whose player has gotten by him. Once the ball is stopped and your teammate recovers, you jump back to your player.

Help-Side (or Weak Side) – On defense, if you are two passes away from the ball, you are in help-side position. You should drop a couple steps off of your player toward the ball so you can be in a position to help on the drive if needed. You should drop about a step below the line of the ball and open up your body so that you can see your player and the ball at the same time with your peripheral vision while looking straight ahead. Point one hand at the ball and one hand at your opponent.

Higher – When a player or the ball is getting closer to center court.

Holding – A personal foul caused by illegal contact with an opponent, which interferes with his freedom of movement.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "I"

Incidental Contact – Permissible contact with an opponent, which doesn't give either player an advantage or disadvantage. For example, a defender who doesn’t see a screener coming may inadvertently run into him, and as long as the screener doesn't lose the ball as a result or get pushed excessively, the contact is allowed.

Influence – As a defender, using your body position to force your opponent to go where you want her to go. As a general rule, force the ball to the sideline or baseline. It's also a good idea to influence the dribbler to use his weaker hand.

Intentional Foul – A personal or technical foul, which keeps the opponent from capitalizing on an advantageous situation. It could be contact away from the ball or contact when a defender is not making a legitimate attempt to play the ball or a player. It also occurs when a player causes excessive contact with an opponent.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "J"

Jump Ball – At the beginning of each half, an official tosses the ball up between two opponents in the center circle to put it into play. The ball is tapped by one of the 2 jumpers and is considered in play when it touches a player outside the circle, or hits the floor, basketball or backboard. After the first jump ball, teams alternate taking the ball out of bounds in held ball situations.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "L"

Loose Ball – A ball that is loose on the floor and is not controlled by either team. Yell, "BALL!" any time the ball is loose and move aggressively to get it.

Lower (see Deeper)

Defensive Basketball Terms: "M"

Man-to-Man Defense – A type of defense in which each defender is responsible for guarding one specific opponent.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "O"

On Balance – Having your feet under you about shoulder width apart so you are prepared to move in any direction.

One Pass Away – An offensive player who is in a good position to get the ball because he is one pass away from the ball. A defender should deny this player the pass by covering out and having one arm in the passing lane.

One-on-One – Two players opposing each other with one on offense and the other on defense.

Open – When an offensive player is unguarded.

Open Up – When a defensive player is on help-side, he should take a couple steps off of his player toward the ball and open up his body so that he can point to both the ball and his player as well as see them at the same time without turning his back on either.

Over the Limit – When a team commits more than the allotted fouls in a period, their opponent shoots bonus free throws.

Overplay (or Turning a Player) – When a defender wants to force a ball handler to dribble in a different direction, she overplays her by getting her body in the dribbler's way forcing her to turn and go another direction.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "P"

Paralleling – The manner in which a defender plays the ball handler nose-to-nose to force him player to go from sideline to sideline (or parallel) as opposed to straight down the floor. This is useful in slowing down the ball.

Passing Angles – If a ball handler wants to make a good pass to a teammate and avoid a turnover, she must first make sure she has a good angle for the pass. The passer should be able to see the receiver's chest area to ensure a safe pass, so she might need to take a couple dribbles in a direction that allows her to be in a position to see her teammate's chest and avoid the defenders' hands in the passing lane.

Passing Lane – The imaginary line between two players where the ball can be passed.

Penetration – When the ball is passed or dribbled into the defense toward the basket.

Personal Foul – Illegal contact with an opponent while the ball is live, which hinders the opponent's offensive or defensive movement. A personal foul also includes contact by or on an airborne shooter when the ball is dead.

Pick (see Screen)

Press – A type of intense defensive pressure usually applied at either full, 3/4 or 1/2 court in which the defense pressures the ball, tries to take away passing angles, and often traps the dribbler.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "R"

Rebound – Gaining possession of the ball following a shot. To be in good rebound position, a rebounder can't push an opponent or extend the shoulders, hips, knees, or arms in a direction other than vertical, which would interfere with an opponent going after the ball.

Retreat Step – In a basic on-the-ball defensive stance, the defender has one foot slightly forward. If the ball handler moves either to the right or left, the defender's first reaction is to take a step backward to gain a little cushion.

Push the front foot into the floor and shove against it while taking a slide step back with the rear foot. Never bring the feet any closer than shoulder width apart. Once you make this step, you're ready to make a swing step if necessary.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "S"

Safety – The offensive player whose main responsibility is to hustle back on defense first to stop the fast break and protect the basket until the rest of her teammates gets there. Usually, the safety is the point guard since she is often the player closest to half-court who can get back the quickest. If the point guard takes the ball in for a shot, another player closest to the top of the key needs to hustle back to safety.

Screen (or Pick) – When an offensive player wants to help a teammate get open, he can set a screen on his teammate's defender which is like a wall that the defender has to get around. Screens are most effective when they are set no more than a step away from the defender with the screener having a solid, wide base. The screener must remain stationary; he can't move or lean once he gets set. It is up to his teammate to lead his defender into the screen and brush by the screen to get open.

Yell, "SCREEN!" to let your teammates know when a screen is coming. If you get caught on a screen, yell, "HELP!" and possibly "SWITCH!" if you need to trade players.

Seal and Recover (see Help)

Step and Slide (see Defensive Slide)

Strong Side (see Ball Side)

Swing Step (see Drop Step)

Defensive Basketball Terms: "T"

Take a Charge - A personal foul occurring when an offensive player makes contact with a defender who has already established a set position. A player with the ball must avoid contact with a stationary defender by stopping or changing direction.

Team Foul – Any foul charged to a team. Once a team reaches 7 team fouls, its opponent is in a bonus free throw situation.

Ten Seconds in the Backcourt – A team has 10 seconds to advance the ball from their backcourt past the half-court line to the frontcourt.

Three-Point Play – A shooter who is fouled on a made basket gets to shoot one free throw for the opportunity to make a total of 3 points.

Transition Game – Changing from offense to defense or vice versa.

Trap – When two defensive players double team the ball handler and position themselves to make a "V" so that the defender cannot dribble or pass between them.

Turning a Player (see Overplay)

Defensive Basketball Terms: "W"

Weak Side – The side of the court that does not have the ball.

Defensive Basketball Terms: "Z"

Zone Defense – A defense in which players are responsible for guarding an area (not a specific player.) Zone defenders are responsible for any players that come into their area.


Find more basketball terms in a pretty extensive glossary that should be a pretty good reference for you.

If you still can't find the basketball terms you're looking for, check out more basketball terms that relate specifically to the rules of basketball.


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