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Offensive Basketball Rules

Basketball is one of the few sports that you play the "whole game" as an individual. In other words, you can't just play defense or just play offense. Because of this, you need to know all of the rules. The following are the rules of offensive basketball.

  • General Offensive Rules
    • When are you on Offense?
    • Equipment
  • Court and Boundaries
    • Court
    • Out of Bounds
    • Over-and-Back
    • 3 in the Key
  • Players
  • Moving with the Ball
    • Dribbling
    • Pivot Foot & Traveling
  • Scoring
    • Field Goals (2-points and 3-points)
    • Free Throws
  • Miscellaneous
    • Setting Screens
    • Running Out of Bounds w/o the Ball
    • Rebounding

General Offensive Rules

When are You on Offense?
The first of the offensive basketball rules is, of course, determining what makes you and your team on offense. The answer to that is simple: once your team has possession of the basketball, then you and your team are on offense. Some common events happen that switch your team from defense to offense:

The Finish Line
  1. Your team Steals the ball
  2. Your team Rebounds the ball after the other team misses a shot
  3. The other team makes a shot

If you already read some of the general basketball rules, then you already know the equipment used. To play a game of basketball, you need a basketball court, with a basketball goal on each end (backboard, rim, and net) and a basketball. You also need proper equipment (like basketball shoes and athletic shorts) and at least five players on each time.

Court and Boundaries

The Court
Descriptions of the court and boundaries were also on the general basketball rules page, but going over them again here briefly will help to identify some of the rules of offensive basketball.

The court is a large rectangular shape with two baselines and two sidelines. The sidelines run along the longer edges of the playing area and determine what is out of bounds. The baselines run along the two shorter sides of the playing area where the basketball hoops are also placed. The sidelines and baselines mark the in-bound playing area where the action takes place. Next is the "half-court" line, which simply runs through the middle of the long sides of the court. This line determines each teams offensive and defensive side. When a team is on offense, they are on the half of the court for which their basket is placed (switched at half-time). In other words, the side in which if the ball goes through the basket, that team gets the points. It is this side of the court we'll focus on for offensive basketball rules (though both sides are identical).

Out of Bounds
The basketball rules state that out of bounds is when the ball, or a player in possession of the ball, crosses the playing field's boundaries. This results in that team turning over the ball to the other team. If the ball or a player holding the ball touches any part of the line, it is considered an out of bounds violation. However, if the ball or player is in the air and knocks the ball back in-bounds before it or any part of their body touches the ground on or over the out-of-bounds line, then they have "saved" the ball and it is still live. When the ball or a player does go out of bounds, then it is considered a dead ball and action stops. The other team gets possession of the ball where the out-of-bounds violation was called.

Somewhat related is the half-court line. First off, the half-court line marks the point that the ball must pass while in your team's possession within a certain period of time. To clarify, once you get the ball (through a steal, rebound, taking it out after a made shot by your opponent), then your team must get the ball past the half-court line within 10 seconds (8 in the NBA). Of course, your team must keep the ball inbounds the whole time as well. But on to how it relates to out of bounds...

The half-court line is also important once you cross it because it acts as another barrier to your team, but not the defense. Basketball rules state that if the ball crosses the half-court line to your side of the court, and then the ball goes back over the half-court line to the other team's side of the court (without the defense touching it), then this is an "over-and-back" violation. If this occurs, it is a turnover and your team loses possession of the ball. Some more specific information on over-and-back violations include:

  1. The ball must last be touched by an offensive player on their side of the court before it goes to the other side for it to be a violation. If the defense knocks the ball away and you recover it on the other side of the half-court line, it is not a violation.
  2. The ball, or a part of the player in possession of the ball, must actually touch the court on or over the half-court line for it to be considered a violation. A player can "dive" when the ball and/or their body are across the line but in the air and prevent a violation by getting the ball back on the offensive side of the court before it and/or their body touches the floor again.

3 in the Key
"3 in the Key," or 3 seconds in the key, is also an offensive violation. It occurs when a player, whether he/she has the ball or not, has their foot in the key for three seconds in a row. The key is the small rectangle extending out from the baseline to the free throw line in front of the basket. Once a player is in the key for 3 seconds, a violation is called. However, if the player exits the key before 3 seconds, they can continue to re-enter the key as much as they want.


As with all times of a basketball games, the rules of basketball state that each team has five players on the court at all times. Players are identified with a number that is unique amongst all players on one team. One team will have a lighter colored jersey (usually white) and the other a dark jersey (the team colors). Players typically fill one of five roles:
  1. Point Guard - brings the ball up the court and handles it the most
  2. Shooting Guard - usually a good shooter, but basically the other "smaller" player that doesn't play point guard but at one of the wings. The wings are the outter areas of the court not directly in front of the basket.
  3. Small Forward - usually plays at the other wing and is a somewhat versatile player that can sometimes go play the post (near the basket)
  4. Power Forward - a taller/stronger player that plays in the post, often with their back to the basket.
  5. Center - the tallest/strongest player on the team that plays on the other block/post near the basket around the key.
I should point out, however, that no where in the basketball rules does it say that you have to have these five typical players on the court at all times. You can have five players that usually play guard on the floor and no players that usually play post if your team thinks that this is beneficial.

Moving with the Ball

Basketball is a sport requiring a lot of movement, and, as with other sports, the rules of basketball include rules involving how you can move when you have the basketball in your possession...

Basketball rules are pretty much completely the opposite of soccer when handling the ball. In basketball, you can only use your hands to handle the ball when you're moving it (as opposed to only your feet in soccer). There's one catch, though, you can't just carry the ball with you, you have to "dribble" it.

Dribbling the basketball is essentially bouncing the basketball, but only with one hand at a time. You can switch back and forth between dribbles (i.e. bounce the ball with your right hand toward your left hand and then dribble with your left). This is fairly easy with practice, as a basketball is round and somewhat bouncy, so it can easily be controlled when being bounced, or dribbled. A player just bounces the ball on the basketball court either while moving or standing still. Here's a couple basketball rules regarding dribbling:

  1. Double Dribble
    There are two instances of a double dribble (which is an infraction/against the rules). First is when you use two hands at the same time to bounce the ball once. The second is when you dribble again after you've already stopped dribbling once. In other words, you bounce the ball, pick up the ball and stop dribbling, and then bounce the ball again. Both forms are an infraction that is punished by turning the ball over to the other team.
  2. Carrying
    Carrying also occurs in two different instances. The first is when the ball goes above the dribbler's shoulder, and then they continue to dribble it. To clarify a little more, this only occurs when the player has already caught the ball and starts to dribble it, in the process the ball bounces so high it bounces above dribbler's shoulder, once this occurs, the player bounces the ball again. This results in a carrying violation.

    Next, a carrying violation occurs when the player dribbling the ball puts his/her hand under the ball when dribbling it. Basically the player is still bouncing the ball, but in the process, they have their palm facing up and in between the ball and teh court. This causes them to "carry" the ball while bouncing it as their hand is going from the bottom of the ball to the top.

Once you pick up your dribble there's a few things you can do with your feet. If heading toward your basket, then you can take two steps as long as you shoot the ball. You can also do a jump stop (whether you're shooting or not), or just take one step if you're not shooting. These events bring us to the next of the basketball rules...
basketball rules traveling

Pivot Foot and Traveling
Your pivot foot is the foot that must remain "planted" or on the floor once you pick up your dribble. Perhaps it's easier to describe as the the one you're not allowed to move. When you pick up your dribble and take one step, then you're pivot foot is the one you didn't step with. You can move (or pivot) that foot, as long as it remains on the floor. Your other foot you can move wherever you want.

When you complete a jump stop, where you pick up your dribble and land with both feet on the floor at the same time, then you can choose your pivot foot and the foot you are allowed to move. Once you move one foot, though, that's it, you can't change your pivot (planted) floot. In any case, when you have established a pivot foot, once you lift that foot off of the floor, then you've committed a traveling violation and turned over the ball.

There's a few other instances where you can commit a traveling violation. Though related to the pivot foot (or lack thereof), they warrante a little more explanation.

  1. First is when you've picked up your dribble. You've already stopped moving and then you jump again...this is a traveling violation.
  2. Another of the traveling basketball rules is when you simply don't dribble the basketball (or you take a step before dribbling the basketball). If you start moving without dribbling the basketball, then you've committed a traveling violation and turned over the ball.


There are also many basketball rules around scoring, as a team can get either one, two, or three points when the ball goes through the basket. First off, the way that you score in basketball is to have the basketball go through the rim/basket on your team's side of the court. It doesn't matter who touches the ball last, as long as it goes through your basket, then your team gets the points.

As I said, the basketball rules determine how many points you and your team get for each basket that is made. Free throws are worth one point, and field goals are worth two or three points. A free throw is when an offensive player gets a free, undefended shot from the free throw line. This can happen when the player is fouled in the act of shooting (accidentally hit), a technical foul occurs (several reasons - intent to harm, arguing with ref, etc.), or the team is now in the bonus (when the opposite team has committed a certain number of fouls as a whole). Field goals, on the other hand, are baskets made that aren't free throws. In other words, field goals are any basket made during "live play."

    basketball rules scoring
  1. 2-Point Field Goals
    2-Point field goals are baskets made from within the three point while the defense is allowed to try to stop the offense from scoring (so not a free throw). Any time a player makes a layup, dunks, tips a rebound in, or shoots a jump shot from within the three point line, it is considered a 2-point field goal.
  2. 3-Point Field Goals
    A 3-Point field goal is just like a 2-point field goal, except the basket is made from beyond the three point line. The three point line is the curved line that goes all the way around the basket and is a the farthest away from the basket. Basketball rules are clear on what is accepted as "beyond" the three point line, or perhaps what's not considered beyond the three point line. Just like the out of bounds line, if your foot is touching the three point line at all, the field goal is no longer a 3-point field goal, but is now a 2-point field goal.
  3. Free Throws
    There are many basketball rules regarding free throws. They determine whether an individual or a team is awarded one, two, or three free throws, and sometimes "one and one," meaning that if the first free throw is missed, no more are taken, but if it is made, a second free throw is awarded. Two free throw shots are awarded when a 2-point field goal is attempted and missed when the shooter gets fouled; three free throws when the shooter is fouled and missed a 3-point field goal. If the shooter makes either a 2-point or 3-point field goal and they're fouled, they are rewarded one free throw to potential turn a two point play into three points or a three point play into four.

    The basketball rules get a little more complicated regarding free throws when the above situations don't occur. A technical can reward a team a single free throw and possession of the ball, and no one had to be in the act of shooting for this to occur. When technical free throws are shot, the defense has to be behind the shooter, and the team shooting the free throw can choose anyone (that is currently checked in) to shoot the free throw. A one-and-one is awarded when a player isn't in the act of shooting, but is fouled when the defensive team has committed a certain number of fouls as a team (the basketball rules around this vary at levels of play). If this number is even higher, a double bonus is awarded, and the player gets two free throws whether or not they make the first.


To finish up the basketball rules, here's a few miscellaneous ones to be informed about.

Setting Screens
Setting a screen is basically blocking a defensive player from being able to guard a player on your team. You can set a screen for the player with the ball or a player without the ball to get them open. You have to be strong with your screen, but there are a couple of things against the basketball rules. First, you can't "throw" your body into the defender to make your screen more effective. Second, once you set the screen, you can't reposition your body to keep screening the defender. You can roll to the basket or pop back, but you can't move again to "re-screen" the defender.

Running Out of Bounds without the Ball
The basketball rules also state that you can run out of bounds as long as you don't have the basketball. Where it becomes an issue is when you come back in bounds from being out and are the first one to touch the ball. If you haven't established yourself back in bounds yet, then someone else must touch the ball first. Otherwise, you are considered out of bounds and turn over the ball.

Finally, there are some basketball rules regarding rebounding. And YES, rebounding is a part of offense. An offensive player has just as much right to get a rebound as the defensive player. When the defense is blocking out properly, though, it makes it a lot more difficult to get an offensive rebound without violating one of the basketball rules.

There are two rules usually associated with rebounding. One is pushing off, which is somewhat self-explanatary. A defensive player should be blocking you out, you can't push them out of your way with your hands, otherwise it's a pushing off foul. Also, if a the defensive player is blocking you out, you can't go over their back for a rebound...I got a lot of big players in foul trouble this way because I prided myself on preventing the other team from getting a rebound. Now if you can straight up outjump the player and grab the ball from over their head without touching them, then this is okay, but if you reach over them and make any contact at all, this is an over the back foul.

Offensive Basketball Rules Conclusion

Well, that's the offensive basketball rules the best I can describe them. If I've missed something please let me know through the contact page. Also check out the general rules of basketball and the defensive basketball rules (coming in the near future).

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