How to Communicate in Basketball

How to Communicate in Basketball (26 Most Common Terms Defined)

Do you want to improve your communication skills in basketball? Well, the best way to do so is by studying up basketball terms –learn what they mean and how and when to use them.

I remember during one of the first times I played pick-up basketball in college, my teammates kept on using these terms that I didn’t understand.

They kept saying things like “screen, left” or “help” and I didn’t know what they meant or wanted me to do.

As a result, I caused a lot of turnovers and points. And they were mad at me.

And that hurt my feelings.

So, after that day, I set out to acquire and absorb all the terms used in basketball so that my feelings could never be hurt again.

Here’s what I learned. They also happen to be the 24 most common basketball terms:

New to basketball? Click here to read this blog post to learn the best drills to work on your skills.

26 Most Common Basketball Terms

Backdoor Screen

A backdoor screen is when an offensive player sets a pick (or screen) for a non-ball handling teammate (or a teammate without the ball).

Screen, Left (or Right)

This is a term used by the defence to signal to a teammate that there is a screen on the left or right side of them.


A defender will use this term if they need a teammate to help them defend. Usually, this happens when a defender is blown by and needs assistance defending.


“Mine” is used by a player to let their teammates know they are grabbing the rebound or that they are defending a specific opponent. Another term for the latter part is “on ball.”


“Switch” is used when defenders swap opponents. This is normally used when a defender is caught by a tight screen and can’t get back to their man/woman in time.


When a player cuts, she essentially sprints to an open area on the court so that the ball-handler can pass her the ball for a shot or set up a play.

And 1

An “And 1” occurs when a player gets fouled in the act of shooting, but makes the shot. This player will be rewarded with one free-throw.


A flop is when a player pretends that he got fouled hard and falls over.


“Charges” happen when a player gets in front of and bumped by a ball-handler who is driving into the lane.


This is an act of courtesy that a player must do prior to starting the possession.

You have to “check-up” or check the ball (passing the ball to your defender and him passing it back) before starting the game, after a basket is scored, when the ball goes out of bounds, and when a foul is called.


This is just another term for defend.

Stick on Your Man (or Woman)

When a teammate says “stick to your man,” this means you have to only guard (or defend) your assigned opponent.


A foul is a violation that happens in basketball. It occurs when a player uses unnecessary contact on another player. There are defensive fouls, offensive fouls, and off-ball fouls.

Over the Back

This is a type of foul.

It happens when an opponent jumps over the back of another opponent to try to grab a rebound.

Ball Fake

A ball fake is when a player pretends to (or “fakes”) a pass or shot.

Pass Up Top

Remember the term “check-up”? Sometimes after the “check,” you have to pass the ball to a teammate once before a shot is allowed. This is what “pass up top” means.

Box Out

When you hear a teammate say “box out,” it just means that you have to find an opponent and box them out (wedging yourself in between them and the ball) before grabbing a rebound.

You can learn how to box out in this article here.

Carry (or Palming)

This is a basketball violation where a player places his hand underneath the ball and holds it as he dribbles the ball.

Clear Out

A “clear out” happens when a ball-handler needs room and wants to take on just his defender.


A goaltend is a basket (or goal) interference.

Goaltends typically happen when a defender blocks a shot, but the shot has already reached its apex and is going downwards.

Hand Check

Hand check is a type of foul that happens when a defender hits an opponent’s hands too many times during a defensive sequence.

This rule was implemented in the 2004-05 NBA season and some believe that it changed how the game is played.

Set a Pick

When a teammate calls you to “set a pick,” what they want is for you to create a screen so that they can free themselves from their defender.

I talk about how to set a screen in this article here.

Moving Screen (or Pick)

A moving screen happens when a player sets a screen but doesn’t stand still. This is also a type of foul.


When a teammate calls for a “press,” that means that you have to get up and defend your opponent tightly for the duration of the possession.


Travelling happens when you take too many steps without dribbling the ball. You’re only allowed two steps.

Zone Defence

Zone defence is a type of defence where, instead of guarding a specific player, you would defend a zone on the court.

Benefits of Learning Basketball Terms

Knowing basketball terms is important for communicating with your teammates.

You need to know them to set up plays and to do what is asked of you. You need to know them so that you can play as a team.

Just take LeBron James as an example.

If he didn’t know the terms, he wouldn’t be able to get his teammates to do certain things that result in easy baskets. He wouldn’t be able to lead his team.

Knowing the terms is crucial to how he communicates with his team on the court. It’s also essential to how he sets up high I.Q. plays.

Final Thoughts

As I stated earlier, knowing the basketball terms is important and vital to your ability to communicate with your teammates on the court.

So, if you want to be a good leader and have high I.Q., you need to know and understand basketball terms. You also need to know how and when to use them.

Thus, you need to study the terms I shared and practice using them in games. This is the only way to get a grasp on them.