Basketball Court Layout: Create Your Playing Strategy

Basketball Tactics

The symmetry of the basketball court layout features half a court that’s a mirror image of the other half. The entire court measures in at ninety-four feet by fifty feet. On each side of the court, you’ll find painted lines that clearly show the circle and free throw lane, in addition to the three-point line, which has a distance from the basket that tends to vary depending on the level of hoops played.

Learning the Layout

When you’re practicing at home using the best wall-mounted hoop, you’re imagining yourself on the court, taking and sinking the most challenging shots. But if you’re not familiar with the different areas of the court, the best areas to take shots, areas of the court that you struggle with, and what common areas that the offense love slipping in to take the ball, then you’ll be lost during a game. Learning about the layout of the court will also come in handy when you’re practicing passing fundamentals and drills with other players on the team. If you’re new to basketball, then learning the court layout is a great place to start, and one that can teach you a lot about the best areas to take a shot and where you’ll be the most vulnerable on the court. This guide will go over the different areas of the court, the common terminology used for each area, and which areas are favorite spots for shots or stealing the ball.

Basketball Court Lines

In order to eliminate any confusion fans, players, and coaches must communicate using the same basketball terminology.

The following names refer to the borders of the court:

  • The borders along the length of the court are called the sidelines
  • The borders along the ends of the court are called the baselines or endlines
  • The midcourt line is the line that separates both halves of the court.
  • The center circle is found in the very center of the midcourt line, where the center toss will take place at the start of every game.

Sidelines

As I mentioned above, the sidelines are the boundary lines that run the length of the court. The location of the sidelines is typically fifty feet wide, however, the length can also depend on the length of the court. The sidelines, in addition to the endline and baseline, are what establish the size of the playing area.

Endlines

The endline runs from sideline to sideline and can be found behind the backboard at each end of the court. The endlines are located four feet behind the hoop and are typically fifty feet wide. The endline is also called the baseline, and it’s an interchangeable term that’s used depending on which team has the ball. Endline is the term used for the defensive end of the court, while baseline is used for the offensive end.

Free Throw Lines and Lanes

basketball field

The hub of the action on each side of the court is called the free throw lane. This lane is rectangular in shape and measures sixteen feet wide in the NBA, and twelve feet in high school and college basketball.

The length of the lane is measured from the free throw line to the basket and is fifteen feet at every level. Offensive players will not be able to stand inside the lane for more than a couple of seconds unless they have a teammate that’s shooting. Once a shot is taken, the count will begin again. Defensive players can remain inside the lane for as long as they need to.

When a player is fouled by another player, they may receive a free throw shot, which is also called a foul shot. The player will take this type of shot from the free throw line, which is located fifteen feet from the basket, at the end of the lane. These shots are referred to as free throws because defenders don’t guard the shooter when they are taking the shot. When someone takes this type of shot, they are not allowed to cross the line until the ball has hit the rim. If their feet cross the line before the ball makes it to the rim, then the shot will not count.

When one player is taking a free throw, the other players on both teams will line up on the free throw lane, or they will line up behind the shooter. During this time, they are not allowed to interfere with the shot. The players will line up in order, on each side of the lane. Only four players are allowed to stand on one side of the free throw lane. If a player decides not to line up, then a player from the opposing team can take their spot on the line. During a free throw, the fans behind the hoop will usually make plenty of noise, jumping up and down, and doing their best to distract the player that’s taking the shot.

Three-Point Arc

Another important marked feature on a basketball court is the three-point arc. This arc extends in a near semicircle around the basket. The distance of the arc from the basket will differ, depending on the level of play. The NBA changed the distance of the free throw line a couple of times but has since gone back to the original distance of twenty-three feet, nine inches. Nineteen feet, nine inches is the college distance. Twenty feet, six inches is the international distance.

A shot that’s taken from beyond the arc, even a shot that’s made in desperation from the half court, is worth a total of three points. Three-pointers only count if the shooter has both of their feet behind the arc as they take the shot, however, if one of the player’s feet lands on the other side of the arc it will still count as a three-pointer.

Frontcourt and Backcourt

A basketball court should be thought of as two half-courts. One end is called the backcourt, while the other is called the frontcourt. You’ll find the offense’s basket located on the frontcourt.

Mid Court

This is the line that divides the court in half. Once the ball has crossed the mid court line, it will become a boundary line that reduces the offensive playing area to half of the court. For most levels, the offensive team will only have eight seconds to move the ball across this line.

Court Areas

Every area of the court has a name. It’s crucial that you use the correct terminology when these areas are described. The main areas of a court include the following:

Three-Second Area

The three-second area is the area found between the lane lines and the free throw line. It’s also referred to as the paint because it’s painted. If an offensive player stays in this area for more than a few seconds, then it’s considered a violation and forces the player to turn over the ball to the other team.

Block

This is a buffer area that’s painted on the lane lines and it’s what separates the defensive and offensive players during a free throw. It’s also a very strategic area. Any player, defensive or offensive, can establish a position and gain the advantage.

Elbow

This is the area of the court where the lane line meets the free throw line. Just like the block, the elbow will be important when it comes to dribble penetration. Any player who gets to the elbow first will have the advantage.

Free Throw Line Extended

This is an imaginary line that represents the extension from the free throw line across the court. A coach will often use it to establish defensive rules. A certain rule applies when the ball is above the free throw line extended, with a different rule if the ball is below it.

Top of Circle

This is the area found straight out from the basket, right outside the free throw circle. It’s primarily used as a reference point for aligning defensive and offensive players. It’s also a spot that many players love to shoot from.

Wing

This area is found on the side of the court, by the free throw line extended. These areas are designated weakside or ballside, based on the location of the player that has the ball. The wing on the side that’s away from the player with the ball is known as the weakside, while the side with the player that has possession of the ball is called the strong side.

Corner

This area is mainly used to designate the area where the baseline and sideline meet. It’s also another area that players love shooting from. When zone defense is played it’s usually in an open area. However, it’s an area where defensive players will often trap offensive players.

Short Corner

This is an area that’s located along the baseline, halfway between the lane line and sideline. It’s considered a strategic offensive area that’s used against zone defenses.

Shot Charts

If you want to use shot charts to become a better player, then you have to have the court layout memorized. While these charts are commonly used by coaches, players can also use the data from these sheets to improve their performance on the court. Some coaches may not use these charts, while others swear by them.

How a Shot Chart Works

Many coaches consider shot charts to be a necessity when it comes to games and scrimmages, but why?

On the shot chart, the court is divided into three sections. Regardless of how good a shooter a player is, they usually only shoot a higher percentage from two out of the three areas.

In the pros, every strong shooter has one of these areas as a cold point. If a pro can shoot well from two out of three areas, then the chances are that even a decent younger player will only have one spot that they’re effective from.

Coaches need to determine each player’s strength on the court and where their strongest shooting area is. These charts are basically the most accurate way of obtaining this information. Is a player attacking just one side of the defense or are they attacking the entire floor? How well are they swinging the ball from one side of the court to the other? How good is their floor balance?

These charts can give coaches the answers they need. A player may also respond well to these charts. Many players are unable to clearly identify their weaknesses and strengths on the court. Using the data from these charts, a player can work on the areas of the court they’re struggling with and focus their practices on their cold spot on the court.

Checking Out the Offense

In addition to coaches using these charts to scout their offense for effectiveness, these charts can also be used to find the sweet spots of opposing players, which will allow them to work harder on defense in order to deny any catches in an area where the opponent demonstrates skill. The chart will show coaches who the team’s strongest player is, where on the court the player does their best work and also allows them to find where that player’s best shots come from and what areas on the court they struggle to shoot from. This allows the coach to create a great strategy that they can incorporate during practice as players focus on mastering the bounce pass, and how to slip by the offense.

Filling Out a Shot Chart

These charts are often printed off on paper and kept on a clipboard, so they’re always accessible to the coach or other staff. Filling out these charts is a cinch, however, you’ll need to pay close attention to the game and each player, where they’re taking a shot from on the court, and whether or not the player made the shot. With the shot chart, you’ll see an outline of the court. Whenever a player takes a shot, you’ll write down the player’s number in the area of the court they shot from. If they made the shot, you’ll circle the number. If the player misses the shot, you will not circle it. When a player makes a layup, you’ll write the number on the side of the basket the shot was taken from, and the baseline. Shots that are taken from the left should be placed on the left side of the basket. The same will apply for shots that are taken from the right side of the basket. A post shot will need to be charted based on where the shot was taken. These shots shouldn’t be treated as layups.

Shot Chart Apps

If you don’t want to use paper and pencil to fill out a chart, you can download a shot chart app on your iPad. These apps will allow you to fill out the charts much in the same manner as the paper version, however, with an app, you’ll be able to safely store the charts on your tablet or PC, and access them on most of your digital devices. You’ll also be able to save them for later use.

Using an app for your shot charts also allow you to create reports easily, based on the whole season, conference games only, multiple games, or one game. You’ll also get to view breakdowns based on shooting percentage or shot distribution.

These apps can be found for both iOS and Android devices. You’ll find some that are available free of charge, however, the apps that cost often offer the user more features such as storage, uploading options, software updates, and more.

Many of these devices are very user-friendly and feature intuitive interfaces that make it easy for anyone to use, even if you’re not the most tech-savvy coach or player.

Final Thoughts

The game of basketball is thrilling, whether you’re sitting in the stands, on the sidelines, or you’re on the court. If you’re a new player, it’s important to learn the basics of the game, especially when it comes to the basketball court itself. This guide on the basketball court layout will help you become familiar with each area of the court, the areas where you can find the sweet spots that allow you to slip in and take your shot, and will come in handy when you’re learning how to create a strategy. With the use of a shot chart, you can utilize your strengths, focus on your weaknesses and learn a lot about your shooting style and which areas of the court that you’ll want to avoid during a game, but will want to focus on taking shots from during practice. Once you’re familiar with the layout of the court and how to use shot charts, you’ll be able to develop a solid basketball offense. These charts are what allow a coach to show a player their weak and strong areas, and gives the coach an idea of how effective the team’s offense is becoming when it comes to getting a shot in a specific area.