How Well Do You Know the Rules of Basketball?

By: Gavin Thagard
Image: Hill Street Studios/ Blend Images/ Getty Images

About This Quiz

From the opening play of the game to the final buzzer, there are plenty of rules to study and master in the game of basketball if you want to play on the highest level. Do you know all of the ins and outs of the game, or are you more of a casual fan who just enjoys screaming at the television when a call from the referee doesn't go your team's way? Why not find out with this quiz?

Since basketball was first invented by James Naismith in 1891, it has become a cultural phenomenon around the world. With its growth, the rules have developed as well to make the game more accessible and fun. After all, there were only 13 rules at the beginning, and now, there are hundreds of published rules. 

The development of the rulebook certainly has helped the game, though, as it has gone from the simple objective of putting a ball into a basket into the fast-paced, high-flying game it is today. 

Are you a basketball guru when it comes to the modern rules of the sport? Can you turn on an NBA game and know exactly why the whistle is being blown or why the ball was turned over?

When you're ready to put down the ball and study the rules for a second, jump into this quiz and see if you can get a high score! 

The game's about to start. What does each team need to prepare for?

If you're looking for someone to jump off for the opening tip, Shaquille O'Neal was always a good bet. From 1998 until he retired in 2011, Shaq dominated NBA competition by winning 815 jump balls.

You dribble down the court, pick up the ball, then dribble again. Why did the referee blow the whistle?

Klay Thompson, the shooting guard for the Golden State Warriors, has proven that he can be a star in the NBA without needing to dribble the ball. In fact, during a game in 2016, he scored 60 points while only dribbling the ball 11 times.

Who gets to decide which jersey color each team is going to wear on the court?

Unlike most sports leagues, the NBA requires that home teams wear white jerseys and away teams wear colored jerseys unless both teams agree to swap colors. This tradition can be traced back to Major League Baseball, where teams had difficulty washing their jerseys while on the road, causing them to rely on darker colors during road trips.

When the ball is knocked out of bounds, how long does a player have to throw it into a teammate?

Chauncey Billups, one of the craftiest point guards to ever play in the NBA, once threw an inbound pass off of Kobe Bryant during an NBA playoff game. He caught the pass himself and scored on the possession.

The clock is running down, so you shoot the ball from beyond half court and make it. How many points do you get?

If you're an Oklahoma State basketball fan, then you'll surely remember the shot made by Byron Eaton around half court in a 2007 game against a Kevin Durant-led Texas team. The miracle shot came after Eaton saved the ball from going out of bounds without even looking at the basket.

It's your job to take the ball in to start the second quarter. Where do you take it in from?

The base line on an NBA court is supposed to give the defense an advantage as players can only take the ball so far under the basket. However, many offensive masterminds have been able to adapt. If you're looking for an example, watch Julius Erving's baseline move against the Lakers in the 1980 NBA Finals.

When your teammate takes the ball up the court, how many seconds does he have to get past half court?

Some defenses have adopted the use of full-court press, where they start defending as soon as the ball is thrown in. This style of defense puts pressure on the offense, but it also leaves the defensive side vulnerable if a ballhandler is able to escape his defender.

If you're in the game, you can't have what on?

Even if they can't wear it on the court, fashion statements have become popular in the NBA, as players use their pregame attire to express themselves. One of the best at this is Russel Westbrook, who has worn everything from ripped clothes to a safety vest.

You missed a two-point shot, but you were fouled. How many free throws are you awarded?

Known for his horrible free throw percentage, Dwight Howard holds the NBA record for free throw attempts in a game with 39, which occurred twice for the big man. The first time he attempted 39 free throws, he only made 21 of them. When you play in the NBA, that's not a good percentage.

If you possess the ball inside the free-throw line, you can't do what for more than five seconds?

Seven feet tall and weighing over 300 pounds, Shaquille O'Neal was one of the most dominant centers to ever play in the NBA. When he got to his spot in the post, five seconds was more than enough time to humiliate an opponent.

Never do what if the basketball is rolling along the ground?

Though it wasn't during a play, Luka Donic, in his rookie season with the Mavericks, kicked the ball into the stands when he received his second technical foul during a game against the Pacers. The kick got him thrown out of the game and a $10,000 fine. He'll probably think twice about doing that again.

Not including yourself, how many teammates do you have on the court with you?

Known as the Death Lineup, it's hard to argue that the Golden State Warrior put together one of the best five-player units in NBA history. By relying on a smaller lineup, the Warriors were able to push the pace while using their speed and athleticism to get open shots.

What penalty is called if you swat the ball away right before it goes in the basket?

During the 2017-18 season, the Denver Nuggets led the league in goaltends during the regular season. Had they scored more instead of swatting balls away from the basket, they might have made the playoffs, which they missed by one game.

You and your opponent both have control of the ball, so the referee calls what?

One of the most under-appreciated statistics that goes unrecorded is a player's willingness to jump on a loose ball. It often results in a held-ball call, but it gives your team another opportunity for an offensive possession.

If you're holding the ball, what's the name of the foot that must stay planted to the ground?

Kevin McHale had a deadly pivot game underneath the basket, where he was capable of using multiple rotations and shoulder shrugs to confuse defenders. His offensive brilliance became known as the "Torture Chamber."

Your teammate can open up a shot for you by blocking an opposing player using what?

The pick-and-roll is one of the most popular offensive styles in the NBA, with players like Anthony Davis mastering the art of setting a screen and rolling to the basket. As big men have gotten better at shooting three-point shots, the pick-and-pop play has become a more versatile offensive weapon as well.

Who is not allowed to touch the ball if you fumble it into the backcourt?

Aggressive defenses will pressure players with bad ball-handling skills if they get the ball near the half-court line. If defenses come quick enough and knock the ball away, it usually leads to an easy basket in transition.

What's it called if you make contact with the ball while your opponent is shooting it?

The NBA didn't start recording blocks as a statistic until the 1973-74 season. Elmore Smith had the most blocked shots in a game that season with 17, a record that he still holds today.

Do you know what to do under the basket if the other team misses a shot?

Playing from 1959 until 1973, Wilt Chamberlain averaged an insane 22.9 rebounds per game throughout his NBA regular-season career. Even in his worst seasons, he never averaged less than 18 rebounds per game.

The shot clock ran out because you wasted how many seconds?

Buzzer beaters are definitely all the rage in the NBA. If you're wondering why, just ask fans who watched Michael Jordan, one of the most clutch players to ever lace up and take the court. He knew how to set up the suspense and finish with a huge shot.

A shot does not count as three points if a player does what?

Steph Curry has revolutionized the NBA because of his willingness to pull up for a three-point shot from anywhere beyond half court. The referees are happy about it as they rarely have to question if his foot was on the line or not.

When you get the ball away from an opposing player advancing it up the court, it's called what?

A gifted offensive weapon, Allen Iverson's biggest defensive flaw was always his size. However, he made up for it with quick reflexes, leading the league in steals for three straight season.

The fourth quarter has just started, and you're down by 20. How long do you have to make a comeback?

Some teams need an entire quarter to orchestrate a comeback, particularly in a playoff situation where defenses are tight and points are hard to come by. In the first game of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, Reggie Miller only needed nine seconds to score eight points after being down by six with 18 seconds on the clock.

When you're on your third foul, how many more do you have before you're kicked out of the game?

Cal Bowlder, the former center for the Atlanta Hawks, is the only player to ever foul out of a game with seven fouls instead of six. Considering the referees made a mistake not fouling him out at six, Bowlder holds a record that will hopefully never be broken.

You just set your teammate up with a great shot that they make. What do you earn?

Running a fast-paced offense with multiple moving parts, Steve Nash was able to separate himself from most of his contemporaries as a magician with the basketball. Using superb court vision, he racked up 10,335 assists on his way to a Hall of Fame career.

How many fouls can your team commit in a quarter before you enter the penalty?

The best defenses know how to save their fouls for critical points in the game when they need to stop the clock and get in position to defend the basket. Once the other team's in the penalty, they will foul the worst free-throw shooter on that team. Shooting just over 50 percent from the line, Shaquille O'Neal was often targeted by this strategy.

You accidentally call a timeout when your team's out of them. What do the referees call?

College basketball fans will surely remember the moment Chris Webber called a timeout that the team didn't have in the 1993 NCAA championship. The timeout cost his Michigan team the game and a championship.

Don't interfere with the ball after a basket is scored, or you will be called for what?

NBA teams are given a warning for the first delay of game call that goes against them. The second call earns them a technical foul, and the other team can select any player on the court to take a free throw attempt.

You're fouled on a three-point attempt that you make. How many free throws are you awarded?

James Harden has mastered the art of drawing the foul on a three-point shot, and yes, it is an art. Harden led the league in four-point plays during the 2017-18 season with 14. The next closest player had half of that.

Which type of foul is awarded for a conduct infraction?

Players are not the only ones subject to conduct infractions, as coaches have been known to receive a technical foul now and then. Even the greatest NBA coaches are subject to punishment. Just look at Gregg Popovich when he gets angry.

What can you not use your hand to do?

The NBA has been criticized over the past decade for growing too soft, as hand-checking and contact have been called much tighter than in previous years. When debating the best eras in basketball, older fans will look back to the '90s, when the physicality of basketball was at its peak.

Don't hit your opponent, or the referee will call which foul?

Draymond Green, the power forward for the Golden State Warriors, doesn't shy away from controversy, as he's been on the receiving end of many flagrant foul calls. One such call got him suspended during Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, when the Cavaliers came back to beat the Warriors in a seven game series.

Where does an offensive player have to be for you to use your leg to maintain your defensive position?

If you want to sharpen your defensive skills underneath the basket, then watch Rudy Golbert, the big man for the Utah Jazz. Golbert has averaged at least two blocks per game every season he's been in the NBA except for his rookie year.

A player must be outside what to take a charge?

Undrafted in 2007, Anthony Tolliver has moved around the NBA, playing for nine different teams, as he's made a name for himself as a player who isn't afraid to do the dirty work. Tolliver has been particularly effective at taking charges, where he has an extremely high success rate.

The score was tied at the end of regulation. How long is overtime?

Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers went into overtime, after J.R. Smith failed to put up a missed shot. Despite 51 points from LeBron James, the Cavaliers lost the game and, eventually, the series.

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