Basketball Shots – The 9 Most Important Shots in Basketball

The object of basketball is to get the ball into the opposing team’s basket by shooting the ball so that it goes through their hoop. Probably most people know that. But you may not know that there are several different kinds of shots that you can make in basketball, each needing different skills and are appropriate for different situations.

The basketball player needing to master these shots must also master the skills to make the shots. This can include:

  • Different stances
  • The ability to utilize both the left and the right side of the body to make a shot
  • Good balance in awkward stances or positions
  • The ability to think quickly and strategize on your feet

Basketball Shots

One of the key points of strategy in Basketball comes down to the shots the player uses, how the player uses them, and how quickly the player can adapt or change the strategy to meet the demands of the situation. A Layup, for example, is not going to help you out of every situation on the court.

Basketball shots are part of the offensive tool bag for players. Knowing and mastering the different shots allows players to adapt to different situations. It also increases their ability to score no matter what the situation is that they find themselves in. If you can realize when your Layup is ineffective, then you need another shot to use.

It cannot be overlooked that some of the different basketball shots also bring showmanship to the game, an aspect of basketball that increases morale of the team and gets crowds cheering and roaring in the process. In fact you can hardly think of watching a game without seeing a show stopping slam dunk.

Generally speaking basketball shots fall into three categories that match beginning, intermediate, and advanced skills. However, these categories are only helpful as a way to reference the abilities players need to have to accomplish these shots, because ultimately pro players use all the types of shots in a basketball game.

The Layup

One of the most basic shots in basketball is called the Layup. The layup is a shot that usually comes directly after the player dribbles down to the basket, and it is also one of the most commonly seen shots in basketball from the pickup games to the NBA. It can be done in three different ways:

  • The two-foot Layup
  • The one-foot Layup
  • The reverse Layup

A player can make a layup from either side of the court, but the player must make the shot from the corresponding side of the player’s body. So, if a player dribbles down the right side of the court, the player must dribble with the right hand and, in the case of a one-foot Layup, must launch from the left foot and make the shot right-handed.

When completing the Layup shot, you can either go for the net or rim into the net, or you can aim for the corner of the small square just above the net. This is the most common especially for beginning players. If you can spot the corner of the square, you have a solid way to get the ball into the basket every time. The Layup is worth 2 points.

The Two Foot Layup

The two foot Layup is probably not as common as the other Layups, but it is an approach to the Layup that should not be ignored. In the two foot Layup, a player dribbles to a position close to the net, quickly takes a stance with both feet for a solid foundation from which to shoot, then makes the shot.

The two foot Layup is not as smooth looking as the other two versions (which will be discussed in a moment) but can be advantageous for a couple of reasons:

  • Works well closer to the net
  • Good defensive position against jostling

If the player is already close to the net when receiving the ball, rather than try to get speed and power to make the one foot Layup, it might be easier to dribble to the basket, take the two-foot stance and make the shot.

Also, in situations where the basket is surrounded by defenders, a two foot stance may be preferable to the one foot stance because of the foundation it provides. In a one foot stance it is easier to get jostled and lose your aim. In the two foot stance, if a defender bumps into you, you have a more secure stance from which you can maintain balance.

The One Foot Layup

The one foot Layup is more fluid and more commonly seen when a player charges down the court and makes it to the basket relatively unhindered by the defense. In a one foot Layup, the player launches off from the foot opposite to the shooting hand at about the block of the court, then makes the shot.

In this kind of Layup, it is important to pay attention to the form of your body. When you launch off from one foot, you must raise the opposite foot with your shooting hand. So, if you are shooting from your right hand, you launch from your left foot. Your right knee bends and brings up your right foot as you raise your right hand to shoot.

In the case of the one foot and two foot Layups, the shooting technique will typically be overhand, although younger players may find the underhand technique useful if they do not have enough power to jump close to the basket. For the overhand shot:

  • Grip the ball with your fingers for best control
  • Use your wrist to launch it

The Reverse Layup

In the reverse Layup, many of the techniques are similar to the one foot Layup, except the player goes under the net and shoots from the opposite side of the approach to the net. This kind of Layup requires the underhand shot.

As you come under the net to make the shot, you will jump in the air in the same way as with the other two types of Layups, launching with the leg opposite of the shooting hand.

An underhand shot looks like you are scooping the air. When you shoot you:

  • Scoop up
  • Bring the ball overhead
  • Look up and behind to aim

In the case of this kind of shot, you hold the ball so that the weight of it is resting mostly on your fingers, and you roll it off your fingertips using them for control.

Jump Shot

Another basic basketball shot is the Jump Shot. The Jump Shot is a versatile shot that you can use from positions close to the basket or far away. This shot is also the basis for the free throw. If you master this shot, you can score a lot of baskets.

Like all shots in basketball, the Jump Shot happens quickly, but there are a lot of things to control as far as your form is concerned. Here are some things to be aware of:

  • Placement of feet and shoulders
  • How you hold the ball
  • When in the jump to shoot

Placement of Your Body for the Shot

When you make a Jump Shot, your body must be in the proper position. The specific aspects of that position are your:

  • Legs
  • Knees
  • Shoulders

Your legs need to be in a foundational stance with both feet planted. Your dominant foot should be a bit forward pointed toward the basket. Your knees should be slightly bent and springy, ready to leap. Finally, your shoulders should be squared off to the basket.

How to Hold the Ball

When you make any kind of shot, you need to be sure you are holding the ball correctly. A proper hold on the ball will give you control over the shot. An improper hold on the ball decreases the control you have over the ball’s direction. It may not affect all the shots you make, but that is only because of chance.

When shooting the ball be sure that:

  • You hold the ball with the fingertips of your shooting hand spread out and gripping the ball so that the thumb and pointer finger make a “v” shape
  • Balance the ball with your offhand, which is your weaker hand, and place it on the ball so that the thumbs of each hand make a “T” shape because of their placement

If you hold the ball on your palm, you will not have as much control over the direction of the shot, and you lose the power of the shot because you decrease the leverage that your wrist has when you hold the ball properly on your fingertips.

What you may not have is the ability to balance the ball on your fingertips or retain it for long periods. This is why you use your offhand to keep the ball steady while you make the shot. So your shooting hand should be under the ball and your offhand should be on the side of the ball. The power of the shot should come from your wrist and your jump.

How to Prepare the Shot

When you are ready to shoot, lift the ball up with both of your hands holding it correctly, and hold the ball just above your face. Now your shooting hand will be under the ball with your off hand supporting it on the side. At this point, make sure that the following things are aligned together with the basket:

  • Shooting hand
  • Elbow
  • Knee
  • Foot

As your shooting hand holds the ball, you should be able to slide a finger in between the palm of your hand and the ball itself. At this point you should also be able to remove your off hand and still be able to hold onto the ball with only your shooting hand. Also, your eyes should be focused on the basket.

The Jump Shot

When you make the Jump Shot, you jump (hence the name) with both legs pushing you into the air. This is not a one legged jump like in a Layup, but a two legged jump that comes from your foundational position.

Standing on both feet, jump from your already bent knees and your feet. The question is when do you make the shot? You want to release the ball when you have reached the apex, which is the highest point of the jump. You also follow through with your wrists in a motion that looks like you are waving goodbye to the ball.

The Free Throw

The basis for the Free Throw shot is the Jump Shot, but it happens in a different context for a different set of points:

  • The Free Throw is worth one point
  • The Jump Shot is worth two points unless it is made from the three point line or beyond, then it is worth three points

The Free Throw is awarded to players as a result of a foul against them. They take the shot from the center of the free throw line with their feet in the normal Jump Shot position with the dominant foot right against the free throw line.

As they make the shot their shooting arm must be bent at the elbow, making an “L” shape. This is also the case with the Jump Shot. Other aspects of the shot, control over the ball and use of the knees, also apply to both the Free Throw and the Jump Shot.

Furthermore, you need to keep your eyes on the basket, not on the ball. Lastly, even though this is basically a jump shot, you rarely see players actually jump when making a Free Throw. You are permitted to jump, but you must never cross the free-throw line when making the shot. This is actually not recommended because you will lose a lot of accuracy in your shots. We discussed this at length in our post “Can You Jump During a Basketball Free Throw?” if you would like to read a bit more about it.

Hook Shot

The Hook Shot is something players can use when defenders surround the net and they need to make a shot. The advantage of the hook shot is that it allows the shooter to protect the ball while making the shot.

Made using one hand, the hook shot requires a lot of control, but can be an effective shot to use under the right circumstances

  • Similar to the reverse Layup, the hook shot looks somewhat like you are scooping the air with your shooting arm
  • But unlike the reverse layup, you are performing the shot further away from the basket.

Key Points of the Hook Shot

You can make the hook shot with either hand, but one side of your body needs to face the basket. As you cross, perpendicular, as it were, to the basket, you jump and make the shot.

Making a Hook Shot requires the same essential skills when making a Layup shot. You must jump with your off leg and raise the shooting leg in chorus with your shooting arm as it hooks the shot to the basket.

Bank Shot

A bank shot is most commonly a part of a Jump Shot, but can also be a part of a Layup as well. This is because the Bank Shot has more to do with the ball and what it hits than with you and you stance. Your stance is still important, but the point is nothing changes with your stance to accomplish the Bank Shot.

With the Bank Shot you are not aiming directly for the basket, but for the backboard. Essentially you are using the backboard strategically to bounce the ball into the net. In order to do this you need to:

  • Locate the spot on the backboard that will bounce the into the net from your position
  • Aim higher than the net to hit that spot of the backboard
  • Your goal is the have the ball bounce into the net, not the rim

So in the bank shot, you are dependent on the backboard. Theoretically, you could even apply this to the Hook Shot mentioned above. It is a strategy for employing a shot, not a stance that you need to take.


A Tip-in is less a shot than a response to a shot. In basketball, sometimes shots miss. Whether it is a Hook Shot, a Jump Shot, or a Layup, players on either team surround the basket to get the rebound if the shot misses and bounces off the rim or the backboard.

The Tip-in is based on this scenario, except the player is looking specifically for a shot that bounces off the rim and is not going to land in the net. If this is the case, a teammate is allowed to:

  • Jump up
  • Grab the ball quickly
  • “Tip” it into the basket

In other words, this shot is not about stance or about a variation on an existing shot, but a kind of assist to a shot that has already happened. You might think of the Tip-in as shooting insurance.

But be sure that you do it correctly or you could get a penalty. A player cannot touch the rim or the net when the ball is in play or that player could get a basket interference penalty. And if you do a Tip-in when the ball is not bouncing away from the basket, then you could get a penalty for basket interference.

Fade Away

The Fade Away shot is basically a feint that allows the offensive player to create distance from the defensive player in order to make a clean shot. When completing a Fade Away shot, you need to:

  • Have good balance
  • Make quick stance changes
  • Exaggerate your follow through on your shot

Here is how the shot works. You will want to use the Fade Away shot when you are pressed by a defender. As you are working your way to the net with the ball, take a few steps toward your opponent as if you are going to rush for the net, but that part of the move is a feint.

Once you have the defender moving in that direction:

  • Push away with your leading foot (the one on the basket side of your body)
  • Land on your other foot
  • Make the shot as your body is leaning away from the defender

This shot takes good coordination and balance because you are making a shot in ways that are contrary to your normal shooting positions. But used well, the Fade Away is a strategic feint that you can use to create distance between you and your opponent. It is a valuable tool for creating a clean shot in intense situations.

Alley Oop

The Alley Oop is similar to the Tip-in in that it involves an assist, but the Alley Oop is a deliberate move that does involve a shot. This type of shot is for advanced players because it involves the coordination of two players as well high level jumping and shooting skills.

It works like this:

  • One teammate throws the ball into the air
  • Another team catches the ball and dunks it

In this type of shot, both players involved in the shot have critical roles. The first player must know where to throw the ball in relation to the dunker who is coming down the court. The thrower must also know about how high the dunker can jump so as not to throw the ball too high.

The dunker, on the other hand, also has a hard job. The dunker must catch the ball mid air and quickly get into the basket for a spectacular dunk. Which brings up another aspect to the Alley Oop: showmanship. The Alley Oop is one of those moves that shows off teamwork and style in a way that boasts team morale and pleases the crowd.

The Slam Dunk

If there is a kind of shot in basketball that is a morale booster and crowd-pleaser it is the slam dunk. Unlike the Alley Oop, the Slam Dunk involves only one player. It is often the high point of games when a player launches into the air for a Slam Dunk.

So like the Alley Oop, the Dunk is an opportunity to display showmanship involving stylized moves and flourishes that are more about entertainment and less about the same two points that are awarded for every other kind of shot.

Nevertheless, the Slam Dunk requires incredible skill to accomplish. You have to jump high and the farther you jump the more astounding the shot. You also have to a creative streak for some of the flourishes, as well as the technical ability and coordination to pull them off. Some crowd pleasing feats are truly amazing to watch.

What is The Slam Dunk?

The Slam Dunk is accomplished by jumping high in the air and slamming the ball down into the net. In order to do this, you have to be able to jump higher than ten feet which is the standard height of a basketball rim.

Of course with a dunk or a slam dunk, the higher you can go and the more distance you can travel the more amazing it is. Dunking right at the net is cool. But jumping for the free throw line to land a slam dunk is truly amazing.

The NBA holds a Slam Dunk competition every year during which competitors get to show off their: 

  • Flourishes
  • Height
  • Athleticism
  • Showmanship

These high flying athletic and creative feats bring enthusiastic crowds everything from jumping over cars to spinning mid-air. Slam Dunking has become a kind of sport or competition all its own, taking place completely independent from a basketball game.

In a game you will want to be very careful as to how you pull off the Slam Dunk since it can be easy to travel while doing it. Remember, when you stop dribbling, you are allowed the same two steps that you get under any other circumstance.


In basketball much of the focus comes down to the shots players use to make a basket. Shooting in basketball comes down to the ability to strategize and have the fundamentals at your command. Putting these things together you need quick thinking, the ability to respond to new situations and make the right decisions without hesitation.

Strategy is not a word that is often used in connection with basketball because the action movies very fast and much of it is a reaction to things happening around the players. Nevertheless, as players charge down the court they have an initial strategy of what shot they are going to make.

The fact that strategies need to change as quickly as the players themselves is part of the appeal of basketball. You need to be able to see the circumstances that prevent you from making the Layup you are trying to make and change it to a Hook Shot or whatever the situation demands.

As a basketball player, you need the skills to accomplish the difficult shots as well as the easy ones. But the fact is you will never grow out of needing to use a Jump Shot here and there. In fact, you can play a pickup game with just a Layup and a Jump Shot in your toolbox, which is another reason why basketball is so popular.


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