Decoding Basketball: How Does Possession Work in Basketball and its Game-Changing Rules

In basketball, possession refers to which team has control of the ball. When the game begins, the possession is determined by a jump ball, where players from both teams try to tap the ball to their teammates. Once a team gains possession, they have the opportunity to score points by advancing the ball towards their opponent’s basket and attempting to shoot it through the hoop. Possession can change hands during a game in several ways. If a team successfully makes a basket, the opposing team gains possession and gets the chance to move the ball up the court. Turnovers also result in a change of possession, which occurs when a player loses control of the ball and the opposing team gains control. This can happen due to an errant pass, a player stepping out of bounds, or having the ball stolen by an opponent. Additionally, if a shot misses the basket, the team that gains control of the rebound also earns possession. Understanding possession is crucial in basketball as it dictates which team can make offensive plays and ultimately score points.

Types of Possessions in Basketball

In basketball, a possession refers to the opportunity for a team to score points by shooting the ball into the opposing team’s basket. Possessions are an essential aspect of the game, as they determine who has control of the ball and the potential to add points to their team’s score. There are various types of possessions in basketball, each with its own set of rules and intricacies. Let’s explore some of the most common types of possessions:

1. Live Ball Possessions

Live ball possessions occur during the active play of the game, when both teams are vying for control of the ball. These possessions can be further divided into two categories: offensive and defensive possessions.

  • Offensive Possessions: When a team has the ball and is actively trying to score a basket, it is considered an offensive possession. During an offensive possession, the team can pass, dribble, and shoot the ball in an effort to score points. The primary goal is to create scoring opportunities and ultimately put the ball through the opposing team’s basket. Offensive possessions require strategy, teamwork, and quick decision-making to outmaneuver the defense and maximize scoring chances.
  • Defensive Possessions: On the contrary, defensive possessions occur when a team does not have control of the ball and is aiming to prevent the opposing team from scoring. During a defensive possession, the team must employ various tactics to disrupt the offense, including guarding players, blocking shots, and attempting to steal the ball. The goal is to force the offense into making mistakes or taking challenging shots, ultimately leading to a turnover or a missed basket. Strong defensive possessions are crucial for a team’s success, as they can turn the tide of the game and provide opportunities for counterattacks.

It is important to note that live ball possessions can transition back and forth between teams throughout the course of a game, depending on turnovers, rebounds, and other gameplay factors. Both offensive and defensive possessions require skill, strategy, and coordination to effectively execute and influence the outcome of a basketball game.

Rules governing possession in basketball

When it comes to possession in basketball, there are several rules that govern how it works. Understanding these rules is crucial for both players and spectators to fully grasp the dynamics of the game. Here, we will break down the key aspects of possession in basketball.

1. Jump ball

At the beginning of the game, possession is determined by a jump ball. A referee tosses the ball in the air between two opposing players who try to gain control of it by tipping or tapping it to their teammates. The team that gains control of the ball is awarded the first possession of the game. Jump balls also occur in certain game situations, such as when the ball gets stuck between the rim and the backboard, or when opposing players become tied up and no clear possession can be determined.

2. Alternating possession arrow

The alternating possession arrow is used to determine possession in situations where a jump ball is not applicable. This rule ensures that both teams have an equal opportunity to possess the ball. The arrow initially points toward the team that did not win the jump ball. When a dead ball occurs, such as a held-ball situation or certain fouls, the possession arrow is switched to the opposing team. This back-and-forth rotation continues throughout the game, ensuring each team has an equal share of possession opportunities.

3. Out of bounds

When the ball goes out of bounds, possession is awarded to the opposing team of the player who last touched the ball before it went out. If neither team can be determined to have touched the ball before it went out, the possession is decided through a jump ball or the alternating possession arrow rule, depending on the specific game situation.

4. Violations and turnovers

  • If a player commits an offensive violation, such as traveling or committing an offensive foul, the opposing team is awarded possession of the ball.
  • A turnover occurs when the defensive team successfully steals the ball from the offensive team, intercepts a pass, or forces the offensive team into committing a shot clock violation. In these cases, possession changes to the team that did not commit the turnover.

5. Rebounding

  • When a shot is taken, possession of the ball is up for grabs. Both teams have an opportunity to secure the rebound, which is grabbing the ball after a missed shot. The team that successfully rebounds the ball gains possession and can then initiate their offensive play.
  • If the ball goes out of bounds on a rebound attempt, possession is awarded to the team that did not touch the ball last before it went out.
  • In some cases, offensive players may tip the ball on a rebound attempt, allowing their teammates to gain control. This is known as a tip-in and results in the team gaining possession of the ball.

6. Double fouls and jump ball situations

In various scenarios, such as double fouls or simultaneous fouls by both teams, possession may be awarded through a jump ball situation. It is important to note that in these cases, the alternating possession arrow rule does not apply, and a new jump ball is used to determine who receives possession.

Factors Affecting Possession in Basketball

When it comes to possession in basketball, there are several factors that can influence which team has the ball. These factors contribute to the fluid nature of the game and can have a significant impact on the outcome. Let’s take a closer look at three key factors that affect possession in basketball:

1. Tip-Off

The tip-off is the initial possession of the ball at the start of the game or overtime period. It occurs when the referee throws the ball up in the center circle and two players from opposing teams try to gain control. The outcome of the tip-off determines which team gets the first possession. Winning the tip-off doesn’t guarantee success, but it provides an early advantage that can set the tone for the rest of the game.

2. Turnovers

Turnovers play a crucial role in possession changes during a basketball game. A turnover happens when the offensive team loses the ball to the defensive team before a shot attempt. This can occur due to various reasons, such as bad passes, dribbling errors, or offensive fouls. When a turnover occurs, the defensive team gains possession, and the offensive team must work to regain control by forcing a turnover or securing a defensive rebound.

Coaches emphasize minimizing turnovers as they not only result in lost possessions but also give the opposition opportunities to score. Players are trained to handle the ball carefully, make smart passes, and avoid unnecessary risks to maintain possession.

3. Rebounding

Rebounding is another critical factor that impacts possession in basketball. When a player attempts a shot, whether it be a layup or a three-pointer, there are two possible outcomes. Either the shot goes in, resulting in the opposing team inbound the ball, or it misses, leading to a rebound opportunity.

A rebound occurs when a player retrieves the ball after a missed shot. It can happen on the offensive end, where the shooting team grabs the rebound and gets an additional chance to score, or on the defensive end, where the defending team gains possession and looks to transition into offense.

Offensive rebounds are particularly valuable as they provide the team with extra shot attempts and potential second-chance points. Defensively, securing rebounds is essential to limit the opponent’s offensive opportunities. Coaches often stress the importance of boxing out, positioning oneself between the opponent and the basket, to increase the chances of collecting rebounds.


The factors affecting possession in basketball are diverse, but they all contribute to the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the game. The outcome of the tip-off, turnovers, and rebounding can sway the momentum and ultimately determine which team has more opportunities to score. Understanding and effectively utilizing these factors can give teams the edge they need to succeed on the court.

Methods of gaining possession in basketball

Gaining possession is a crucial aspect of basketball, as it allows teams to score points and control the flow of the game. There are several methods by which a team can gain possession of the basketball. Let’s explore these methods in detail:

1. Rebounding

One of the primary ways to gain possession in basketball is through rebounding. When a shot is taken and misses the basket, players from both teams try to grab the rebound, which is the ball that bounces off the rim or backboard. A team that secures the rebound gains possession and gets an opportunity to reset their offense or attempt another shot.

2. Stealing

Stealing the ball from an opponent is another effective method of gaining possession in basketball. As the opposing team tries to move the ball up the court and execute their offense, players can use their quickness and anticipation skills to intercept passes or strip the ball away from the ball handler. Successful steals result in a turnover, giving the stealing team possession of the ball.

3. Intercepting Passes

Similar to stealing, intercepting passes is a technique used to gain possession in basketball. By strategically positioning themselves and reading the opposing team’s passing lanes, players can jump in front of a pass intended for another player and catch the ball mid-air. Intercepting a pass disrupts the opposing team’s offense and gives the intercepting team an opportunity to initiate their own offensive play.

4. Securing Jump Balls

In situations where possession is unclear or disputed, jump balls are used to determine which team gains possession. Jump balls occur when two players from opposing teams simultaneously gain possession of the ball or when the ball gets trapped between two players, causing a stalemate. In such cases, the referee tosses the ball up in the air, and the two players involved in the jump ball try to tip or control the ball to their team’s advantage. The team that gains possession of the jump ball will then inbound the ball and have an opportunity to score.

5. Offensive Violations

  • [content]
  • [content]
  • [content]

6. Defensive Violations



Strategies for maintaining possession in basketball

In basketball, possession of the ball is crucial for teams to have opportunities to score and control the game. Winning teams understand the importance of possession and employ various strategies to maintain control over the ball. Let’s explore some effective strategies for maintaining possession in basketball:

1. Ball movement

One of the most fundamental strategies for maintaining possession is efficient ball movement. When players pass the ball quickly and accurately, it becomes harder for the defense to anticipate and steal the ball. By continuously moving the ball around the court and keeping it away from defenders, teams can create open passing lanes, confuse opponents, and minimize the risk of turnovers.

Good ball movement involves players being aware of their surroundings, making smart and timely passes, and constantly being on the move to create passing options for their teammates. It also requires good court vision and communication among players to ensure everyone is on the same page.

2. Strong ball-handling skills

To maintain possession, players need to have strong ball-handling skills. This includes dribbling the ball effectively and protecting it from defenders. Skilled ball handlers can evade defenders, change directions quickly, and keep the ball secure, minimizing the risk of turnovers through steals or fumbles.

Developing ball-handling skills involves regular practice and drills that focus on improving dribbling technique, control, and speed. Players should also work on their hand strength and coordination to maintain a firm grip on the ball even under pressure.

3. Offensive rebounding

Securing offensive rebounds is another effective way to maintain possession in basketball. When a team’s player successfully grabs an offensive rebound after a missed shot, it gives their team a second opportunity to score and resets the shot clock. This not only extends the possession but also demoralizes the opposing team.

To excel in offensive rebounding, players must understand the positioning and timing required to get in the right spot for the rebound. They should be aggressive, quick, and have good leaping ability to outmaneuver opponents and grab the ball off the rim. Additionally, players need to box out their opponents to create space and prevent them from securing the rebound.

4. Backcourt pressure defense

To maintain possession, teams can apply backcourt pressure defense to force turnovers and disrupt the opponent’s offense. This strategy involves defending the opposition near their own basket, making it challenging for them to bring the ball past half-court and initiate their offense smoothly.

Backcourt pressure defense often involves full-court presses or traps, where defenders intensely pressure the ball handler and attempt to force turnovers or rushed passes. This defensive strategy can lead to steals, shot clock violations, or forced turnovers, giving the defending team more opportunities to maintain possession and score.

5. Smart shot selection

To maintain possession, teams must have a disciplined approach to shot selection. Taking reckless or low-percentage shots increases the likelihood of missed opportunities, offensive rebounds for the opponent, and turnovers. Teams should prioritize high-percentage shots, such as layups or open jump shots, that have a higher likelihood of scoring.

Critical aspects of smart shot selection include players understanding their own capabilities and limitations, recognizing when to pass up a shot in favor of a better option, and being patient enough to wait for the right opportunity. Coaches play a crucial role in teaching players about shot selection and instilling a team-first mentality.

By employing these strategies for maintaining possession in basketball, teams can increase their chances of success, control the flow of the game, and create more scoring opportunities. Possession is key, and teams that prioritize it will typically have an edge over their opponents.

Importance of possession in basketball games

In basketball, possession refers to which team has control of the ball. It is a vital aspect of the game as it directly impacts a team’s ability to score and prevent the opposing team from scoring. Possession can be gained through various means, such as winning the opening tip-off, grabbing a rebound, or stealing the ball from the opposing team.

The possession of the ball determines the offensive opportunities a team has, as well as the defensive strategies they can employ. A team with possession has the chance to take shots, execute plays, and score points. On the other hand, the team without possession must focus on defending, preventing the opposing team from scoring, and regaining control of the ball.

The importance of possession in basketball games can be highlighted through the following points:

  • Scoring Opportunities: Possession allows a team to create scoring opportunities by taking shots and making baskets. The more possessions a team has, the more chances they have to score points and increase their overall score.
  • Momentum and Flow: Possession can affect the momentum and flow of a basketball game. When a team maintains possession, they can build momentum and gain confidence, leading to better performance and increased chances of success.
  • Control and Strategy: Possession enables a team to control the pace and flow of the game. They can choose to play fast-paced or slow-paced, dictate the tempo, and utilize different offensive strategies to outsmart the defense.
  • Defensive Advantage: Possession matters to the defensive side as well. By gaining possession, a team can disrupt the opponent’s offensive rhythm, force turnovers, and limit their scoring opportunities.
  • Game Management: Possession is crucial for managing the game effectively. It allows teams to control the clock, make strategic decisions, and maintain or extend their lead. Understanding possession situations and making the most of them is crucial for successful game management.
  • Psychological Impact: Possession can have a psychological impact on both teams. The team with possession feels a sense of control and confidence, while the team without possession may face pressure and frustration, leading to mistakes and decreased performance.

Differences in possession between different basketball leagues

When it comes to possession in basketball, there are some differences between different leagues that can affect the flow of the game and the strategies employed by teams. These variations in possession rules can greatly impact the outcome of a game and the overall playing style of teams. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key differences in possession between various basketball leagues.

1. Shot clock duration

One significant difference in possession rules across different basketball leagues is the duration of the shot clock. The shot clock is a timer that limits the amount of time a team has to attempt a shot. In the NBA, the shot clock is set to 24 seconds, which encourages a fast-paced style of play and quick decision-making. On the other hand, in FIBA (International Basketball Federation) games, the shot clock is set to 14 seconds, promoting even faster play and increasing the overall intensity of the game.

2. Possession after a jump ball

Another difference in possession rules can be seen in what happens after a jump ball situation. In the NBA, the team that wins the jump ball is awarded the first possession of the game and the second half. In contrast, in FIBA games, the team that loses the jump ball is given the first possession, while also having the advantage of winning the jump ball to start the second half. This difference can slightly alter the overall strategic approach to initial possessions and can impact the tempo of the game.

3. Possession after a missed shot

  • In the NBA, the team that obtains the offensive rebound after a missed shot is granted a fresh shot clock and another opportunity to score, giving them an extended possession.
  • In FIBA games, however, there is no reset of the shot clock after an offensive rebound. This means that teams have a limited amount of time to take a subsequent shot after securing an offensive rebound, which can lead to quicker offensive decisions and increased intensity.

4. Possession after a live ball turnover

  • In the NBA, if a team turns the ball over during live play, the opposing team gains possession, and the shot clock is reset. This rule provides the team that gained possession an opportunity to orchestrate a new offensive play.
  • Conversely, in FIBA games, a live ball turnover results in an immediate change of possession, without resetting the shot clock. This rule not only provides the opposing team with a strategic advantage but also puts greater emphasis on the importance of protecting and securing the basketball.

5. Possession after a dead ball turnover

  • In the NBA, a dead ball turnover occurs when a team commits a violation or a referee stops play. In these cases, the opposing team is awarded possession, and the shot clock is reset.
  • Similarly to live ball turnovers, in FIBA games, dead ball turnovers also result in an immediate change of possession but without resetting the shot clock. This rule encourages teams to quickly transition from defense to offense and capitalize on turnovers.

Overall, the differences in possession rules between different basketball leagues contribute to the unique playing styles and strategies in each league. These variations not only add excitement and variety to the game but also require teams and players to adapt their tactics accordingly. Understanding these differences is crucial for both fans and players to fully grasp the intricacies of the game at different levels and appreciate the nuances of possession in basketball.

Frequently Asked Questions about How Does Possession Work in Basketball

What is possession in basketball?

In basketball, possession refers to which team has control of the ball at any given time during the game. It determines which team can attempt to score and is a fundamental aspect of the sport.

How is possession determined in basketball?

Possession is initially determined by a jump ball at the beginning of the game. After that, possession alternates between teams when a successful field goal is made, with the opposing team taking the ball out of bounds. Possession also changes when the ball goes out of bounds, a violation or foul occurs, or during certain game situations, such as free throws.

What happens if a player loses possession of the ball in basketball?

If a player loses possession of the ball, either through a turnover, a steal by the opposing team, or another violation, the opposing team gains possession and has the opportunity to score. It is crucial for teams to maintain ball control and minimize turnovers to increase their chances of winning the game.

Can possession change during a single possession in basketball?

Yes, possession can change during a single possession in basketball. This can occur if there is a turnover or steal, or if the offensive team attempts a field goal and misses, resulting in a defensive rebound. Possession can also change if a player commits a violation or a foul is called against them.

What happens if the ball goes out of bounds in basketball?

If the ball goes out of bounds, possession is awarded to the team that did not touch the ball last. The opposing team will then inbound the ball to resume play. Out-of-bounds situations can happen along the sidelines or baseline, and teams often try to force their opponents to turn the ball over in these situations.

Closing Thoughts

Understanding how possession works in basketball is essential for players, coaches, and fans alike. It influences the flow of the game and can significantly impact the outcome. Whether it’s the jump ball at the beginning, turnovers, or out-of-bounds situations, possession is constantly changing hands. We hope these FAQs have helped shed some light on this crucial aspect of basketball. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back soon for more basketball insights!

Categories FAQ