What is the Baseline in Basketball? (Meaning & Strategies)

Knowing the parameters in which you can work in is important for every sport. In basketball, to be a good player it’s essential to know the distinctions of different parts of the basketball court. As a viewer, it’s not as important for you but having the knowledge will help you know what announcers are talking about when they specify areas of the court as the game is going and during play analysis. As a player, having this knowledge will help you understand game strategies, which is obviously an important part of the game outside of athletic basketball skills. The baseline is also sometimes referred to as the end line and is a significant marking on the court that can be worked into strategies that when executed, can be easy points for a team. The baseline is a boundary on the floor and often used both defensively and offensively.

What is the Baseline?

In basketball, the baseline is the boundary line that runs along the court’s edges (the sidelines) on the sides behind the baskets. The baselines are marked four feet from behind the basket. It is the separation marker between the area of play and the out-of-bounds area. This is an important boundary line for players and the ball. As mentioned earlier, the baseline is also called the end line. The baseline and end line are two terms that are used interchangeably depending on which team has possession of the ball. The offensive end of the court refers to the baseline while the back court and defensive end court are referring to the end line.

Baseline Boundaries

The out-of-bounds area is simple to differentiate from the area of play because of its markings, but while playing a player might step on or over the boundary lines if they aren’t paying attention. There are four boundary lines on the court that will make the player and the ball out of bounds when they fall under it. These boundary lines are the baseline, end line, and sidelines. If a ball or player with possession of the ball touches any of the four boundary lines it is considered out of bounds and results in the ball being turned over to the opposing team. What qualifies as touching the boundary lines includes any part of a player’s body touching it/going over it or the ball touching the lines while the player has possession of it.

All out-of-bounds calls in the baseline by the referees result in the opposing team gaining possession of the ball with an attempt to inbound the ball (getting the ball back into the boundary lines) under the basket. The referees decide who will inbound the ball, which is usually the player of the opposing team who is nearest to the area in which the ball went out of bounds. There are only five seconds available for the player who will inbound the ball to pass the ball to their teammates inside so this must be done quickly.

The end line (this is the same line as the baseline) is used after every inbound ball that a basket is made. Every time the offensive team makes the basket, the defensive team will take the ball out of bounds at the end line. The defensive player is now the inbounder and can move along the line as much or as little as they want before throwing the ball in, but it must be done carefully because if they cross it will be considered a violation. The ball must be inbounded within five seconds at most, and if inbounded successfully the team of the inbounder is now the offensive team. The ball can be considered out of bounds if the inbounder hits the back of the backboard when they are throwing in the ball. This will result in the opposing team gaining possession of the ball. Basically, when this happens think of the ball being thrown inbound but hitting the backboard making it go out of bounds, that’s why the other team will gain possession of the ball when they just previously lost possession.

Although inbounding seems like a rather simple thing to do, it can be tricky if the opposing team is tightly defending any inbound passes under the basket. This can result in a quick score for the defending team because they are near their assigned basket. Every team must have plays ready when they inbound that strategically think of every player on the team possibly being an inbounder.

Baseline Strategies

The basics of inbounding when it comes to the baseline are straightforward, but there is more to the baseline than simply inbounding after the opposing team successfully makes a shot. There are offensive and defensive strategies that work with the baseline. Offensive baseline plays can result in easy buckets: baseline cut, backdoor cut, and baseline screen. Defensive baseline plays can result in missed points and possession of the ball: force baseline and force middle.

Force Baseline

This is a defensive strategy that is most commonly known as the sixth defender strategy. The reason it is called the sixth defender is because the boundary is stationary, it never moves, and it is a boundary that the player with possession of the ball can not cross. The offensive player then is trapped and forced to move down the sideline towards the corner of the court. When this happens, to make sure the player that posses the ball does not get between the defender and the baseline, the defender will cut off the baseline and position their feet to block. The offensive player is now trapped by walls formed by the defender and baseline which will make it difficult to get around the defender. The rest of the defensive team, while this is happening, will rotate around and trap the offensive player in the corner.

Baseline Cut

This is a common offensive strategy used in all leagues. Using this strategy will result in an easy layup, floater, or makes the players on the three-point line open up. It is easier to understand this play by seeing it in action. Here is Matthew Wright of the ABL in 2016 making a baseline cut and layup.

Force Middle

This is a defensive strategy where the defensive team will force the offensive team’s players to the middle of the court or the paint. The paint is the shaped area underneath the basket that is painted in a different color than the rest of the court (hence the name paint) going from the baseline to the free throw line. The offensive team will be surrounded and the defensive team will intercept cut off passes or block any shot attempts. As a strategy, force middle works more effectively if you have a good shot blocker on the team. Counterattacks can be made with this strategy if the baseline isn’t guarded well resulting in baseline cuts, backdoor cuts, and baseline screens. These three strategic plays will result in the opposing team getting points, easy points at that.

Backdoor Cut

The backdoor cut is an offensive strategy where a player fakes a move towards one direction, typically towards the ball handler, then places their feet and cuts to the opposite direction behind the defender’s back. This is usually towards the basket and can lead to quick points if done at the baseline or it will leave a player wide open.

Baseline Screen

This is a screen that is played right near the baseline and results in easy points if done correctly. How it works is that a player will set a pick or screen near the baseline and their teammate will run between the screen. Once their teammate has run between the screen the defender of the screener will have their focus shifted on the runner which will leave the screener wide open. Easy buckets.

Offensive Baseline Plays Executed

One of the most iconic baseline plays happened in the 1980 finals 76ers vs Lakers. 76ers’ player Julius Erving. Also known as Dr. J, performed a beautiful baseline scoop.

Another solid offensive baseline play happened in a 2013 Celtics vs Hawks game. Here you can see Celtics forward Jeff Green drive the baseline and throw a one-handed reverse dunk.

Final Words

The baseline and end line are very easy to spot on the court and are more than just boundary lines when you think strategically. The baseline can lead to very easy points for offensive teams with the baseline screen, back door cut and baseline cut if they are executed properly. The baseline can be a team’s friend or enemy depending on if they are using it strategically to get points or defend against points as well as if the ball goes out of bounds. Knowing the boundary lines is necessary for players no matter if they are thinking strategically about them or not.

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