Scoring in Basketball: A Guide on How the Point System Works


Male basketball lays up basketball.

The game of basketball has evolved to be one of the most popular sports in the entire world. Originally invented by James Naismith in 1891, the game featured 13 rules and was intended to keep students active during the colder months. Nearly 130 years later, the game has evolved along with the ways players can score.

So, how does scoring work in basketball?

Scoring in basketball revolves around players shooting the ball from various distances and the ball going into the basket. Shooters can earn one point by making a free throw, two points by making a shot inside the three-point line and three points by making a shot beyond the three-point line.

Of course, there are multiple ways of achieving these points, so we’ll discuss each category in greater detail below!

How Do Free Throws Work in Basketball?

Youth basketball players line up for free throw.

The first category we’ll take a look at is the one-point play. There’s only one way to score a single point and that’s with the free throw — which is located 15 feet away from the basket.

As the name suggests, free throws are supposed to be the easiest way to score a point — though it’s also one of the most neglected ways.

Free throws are awarded to a player after a shooting foul occurs. The player shooting the free throw must’ve been in a shooting motion as they were fouled for them to be sent to the free throw line.

The free throw system is an effective way of limiting the amount of fouls that occur throughout the game by rewarding the person that was fouled.

When a shooting foul occurs, the ref will whistle the play dead and motion the player to the free throw line. All the other players on the court will either line up underneath the basket or behind the free throw shooter, which allows the shooter to relax before shooting. The other players must stay still until the shot is up.

Each free throw shot is worth one point, but the shooter will either be rewarded one shot, two shots or three shots. Here’s a look at how this is determined:

  • If the shooter makes the shot as they’re fouled, they receive one shot.
  • If the shooter misses the shot as they’re fouled inside the three-point line, they receive two shots.
  • If the shooter misses the shot as they’re fouled beyond the three-point line, they receive three shots.

As mentioned previously, free throws are meant to be the easiest way to score a point. Unfortunately, lack of practice has led many to underperform at the free throw line.

Different Ways to Score Two Points in Basketball

Basketball players can earn two points in a variety of ways, making it the most common form of scoring in the game.

Here’s a list of the ways a player can score inside the three-point line:

  • Layup – a layup is achieved when the basketball player dribbles the ball inside the paint and gently “lays” the basketball in the basket. In theory, a wide open layup should be the easiest way to score in the middle of a game.
  • Dunk – a dunk is similar to a layup, but occurs when the basketball player throws the ball in the hoop and hangs onto the rim. It’s a more aggressive way of scoring in the paint and is utilized to show force and dominance by bigger players. The alley-oop is also a popular form of dunking.
  • Floater – the floater, similar to a hook shot, has become an extremely important shot in the modern era of basketball. It occurs when the player dribbles toward the rim but instead of attacking the rim, they come to a quick stop and float the ball up in the air. It’s designed to float high enough so the defender can’t block it.
  • Jump Shot – As the name implies, jump shots or “jumpers” involve a player jumping into the air and shooting the basketball. Jump shots are tougher than layups, but are often the most common form of scoring in basketball.

When it comes to the jump shot, there are plenty of different ways to create space. These are highlighted by the fadeaway, the catch-and-shoot, the step-back jump shot, the pull-up jump shot and the bank shot.

The Three-Point Line in Basketball

Professional basketball player shoots basketball.

Fans of basketball today are well-aware of the NBA three-point line as it has quickly become one of the most popular forms of scoring. The three-point shot has become as flashy as it is difficult, despite a wide range of players perfecting the technique.

Believe it or not, the three-point line wasn’t added to the game of basketball until 1979 — nearly 90 years after the game was invented. In the NBA, the arc is located 23 feet and 9 inches away from the basket, with the corners being 22 feet away.

When a shot is made beyond the three-point line, three points are awarded to the shooter. In the event the shooter steps on the three-point line during a shot and the ball goes in the net, only two points are awarded. Likewise, if the shooter draws a foul while shooting a three-pointer, it will result in an extra shot from the free throw line.

Much like the two-point jump shot, the three-point jump shot will come with variations to create more space. While you’ll rarely see a player try a floater or hook shot from the three-point line, there is the possibility of some awkward shots — especially at the end of a quarter when the buzzer sounds.

In some cases, the player might attempt a full-court or half-court shot at the end of the quarter. This will still result in three points, despite the increased difficulty.

What Is an And One in Basketball?

Basketball player goes for layup against defender.

And-ones are difficult to obtain, but they can give a team the spark it needs to make a run. An and-one occurs when a player makes their shot, but is also fouled at the same time. Unlike most shooting fouls, an and-one will only reward the shooter with one free throw shot since they already made the basket.

An and-one will do one of two things for you:

  1. It will give you the opportunity at turning a two-point play into a three-point play.
  2. It will give you the opportunity at turning a three-point play into a four-point play.

In fact, an and-one that occurs on a three-point shot is the only way a player can earn four points in a single play in modern-day basketball. It’s a large reason why you’ll see players try to get off a shot when they’re fouled near the three-point line — even if they’re not ready to shoot.

Even if they miss the shot, they have the opportunity to go to the free throw line and get something out of it.

The Greatest Basketball Players of All Time

Boy shooting basketball as the sun sets.

Over the history of the NBA, which has spanned nearly 75 years, we have seen a wide range of players display elite scoring talent. There’s a reason all the greatest basketball talent in the world comes to the NBA and it’s because that’s where legends are born.

Taking a look at the top-25 greatest scorers in NBA history, only two of them are still actively pursuing an NBA career — and doing well at that. LeBron James (No. 3 all-time) and Carmelo Anthony (No. 17 all-time) both entered the league in 2003 and have enjoyed some of the greatest careers we’ve seen in a long time.

Here’s a full list of the top-25 greatest scorers in NBA history, courtesy of NBA.com:

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 38,387 points
  2. Karl Malone – 36,928 points
  3. LeBron James – 34,087 points**
  4. Kobe Bryant – 33,643 points
  5. Michael Jordan – 32,292 points
  6. Dirk Nowitzki – 31,560 points
  7. Wilt Chamberlain – 31,419 points
  8. Shaquille O’Neal – 28,596 points
  9. Moses Malone – 27,409 points
  10. Elvin Hayes – 27,313 points
  11. Hakeem Olajuwon – 26,946 points
  12. Oscar Robertson – 26,710 points
  13. Dominique Wilkins – 26,668 points
  14. Tim Duncan – 26,496 points
  15. Paul Pierce – 26,397 points
  16. John Havlicek – 26,395 points
  17. Carmelo Anthony – 26,314 points**
  18. Kevin Garnett – 26,071 points
  19. Vince Carter – 25,728 points
  20. Alex English – 25,613 points
  21. Reggie Miller – 25,279 points
  22. Jerry West – 25,192 points
  23. Patrick Ewing – 24,815 points
  24. Ray Allen – 24,505 points
  25. Allen Iverson – 24,368 points

When it comes to active players in today’s NBA — outside of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony — there are plenty of scorers that could find themselves on this list very soon. Kevin Durant (22,940 points) and James Harden (20,723 points) are the closest, but Russell Westbrook (20,315 points) and LaMarcus Aldridge (19,599 points) are right behind them.

If you have dreams of one day being as good of a scorer as these all-time greats, it’ll take immense training and unrivaled dedication. For those that want it bad enough, just keep working hard at it and never give up.

Even the greats work to improve their game each and every day, so don’t neglect the process!

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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