What Is a Field Goal in Basketball? The Ultimate Guide


Man in a white shirt shooting a basketball over another man in a white shirt at a park.

When playing basketball, the whole idea is to score more points than the opposing team. Of course, that’s only possible when your team scores field goals consistently, frequently and efficiently. Without field goals, you won’t score a lot of points.

So, what is a field goal in basketball?

A field goal refers to any two-point or three-point shot taken by a basketball player during a live game. Free throws are not considered a field goal in basketball. The number of field goals made and field goal percentage play a major role in determining a player’s efficiency on the court.

With so many different ways to score a field goal in basketball, most players specialize in scoring in one or two different ways. The best players in any league, however, know how to score in a variety of ways.

Field Goals in Basketball

When you think about it, the term ‘field goal’ might not make much sense to most basketball players. Basketball players score baskets and play on a court, they don’t score goals or play on a field. It’s also the same term used in American football – which describes a play that’s worth three points.

While that might seem confusing, the term ‘field goal’ is an extremely old term in basketball and was adopted back when the court was called the ‘field of play’ and baskets were called ‘goals’.

Over time, the sport adopted ‘baskets’ and ‘court’, but decided to keep the ‘field goal’ term.

As we mentioned above, a field goal is any two-point or three-point shot taken by an offensive player. The only shot in basketball that isn’t considered a field goal is a free throw, which has its own statistical category.

On a stat sheet, field goals are represented as ‘FG’ and there are three main statistics players keep track of when measuring field goal efficiency — field goals made (FGM), field goals attempted (FGA), and field goal percentage (FG%). You might see or hear FG% represented as ‘shooting percentage’.

There are plenty of ways to make a field goal and even more variations of those ways, but they are largely broken up into two categories — two-point field goals and three-point field goals.

When you see ‘FG’ on a stat sheet, it refers to both two-point and three-point field goals. The three-point field goal, on the other hand, is represented as ‘3PM’, ‘3PA’ and ‘3P%’.

It doesn’t matter which category a field goal falls in; three things must happen before it’s called a field goal by the ref:

  • Both of your feet need to be inbounds when the ball leaves your hand (or when your feet leave the ground).
  • The ball needs to leave your hands before the 24-second shot clock expires (30 seconds in college).
  • The ball must be scored in your team’s basket, otherwise the points will count for the other team.

Let’s take a deeper look at each category of field goals and all the different ways you can score a field goal, starting with the ones worth two points.

How to Score 2 Points in Basketball

College basketball player in a white jersey shoots over a defending player in a black jersey.

Two-point field goals are any shot — other than a free throw — taken on or inside the three-point line. If a player has either foot on the three-point line when they begin their shot, it’s considered a two-point field goal.

When inside the three-point line, there are a variety of ways to attempt a two-point field goal. Let’s take a look at the most common:

  • Layup – a layup is when an offensive player drives to the basket and attempts a two-point field goal from inside the paint area without making contact with the rim.
  • Dunk – a dunk is when an offensive player attempts a two-point field goal by leaping under the basket and hanging on the rim for an emphatic finish.
  • Hook – a hook shot is when an offensive player attempts a two-point field goal with one hand extended away from the defender and shot over their head.
  • Floater – a floater is when an offensive player drives to the basket, but suddenly stops mid-drive to float the ball as high as it needs to go to make it past the defense.
  • Jump Shot – a jump shot is when an offensive player attempts a two-point field goal by shooting the ball from wherever they are on the court (inside the three-point line).

Any of the above examples count as an attempted field goal in basketball and have the possibility of counting as a made field goal if the ball goes in the basket. Of course, there are also variations of the above field goals that should be mentioned as well.

For example, jump shots are categorized as a normal jump shot, fadeaway jump shot, turnaround jump shot, leaning jump shot and a bank shot (if it goes off the backboard before going in the basket or hitting the rim).

Layups are categorized as an underarm or overarm layup, while dunks are categorized as a standing dunk, alley-oop, tomahawk, windmill, and much more (depending on the creativity of players).

It doesn’t matter what the variation is, it’s considered a field goal as long as it’s a two-point shot. 

How to Score 3 Points in Basketball

Now that you understand what two-point field goals are, let’s discuss three-point field goals. For a field goal to be considered a three-point field goal, an offensive player needs to shoot the ball with his feet behind the three-point line. It won’t count as a three-pointer if the player has a foot on the line.

Don’t be fooled, the three-point line isn’t a straight line — it’s an arc. In the NBA, the center (top) of the arc is located 23’9’’ from the center of the basket. On the baseline, the arc is located 22’0’’ from the center of the basket.

These numbers are smaller in International Basketball Federation (FIBA) play, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), college basketball, and leagues below that.

The main way a player attempts a three-point field goal is with a jump shot, largely because of how difficult it is to attempt a layup (or dunk) without stepping inside the three-point line.

Players also attempt three-point field goals by utilizing a variation of the jump shot, such as the ones described above.

Hook shots happen from time to time, but only when the shot clock is dwindling down and the player can’t get a better shot — same with the floater.

To avoid confusion, there’s a difference between a three-point field goal and a three-point play. A three-point play occurs when an offensive player is fouled by the defense in the act of attempting (and making) a two-point field goal.

The offensive player is then awarded one free throw (an ‘and-one’), giving them the opportunity at a three-point play.

If the player makes the ensuing free throw, it doesn’t count as a three-point field goal on the stat sheet. Instead, it is recorded as a two-point field goal and one free throw (‘FT’ on the stat sheet).

On the other hand, the field goal isn’t recorded at all if the player misses the shot. Instead, they’re rewarded with two free throws.

In the event an offensive player is fouled while attempting a three-point field goal and they make the shot, it gets counted as a 3PM and the player is awarded one free throw.

If the player misses the three-point field goal and is fouled, they’re awarded three free throws — the field goal doesn’t get recorded, though.

What Is Field Goal Percentage?

Basketball hoop at the park with city skyline in the background.

When measuring a basketball player’s efficiency on the court, there aren’t many statistics that are more important than field goal percentage. There are both basic ways of calculating this statistic and more advanced ways of calculating it.

The basic way of calculating it is by dividing the number of field goals made by the number of field goals attempted, then multiplying by 100. For a clearer look at this:

(field goals made) / (field goals attempted) x 100 = field goal percentage

When calculating field goal percentage, you use all field goals made or attempted in the game. That means both two-point field goals and three-point field goals, but no free throws.

Since three-pointers are more difficult than two-pointers, they also get their own statistical category (3P%) when measuring shooting percentage.

It’s always a good idea to track and monitor your field goal percentage and three-point percentage, whether in a game or while practicing. While you want to be efficient when on the court, you also want to be consistent. Finding that balance is one of the harder things to do as a basketball player.

Of course, you’ll need to know what to aim for when monitoring your percentages. To ensure you set the right goals for yourself, let’s take a look at what your expected field goal percentage should be from each area of the court — short-range, mid-range, and long-range.

Short-Range Shots in Basketball

Short-range field goals are those that are taken from inside the paint area. For those unaware, the paint area is the large box underneath the basket and is often painted a different color than the rest of the court.

It is 16’ wide in the NBA (12’ wide in college) and extends 15’ from the backboard.

In theory, short-range field goals are the easiest field goals to make. Although some are more difficult than others, being that close to the rim has plenty of advantages and players need to ensure they make use of those advantages.

When shooting short-range field goals inside the restricted area, you should make between 60-75% of them — if not more. When shooting short-range field goals in the paint area (non-restricted area), you should be making 40-50% of them.

Taking a look at the NBA’s 2018-19 season, there were only three players (with 4 or more short-range field goals per game) that shot less than 60% when in the restricted area. There was also only one player that shot better than 75% in the restricted area.

If we look at the paint area (with the restriction area removed), only one player (with more than 1.5 short-range field goals per game) shot less than 40% and only four players shot better than 50% (not including two players that shot 50% exact).

Taking a look at the NBA’s 2017-18 season, only one player shot less than 60% (more than 4 short-range field goals made per game) and only one player shot better than 75% in the restricted area.

If we look at the paint area, only one player shot less than 40% (more than 1.5 short-range field goals made per game) and only two players shot better than 50%.

Mid-Range Shots in Basketball

Now let’s take a look at mid-range shots, which are any shots taken inside the three-point line and outside the paint area — excluding free throws. Mid-range shots aren’t as common as short-range shots or long-range shots, but it’s still important to be efficient when taking them.

For mid-range shots, players should aim for a field goal percentage of around 40-50% if they want to make their coaches and teammates happy.

During the 2018-2019 season, there was only one player (more than 1.5 mid-range field goals made per game) that shot less than 40% and three players that shot better than 50%.

During the 2017-18 season, there were only two players (more than 2 mid-range field goals made per game) that shot less than 40% and only one player that shot above 50%.

Long-Range Shots in Basketball

Man in a black and red jersey pulls up for a jumper.

Long-range shots refer to any shot taken behind the three-point line. Much like how some players in the NBA exclusively shoot short-range and mid-range field goals, other players like to live at the three-point line.

One example of this is Duncan Robinson’s 2019-2020 season with the Miami Heat. He attempted 9.4 field goals per game, 8.3 of which came from behind the three-point line. He also hit them at an incredible clip, making nearly 45% of them.

While not every player is going to hit 45% of their three-point shots, players should aim to hit anywhere from 35-45%. During that same season, there were only two players (more than 2.5 three-point field goals made per game) who shot less than 35% and only one player shot better than 45%.

What Is Effective Field Goal Percentage?

Since three-point field goals are more difficult than two-point field goals (at least from a distance standpoint), many basketball analysts have adopted a different way of calculating field goal percentage — effective field goal percentage.

To calculate effective field goal percentage (eFG%), you first need to add up all the two-point field goals made. Then, multiply the number of three-point field goals made by 1.5 and add that number to the number of two-point field goals made.

Once you have that number (it’s a modified count of your field goals made), divide it by the total number of field goals attempted (not modified at all) and multiply by 100 — voila!

This number will always be higher than your normal field goal percentage and represents your FG% if you only shot two-point field goals. Since three-pointers are more difficult, you should be rewarded more for hitting them often.

And since they’re worth more points, you’re being more effective when on the court — hence the name.

What Is True Shooting Percentage in Basketball?

There’s one more unique way of recording field goal percentage and it’s called true shooting percentage. This one, unlike the others, takes into account free throws. Like effective field goal percentage with three-pointers, true shooting percentage weighs free throws differently.

To calculate true shooting percentage, you first need to multiply the number of free throws attempted by 0.44 and add that number to the total number of field goals attempted — then multiply by 2.

That number will act as the denominator, while the total points scored in the game is the numerator.

Here’s another look:

True shooting percentage = [(total points scored) / (field goals attempted) + (free throws attempted x 0.44) x2] x 100

Here’s an example. Let’s say I score 20 points and shoot 7/14 from the field, including 6/10 from the free throw line.

All we would need to do is multiply the number of free throws attempted (10) by 0.44 (4.4), add that number to the number of field goals attempted (14), and then multiply by 2 (36.8). Now we have the denominator.

The numerator is just the number of points scored, so you’ll just divide 20 by 36.8 (0.54) and then multiply by 100. The true shooting percentage comes to 54%.

True shooting percentage is becoming more popular as more players find themselves at the free throw line. Some players, like James Harden, attempt more than 10 free throws per game.

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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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