What’s an Inbounds Play in Basketball?

Written by: Basketball Universe

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What’s an Inbounds Play in Basketball?

Welcome to the world of basketball, where strategy and precision are as crucial as athleticism and skill. In this blog post, we’ll be delving into a play frequently seen but often misunderstood, the inbounds play. So, whether you’re a seasoned basketball enthusiast or a newcomer eager to dissect the ins and outs of the inbounds play, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s open up our basketball playbook and explore what makes this particular move such a vital component of the game—because, after all, basketball isn’t merely about putting the ball in the hoop, but also masterfully executing plays that make that possible.

What’s an Inbounds Play in Basketball?

An inbounds play in basketball occurs when a team attempts to put the ball back into play after it goes out of bounds or after a stoppage due to a violation. These plays involve strategically designed movements and passes aimed at creating scoring opportunities or advancing the ball up the court. During an inbounds play, an offensive player, known as the inbounder, has five seconds to pass the ball to a teammate who’s on the court. The inbounder cannot move from the designated spot and must avoid committing a violation to keep possession of the ball.

Understanding Inbounds Plays and Their Importance

Basketball is a fascinating sport that relies heavily on strategy, and inbounds plays hold a crucial role in shaping the flow of the game. These plays require intricate maneuvers, quick thinking, and perfect execution. Whether it’s to initiate a fast break or create a scoring opportunity, it is essential to understand the basics of inbounding plays and the different techniques involved.

Types of Inbounds Plays

Every team has its set of go-to inbounds plays, developed to combat any opposing defense. The plays vary in complexity and style, but their primary goal remains to retain possession and create open shots. Let’s take a closer look at some popular types of inbounds plays.

Baseline out of Bounds (BLOB) Plays

A BLOB play happens when the ball goes out of bounds along the baseline, resulting in an inbounds play under the offensive team’s basket. Coaches typically design a specific set of plays to exploit this advantageous situation. BLOB plays often involve screens, cuts, and timed movements to create confusion among the defenders and open up shot opportunities.

Sideline out of Bounds (SLOB) Plays

When the basketball goes out on the sideline, the team in possession initiates a SLOB play. These plays tend to focus on moving the ball up the court strategically and avoiding pressure from defenders. Teams may create multiple SLOB plays to counter various defensive tactics, such as full-court presses or half-court traps.

Full-Court Inbounds

Full-court inbounds come into play after a score or stoppage. As the name suggests, these plays involve inbounding the ball from one end of the court and moving it across the other end. Full-court inbounds plays help teams break the press, pass the ball ahead, and initiate fast breaks or well-executed offensive sets.

Key Elements of a Successful Inbounds Play

While each inbounds play may differ in its specifics, certain crucial aspects contribute to a play’s success, enabling the offensive team to take advantage of the situation. Here are some key elements to consider when analyzing or designing an effective inbounds play:

Clear Objectives

Each inbounds play should have a clear goal, whether it’s creating a scoring opportunity, escaping from defensive pressure, or setting up a fast break. A well-defined objective directs the offensive players and facilitates better decision-making on the court.

Proper Spacing

Keeping a good distance between players is essential during an inbounds play to stretch the defense and create passing lanes. Close proximity among teammates makes it easier for defenders to switch, double-team, or intercept the ball. Proper spacing demands precise positioning, screening and cutting, and moving without the ball.

Effective Communication

Communication plays a critical role in the execution of any inbounds play. Players must signal to one another or call out verbal cues, such as the name of the play or changes based on the defense’s reaction. Coordinated and timely communication helps in running the play smoothly and minimizing turnovers.

Reading the Defense

Inbounds plays may require adjustments depending on the defenders’ positions and actions. Players should be able to recognize different defensive tactics and react accordingly, such as exploiting openings or switching to another option within the play.

Timing and Precision

Effective inbounds plays demand precise timing and accuracy in both movements and passes. Each player should know when to cut, screen, or receive a pass, and make adjustments on the fly to maintain the flow of the play. In addition, the inbounder must make accurate passes within the five-second time limit to avoid turnovers.

Inbounds Play Strategies and Techniques

Various strategies and techniques can make an inbounds play more effective, and incorporating them into your game will undoubtedly boost your team’s performance. Here are some tactics that can turn any inbounds play into a scoring opportunity or a successful advance up the court:

Using Screens

One of the most common and effective techniques is setting screens to free up teammates for open shots or better passing angles. Players can set on-ball screens, off-ball screens, or even back screens to create confusion among defenders and facilitate uninterrupted execution of the play.

Cutting and Faking

Smart cuts and fakes can make all the difference during an inbounds play. Whether it’s an off-ball cut to the basket or a change of direction to shake a defender, players can create openings and exploit mismatches by incorporating well-timed movements into the play.

Decoy Plays

Decoy plays involve utilizing one or more players to divert the defenders’ attention, allowing another teammate to take advantage of the situation. Designed to deceive the opponents, decoy plays may start with a popular inbounds format before taking an unexpected turn and creating an easy scoring opportunity.

Bouncing the Ball Off a Defender

While rare, a cheeky technique an inbounder can use when trapped is to bounce the ball off an unsuspecting defender who is standing close and then step into bounds to retrieve it. This trick, although risky, can save the possession when done correctly.

Defending Against Inbounds Plays

An essential part of basketball is reacting to and defending against inbounds plays. Teams must be aware of the offensive strategies and be prepared to counter them effectively. Here are some tips on defending inbounds plays:

Scouting and Preparation

Studying your opponents’ inbounds plays beforehand can give your team a significant advantage. Identifying their go-to strategies and understanding the common patterns will help you anticipate their actions and disrupt their plays.

Defensive Schemes

Coaches need to develop specific defensive schemes to counter various inbounds plays. Options include full-court presses, half-court traps, or even zone defenses. Choosing the right defensive strategy for every situation is vital to limiting the offensive team’s scoring opportunities.

Active and Agile Defense

Active and agile defenders can cover more ground, close out passing lanes, and switch with ease during an inbounds play. By applying pressure on the inbounder, anticipating passes, and denying open shots, defenders can reduce the effectiveness of an inbounds play and force turnovers.


Defensive communication is crucial when defending against inbounds plays. Players must call out screens, assignments, and any changes in strategy. Coordinated communication ensures seamless defensive rotations and helps prevent breakdowns that may lead to open shots or easy baskets.

Inbounds plays are a fundamental aspect of the game of basketball, and understanding their nuances can significantly impact a team’s performance. Mastery of these plays can turn seemingly routine situations into prime scoring opportunities or successful advances up the court. By focusing on the key elements of successful inbounds plays, incorporating effective techniques, and honing defensive strategies, you will be well-prepared to tackle any inbounds situation that the game of basketball presents to you.

Drills to Improve Inbounds Play Execution

Developing effective inbounds plays requires practice and repetition. Drills that focus on specific aspects of inbounds plays, such as passing, cutting, and screening, can dramatically improve your team’s overall execution. Here are several drills that can help players sharpen their skills and become more proficient in inbounds situations:

Passing Under Pressure Drill

This drill is designed to help players practice making accurate inbounds passes while under defensive pressure. Assign a player as the inbounder and have a defender closely guarding them. The inbounder must successfully pass the ball to teammates while the defender tries to deny the pass or force a five-second violation. By practicing this drill, players will learn to make quick decisions and accurate passes in real-game inbounds situations.

Screens and Cutting Drill

Efficient screens and cuts can create open passing lanes and scoring opportunities during inbounds plays. Set up a dummy defense with cones or chairs and have your players practice setting screens for one another and cutting to the basket. Emphasize the importance of good timing and spacing, and encourage players to communicate with one another during the drill.

Multiple Options Drill

An inbounds play often requires several options to counter various defensive strategies. In the multiple options drill, assign players different roles within the inbounds play, such as primary, secondary, and tertiary options. Have players practice different variations of the play, focusing on creating opportunities for each role. The goal of the drill is to ensure players can read the defense and react accordingly, adjusting to the best available option.

Defensive Inbounds Drill

To improve the defense’s ability to disrupt inbounds plays, conduct a drill that pits offensive and defensive players against each other in a realistic setting. Assign an inbounder, defenders, and offensive players; then, have the inbounder attempt to pass the ball to their teammates while the defenders try to deny the pass, force a turnover, or create a five-second violation. Make sure defenders communicate and work together to cover passing lanes and switch assignments when necessary.

Inbounds Play Variations for Different Levels of Play

Though the essential principles of inbounds plays remain the same, variations should be considered based on the level of play, such as youth, high school, or professional leagues. Coaches must adjust their inbounds strategies, taking into account the skills, athleticism, and experience of their players. Here are some suggestions for adapting inbounds plays to different levels:

Youth Level

For youth basketball, focus on teaching the fundamentals of inbounds plays, ensuring players understand the basic rules, spacing, and responsibilities. Simplify plays by using fewer screens, cuts, or decoys, and prioritize having fun and fostering a love for the sport.

High School Level

As the level of play increases, so does the complexity of inbounds plays. High school players can handle more advanced strategies, such as multiple screens or complicated decoy plays. Encourage high school athletes to develop a higher basketball IQ and improved decision-making skills while emphasizing communication and teamwork.

College and Professional Level

At the college and professional levels, players possess the mental and physical skills to execute complex plays and read the defense effectively. Coaches can design intricate inbounds plays, factoring in individual player strengths and exploiting matchups. At these levels, scouting and in-depth preparation become crucial, as teams often have extensive knowledge of their opponents’ strategies.


Inbounds plays are an essential aspect of basketball, often making the difference between winning and losing crucial games. By understanding the fundamentals of inbounds plays, implementing effective drills, designing plays for various skill levels, and emphasizing strong communication and teamwork, you can elevate your game and enjoy the exciting moments these plays create on the court.

Frequently Asked Questions

As you dive into the strategic world of inbounds plays in basketball, you may have some questions about the rules or specific situations that could arise during a game. To help you better understand these crucial plays, we’ve compiled a list of commonly asked questions and their answers.

1. What happens if an inbounder takes longer than five seconds to pass the ball?

If the inbounder takes longer than five seconds to pass the ball, it results in a turnover, and the opposing team gains possession.

2. Can an inbounder dribble or move before passing the ball?

An inbounder is not allowed to dribble or take steps while holding the ball. They must remain stationary in the designated spot for the inbounds play. Failure to do so results in a violation and a turnover.

3. Is it possible to score directly from an inbounds pass?

Yes, it is possible to score directly from an inbounds pass, but it is relatively rare. Players can attempt to throw the ball into the basket, and if successful, it counts as a regular field goal for two or three points, depending on the distance.

4. Can the inbounder pass the ball to themselves?

An inbounder can only pass the ball to themselves if they bounce the ball off an opposing player who is standing inbounds, and then retrieve the ball after stepping onto the court. Passing the ball directly to oneself is not allowed.

5. Are there any restrictions on the defender guarding the inbounder?

The defender guarding the inbounder must give them room to make the inbounds pass. They cannot cross the out-of-bounds line or physically touch the inbounder. Violating these rules results in a technical foul on the defender.

6. Can the inbounder be substituted during the inbounds play?

Yes, the inbounder can be substituted during a dead ball situation before the play starts. Once the referee hands the ball to the inbounder and the five-second count begins, substitutions are not allowed.

7. What is a “designated spot throw-in” in basketball?

A designated spot throw-in occurs when the inbounder must pass the ball from a specific location on the court, such as after a made basket, a foul, or a violation. The inbounder must remain stationary during the inbounds pass, keeping one foot on or over the designated spot.

8. Can the inbounder step on the line while making a pass?

The inbounder must have both feet outside the boundary line before attempting a pass. Stepping on or over the line while making the pass results in a violation and a turnover.

9. What happens if the inbounder’s pass touches the boundary line or goes out of bounds?

If the inbounder’s pass touches the boundary line or goes out of bounds without being touched by any player, it is considered a turnover, and the opposing team gains possession.

10. How can teams prevent turnovers during inbounds plays?

Teams can prevent turnovers during inbounds plays by practicing and perfecting their execution, maintaining proper spacing, making quick decisions, and utilizing effective communication. Coaches should also design plays with multiple options to counter various defensive strategies.

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