What is an Air Ball in Basketball?

There are many types of shots in basketball, but some are much better than others. They can go into the hoop in a variety of different ways, but they can miss in various ways too. Knowing that distinction is critical to better understanding the sport.

This guide expands on that by breaking down and explaining air balls. Going over that specific style of shot will give more insight into, not just offense, but the rules of basketball as a whole.

Different Ways to Make and Miss

Basketball is a game of shots. There are many types, and they all differ depending on where they hit the hoop. When a shot goes into the basket and only hits the net, completely avoiding both the backboard and rim, it’s called a swish.

A shot that goes into the hoop and only touches the rim and net, is simply known as a make. If a shot hits the backboard and then bounces into the hoop, it’s called a bank shot

If a shot hits the rim or backboard and doesn’t go in, it’s known as a miss. However, if a shot goes up and misses without hitting any part of the hoop (including net, rim, and backboard) it’s known as an air ball

Nothing but Air

Air balls get their name from the fact that they only touch air. The shot is as bad of a miss as a player can make, which is why they’re so rare. They’re also pretty rare.

Most air balls happen on extremely long shots, when a player doesn’t quite have the power to push a shot all the way to the basket, or from the corners where there’s no backboard to hit if the ball goes too far.

It’s also important to note that tipped or blocked shots do not count as air balls. Air balls only occur when a player misses the entire basket without the ball touching any defender.

On top of that, a player also cannot catch their own air ball. If they do, even on a short layup, it counts as a travel. This move rarely comes up, and it’s more instinct than anything else, but it’s yet another way the shot can lead to issues for the offense.

No Second Chances

At their core, air balls seem to be similar to other missed shots. They don’t award any points to the shooter and are often the result of good defense. However, they are much, much worse than a normal miss for a variety of reasons.

When a normal shot misses, it hits the rim or the backboard. That keeps it in play, which gives the offense a second chance. They can rebound the ball, kick it back out, and reset their team for another scoring opportunity. With an air ball, that’s not the case.

Air balls are not just bad misses, they also tend to go straight out of bounds or directly into a defender’s arms. In that way, they take away second opportunities from the offense. Missed shots don’t always lead to a change of possession, but air balls almost always do.

The offense can rebound or catch an air ball, but that’s extremely rare due to court positioning. Defenders down low tend to be in a much better position to make a play. 

Final Words

An air ball is statistically the worst shot in basketball. Not only is it a miss, but it typically leads to a turnover. It’s a shot everyone wants to avoid, but it does happen every now and then. Cutting down on air balls makes a player, as well as their offense, much more efficient.

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