What is the Perimeter in Basketball?

There are many different parts to a basketball court. Though their terminology is not incredibly important for those just starting out, learning about each section is critical in both better understanding how offenses work, as well as creating a deeper knowledge of the game.

The following article goes over the part of the court known as the perimeter by looking at its history, how it operates, as well as why it’s so important in a modern context.

The Sections

In order to understand the perimeter, it’s important to break down the anatomy of a basketball court. There are many lines criss-crossing around the hardwood, and they all mean something.

First, the rectangular box that surrounds the basket is known as the key. That’s where big men play, and it’s the area where most rebounds occur. The arc that goes around the hoop is the three point line. As the name suggests, shots beyond it count as three points rather than two.

The space between both of those areas is known as the perimeter. That means any part of the court that sits inside the three point line and outside of the key. If a player is outside the three line, they’re on the exterior. If their foot is on the line, however, they’re still on the perimeter.

A Brief Reign

The perimeter can only exist with a three point line. That means it didn’t fully exist until the league created the exterior in the 1970’s. Before that, there was no traditional perimeter. The phrase just referred to the area outside the key.

The way players used the perimeter also shifted over time. When it first came about, players (including Michael Jordan) made a killing by using pull up shots or turn around jumpers at the perimeter to attack soft zone defenses or overpower their opponent in man.

That then led to the rise of perimeter defenders as well. Many athletes made a living by effectively guarding out away from the key and using their prowess to keep the offense away from the basket. However, that era only lasted so long. Pretty soon, long range shots took over.

The Modern Usage

Perimeter shots tend to be long twos. That used to be effective, but such attempts are not terribly useful in modern basketball. Even so, that doesn’t mean the perimeter isn’t useful in its own way.

As analytics puts an extra emphasis on three point shots, teams have used the perimeter less and less over the years. Long gone are the days of pure midrange players, who only use the perimeter to score. Rather, most guards do their work beyond the three line.

Still, there are a few ways teams still make use of the perimeter. 

Most effective offenses in today’s basketball run stretch options with a lot of motion. That means some players sit out on the wing, while others freely move around the perimeter. It’s a key space in such offenses, and helps create a lot of good screens and open shots.

Beyond that, there are some drive-first guards who start in the perimeter before attacking the basket. Moving from the three line is easy enough, but being a step or two closer to the basket makes layups and dribble moves much easier.

Final Words

The perimeter is a section of the court that, once widely used, has greatly fallen out of favor due to the rise of the three. Still, it plays an integral part in many modern offenses and is useful for spacing the floor. It may not be as popular for shooting, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless.

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