Where is the Elbow on a Basketball Court?

Basketball courts are easily recognizable, but not everyone knows the terminology or the individual pieces of the hardwood. Some of the many lines crossing the floor might be obvious, but there are quite a few that are much harder to define.

The following article looks at one of the most critical parts of the court in the elbow. It breaks down what that term means within the sport, why it exists, how it’s been used, as well as its importance throughout the history of the game.

Crossing Lines

The best way to understand the elbow is to cover the various areas that makeup a basketball court. There are several lines, and they all designate different areas of the space. 

The arc that runs around the exterior is the three-point line. Any shot beyond that line counts as three points and anything inside it counts as two. Moving closer to the hoop, the rectangle that goes around the basket is known as the key. The space between them is called the perimeter.

There is also a line that goes across the top of the key a few feet down from the three point arc. That’s known as the free throw line. Where that line intersects with the corners of the key (on both sides) is known as the elbow. There’s one on the right side, and one on the left.

A Key Spot

The elbow is not a specific place in the same way the three point line or key are, nor is it something that’s clearly defined on the court. Still, it’s a critical part of basketball terminology, and is a place that’s utilized by a range of different teams in a range of different ways.

Zone defenses typically have two players at the top of the key, one on each elbow, while man defenses like to have players focus on that area when moving across the court. Not only that, but the elbow is a good place for offenses to set up, or where midrange players shoot.

The corners of the key are where a lot of the interior action happens on the court, which makes them important towards the flow of any half-court offense.

The Long Forgotten Space

Players simply don’t use the elbow like they used to. While it was once one of the most important parts of pick-and-roll offenses, and where big men used to operate from the triple threat position, the rise of the three pointer has made it much less important.

Teams now run pick and roll style offenses from the three line, and the five spread has players typically around the three line and away from the key. In the past, many offenses would run through the elbow. Now, they work around it rather than going inside.

Not only that, but there were quite a few forwards and centers who made their entire career off of spotting up at the elbow. They would pull up, drive down, or kick the ball over to outside shooters when the opportunity arose.

That position simply doesn’t exist in the same way anymore. Big men are much more shooting oriented than they once were, and the ones that aren’t go to work down low rather than at the top of the key.

Final Words

The elbow, similar to most parts of the key, is a part of the court that is not as useful as it used to be. Even so, it still has a key place in current basketball. It’s a critical part of many teams’ success and will always play a role in half court sets. It’s forgotten a bit, but definitely not gone.

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