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Laker Film Room: How to Read Basketball Play Diagrams

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Because fans should work on their game during the offseason too.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

So you’ve seen one of these before, right?

If that’s enough to make your eyes glaze over, the following video is for you. Basketball has a language all its own that’s been developed over the last 100 years. Sometimes it takes the form of unfamiliar terminology, and in other instances, it manifests itself as short-hand designed to communicate a series of ideas to players and coaches in a short period of time, such as a 30-60 second timeout.

We’re beginning the dog days of August, where NBA news is scarce and the boredom leads to takes as hot and dusty as the weather. Let’s use this time to get our basketball brains in the gym just like we want the Lakers’ players to be. With that in mind, this video will be part one of a series between now and training camp that is intended to improve our collective knowledge of how the game works.

Let’s take a closer look at how to read basketball play diagrams.

To recap here’s the legend:

Numbers 1 through 5 = Offensive players

Circle around a number = The ball-handler

Numbers x1 through x5 = Defenders (numbers 1-5 can be put in triangles to indicate defenders too)

Solid line = Player movement

Squiggly line = Dribbling

Dotted line = Pass

Perpendicular line = Screen

Hash mark = Handoff

Hopefully the next time you see a play diagram, you won’t scroll right past it.

The goal of Laker Film Room is to create content that helps you enjoy the game on a deeper level. If you’d like to support that work, you can do so on Patreon or Venmo.