What Is Pickup Basketball? Rules & Tips

Basketball is a global sport played by millions of people worldwide, including boys and girls, young and old tall and short, shooters and slashers, professionals, and amateurs.

Almost every demographic is represented in the game that we all love. So, it’s no surprise to see basketball courts anywhere you go and try to play a good-old pickup basketball game.

But what exactly is pickup basketball, and how can you play it?

Pickup basketball is a game organized quickly by groups of players for a friendly or competitive game of basketball on indoor and outdoor courts. There are no referees, game clock, or shot clock, so calls for fouls and violations are called by the players themselves or not at all.

Now, let’s look at how you can play a pickup basketball game.

What is Pickup Basketball?

Unlike professional and college basketball, where players are trained to play organized team basketball, pickup basketball is not as organized or may even be chaotic.

Pickup basketball is a game played in open courts where players or teams can join in building two groups. It can be one-on-one, three-on-three, or the standard five-on-five match.

The standard rules like traveling, fouls, and out-of-bounds violations are still mostly followed but will be significantly diminished since no referee is watching for every wrong movement of players. Some violations may not even be called, like clock violations since there is no game clock and shot clock.

What is the Scoring System for Pickup Basketball?

Players playing pickup

A game will end once a team reaches either 11, 15, or 21 points, depending on what the teams agreed on. Typically, a three-point field goal will only be worth two points, while a two-point field goal will only be one point. And-1s are also commonly non-existent in pickup basketball games.

Teams sometimes agree that aside from the target score, a two-point lead should also be established to win, similar to volleyball.

What are the Rules in Pickup Basketball?

Though pickup basketball games are unorganized and no referee or management overlooks how the game is played, still, some unwritten rules need to be followed.

Here are some rules that are typically followed but can still be changed.

1. Each team should have an equal number of members

Depending on what kind of game the players agreed on, teams will most likely have an equal number of players. The most common pickup basketball game is five-on-five. Three-on-three games are also fairly common.

2. Respect the call

Since no referees or officials are facilitating the game, most of the calls will be called by the players. This means that most of the calls will be biased. However, you will still need to respect the calls to avoid escalations that may sometimes take a violent turn.

Foul calls are the most common violation that still applies in pickup basketball. So, if players start calling for fouls, respect the call and proceed to the next play, even if it gets annoying.

Many violations are also overlooked during pickup games, particularly those involving a shot clock and game clock.

3. Respect the bounds of the court

The court used in a pickup basketball game is a regular basketball court, so out-of-bounds violation still applies. However, if court lines are already erased, the out-of-bounds may be designated by the players or not at all. For three-on-three games, the half-court is enough.

How Long is a Pickup Basketball Game?

The duration of a pickup basketball game is not fixed, unlike in the NBA, which lasts around two to three hours. For pickup basketball, the game’s length will be determined by the score. So, the quicker teams score the ball, the faster the game will end.

For example, if players agree to play until 21, the team who scores 21 first will win. Since this is based on the score and not the time, the actual game length is not fixed. It can be as quick as half-hour or more than an hour.

How to Find Pickup Basketball games?

Pickup games are relatively easy to find, especially nearby basketball courts. You must show up and hope they are short of players so you may join. Players are selected from a pool of participants.

Usually, teams are established based on skills or appearance. Free throws can also be used to decide who plays first.

How Tall Do You Need to be to Play Pickup Basketball?

Basketball is usually a game for tall people, but it doesn’t mean that shorter people can’t join the fun. Unlike in the NBA, where the average player height is 6’7″, pickup basketball allows players of all heights to play, especially if they’re skilled.

Are Pickup Basketball Games Violent?

Pickup basketball games are supposed to be friendly games with just enough competitiveness. However, since there is a lot of betting, trash-talking, physicality, and even cheating during games, a friendly game can quickly escalate to violence.

However, this is not always the case. Many pickup basketball games, especially the friendlier ones, are played primarily as exercise.

Top 9 Tips to Get Better at Pickup Basketball

Boy shooting the ball

Since pickup basketball is commonly just a bunch of random players wanting to have a game or two, there is usually no team chemistry.

Because of the lack of familiarity with teammates during games, the only thing you can do is to improve yourself. Here are some tips on how to get better in pickup basketball.

1. Perfect your free throws

Free throws are crucial in pickup basketball because they can decide who will and will not play.

For example, the new team will comprise the first five players to hit their free throws. So, it is still a helpful skill even if there are no and-1s in pickup games.

2. Master your shots and go-to moves

Every basketball player has signature moves and favorite areas to shoot around the court. So it would be great if you could master your shots and moves – not to impress the other guys, but to have scoring options.

Think of mastering your shots like Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Skyhook, and Michael Jordan’s Fadeaway Jump Shots.

3. Use your size advantage

If you’re tall, take the ball to the low post and score closer to the basket. If you’re small but quick, leave the defender in the dust. If you’re wide, use it to get a better position. Know how to use your body to your team’s advantage.

4. Share the ball

Nobody wants to play with a ball hog or someone who keeps shooting the ball as soon as he receives it. Players who share the ball and make great passes are likelier to be called back than those who keep shooting bricks.

5. Get it on the defensive end

Every pickup basketball player wants a good challenge on the defensive end, so it would be great to show off some defensive moves.

6. Hustle for the boards

Everybody wants to play with a great rebounder because it is easier to have scoring opportunities once the team secures the ball. This skill is more expected if you are a tall player.

7. Be physical and expect others to be physical as well

Basketball is physical, but pickup basketball can add another level of physicality to the game. Since there are no referees, fouls can be harder and, in the heat of the game, unnecessary. So, be prepared to get hurt when playing pickup games as the phrase common to streetball says, no blood, no foul.

8. Wear proper clothing

Make sure that when playing pickup basketball, do not overdress. You don’t need to have two shooting sleeves, two knee protectors, and a headband. It will even be ironic if you’re game is not that good. Basketball shoes, shorts, and a jersey are enough.

9. Be confident but stay cool

Trash talking is common in pickup basketball, which sometimes causes an unnecessary clash in the game. So, it is important to get your head in the game. The best way to shut the trash talkers is to play better than them.

How Many Calories do you Burn Playing Pickup Basketball?

According to the Calorie Burn Calculator of the University of Rochester Medical Center, the average person playing a basketball game for an hour will approximately burn between 575 to 775 calories per hour. In comparison, the average American weighs around 200 lbs and is estimated to burn 768 calories in an hour of playing a basketball game.

However, this is only the average calorie burn rate and will change depending on a player’s activity. For example, a player who keeps running and always takes the ball hard to the basket will burn more calories than a player waiting for an outlet pass in the three-point area.

To better understand the 768 calories into perspective, a McDonald’s Cheeseburger Combo meal is 830 calories. This means that 1 hour of playing basketball is almost as much as burning your previous meal.

Final Thoughts

Pickup basketball is a game for everyone. It can be entertaining but, at the same time, physical and intense. It is also a great way to keep your body moving while having fun.

So, when playing pickup basketball, enjoy the moment playing the game that you love.

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