The field goal stands alongside the free throw as one of basketball’s two fundamental shot types. But what exactly constitutes a field goal, and why are different kinds attempted? This in-depth guide covers everything about field goals in basketball – the types, scoring values, historical evolution, and strategic impacts across levels from NBA to high school.

What is a Field Goal in Basketball?

A field goal (FG) is any basketball shot attempted from the field of play that successfully goes through the hoop and scores points, as opposed to free throw attempts earned at the foul line.

Field goals are the primary form of scoring in basketball, accounting for the majority of points at every level. Executing higher-percentage shots is crucial to team success.

Types of Field Goals

While any basket scored from the floor counts as a field goal, common types include:

  • Jump Shots – Shooting in motion or off the dribble after elevating vertically.
  • Layups – Close shots made in motion near the rim using one or two hands.
  • Dunks – Emphatically throwing the ball down through the basket above the rim.
  • Tip-Ins – Tapping in missed shots off the backboard or rim midair.
  • Fadeaways – Shooting while drifting away from the basket to create space from defenders.

Variety and efficiency in shot types expands an offense’s scoring versatility and potency.

Standard Scoring Value of Field Goals

The standard scoring value for made field goals depends on where they are attempted from:

  • Inside the 3-Point Arc: 2 points
  • Beyond the 3-Point Arc: 3 points

The 3-point line did not always exist in basketball, introduced by various leagues during the 1970s before full NBA adoption in 1979.

3-pointers immediately opened up offensive strategy by rewarding longer shots and spacing the floor.

Historical Evolution of Field Goal Scoring

The valued of made field goals has evolved with strategic innovations:

  • 1891 – Dr. James Naismith’s original peach baskets awarded 1 point per basket.
  • 1896 – Field goals become worth 2 points.
  • 1961 – ABA introduces first 3-point line, awarding 3 points for made shots beyond that distance.
  • 1976 – NBA begins experimenting with 3-point line in certain games, sometimes worth 2, sometimes 3 points.
  • 1979 – Full-time adoption by NBA of uniform 3-point line set 23 feet, 9 inches away.
  • 1994 – Shortened to 22 feet in corners to expand floor spacing.
  • 1997 – NCAA moves college line back to 20 feet, 6 inches.

Adjustments to the 3-point line’s length continue altering shot values and offensive concepts.

Percentages and Scoring Efficiency

A team’s field goal percentage (FG%) indicates their shooting and scoring efficiency. In the NBA:

  • The league average team FG% is 45-48% in a typical season.
  • The elite offenses score above 50% from the field.
  • Average 3-point percentage is 35-37% league-wide.
  • Great 3-point shooting teams exceed 38%.

Higher field goal percentages indicate an offense is generating better looks and converting them at a strong clip.

How Distance Impacts Field Goal Difficulty

As expected, field goal difficulty and percentages overwhelmingly correlate with proximity to the basket:

  • Within 3 feet: Shots convert at 60-70%, the highest efficiency zone. Layups and putbacks largely come from this range.
  • 3-10 feet: 45-55% conversion rate. This “floater” range still yields above average success on good shot selection.
  • 10-16 feet: 35-45% typically. The longer mid-range area lowers percentages, but remains useful for pick and pops.
  • 3-pointers: 35-40% for elite shooting teams from beyond the arc. Requires repetition and touch.

Defenses work to force teams away from the highest-percentage zones near the rim into less efficient spots.

Using Field Goals for Different Scoring Strategies

Teams strategically emphasize certain field goals given their personnel strengths:

  • Layup/Dunk Focus – Teams with a slasher or dominant interior big man aim to maximize high-percentage looks near the basket. Free throws also result from fouls drawn.
  • 3-Point Volume – Teams stocked with great shooters spread the floor and launch 3-pointers early and often. Produces quick scoring bursts if shots fall.
  • Balanced Attack – Well-rounded teams use a blend of interior and perimeter threats, adapting to what defenses allow each night.

Great coaches mold strategic shot selection and offensive sets to the scoring abilities of their rosters.

Impact on Possession Strategy

The possibility of a quick field goal on any possession influences offensive tactics and tempo:

  • Teams with a lead late may wind down the shot clock seeking a low-possession game.
  • Conversely, trailing teams attack quickly, hoping to increase possessions and scoring chances against the clock.
  • Certain shots like transition 3-pointers offer high reward but require relinquishing a possession if missed.

Field goal strategy and time/score scenarios are intertwined, compelling shot selection adjustments to maximize offensive efficiency.

Notable Milestones and Records for Field Goals

Iconic field goal feats etched in NBA history:

  • Most Points on Field Goals in a Game – 100 by Wilt Chamberlain (2-point era record)
  • Most Field Goal Attempts in a Game – 63 by Kobe Bryant
  • Most Consecutive Games With a Made 3-Pointer – 157 by Stephen Curry
  • Most 3-Pointers Made in a Season – 402 by Stephen Curry (2015-2016)
  • Most Career Points on Field Goals – 26,946 by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

From Wilt to Kobe, Shaq to Steph, legendary playmakers have showcased scoring brilliance through field goal dominance.

Frequently Asked Questions About Field Goals in Basketball

How was the original 3-point distance of 23 feet, 9 inches determined?

The NBA tested varying distances before arriving at 23’9″ as short enough to be makeable but long enough to reward extra skill. The arc radius also created optimal spacing.

What are some common tactics used on defending field goal attempts?

Contesting the shot without fouling, blocking from weakside help, closing out shooters rapidly, boxing out for defensive rebounds, forcing drivers baseline or into crowds.

How have advances in training impacted field goal percentages over time?

Enhanced shooting drills, video analysis, shooting coaching, strength training, nutrition, and recovery methods have improved shooting efficiency league-wide compared to historical numbers.

Why is true shooting percentage considered a key metric for scoring efficiency?

True shooting percentage factors in 3-pointers and free throws for a more accurate measure of total scoring efficiency beyond just standard field goal percentage.

How can shorter or undersized players compensate to improve field goal chances?

With crafty floaters and scoop shots around bigger defenders, quick first steps on dribble drives, stepback moves to create space, bank shots, and developing consistent 3-point range.

How can defenders alter or discourage shots without blocking them?

With active hands diverting direction on release, tightly contesting the shooter’s vision, preventing clean catching or comfort through ball denials, physical box outs and post defense.

Why were zone defenses banned for a long period of early NBA history?

The NBA prohibited zones for decades to avoid packing the key area and overly disrupting interior field goal attempts. But zones were legalized in 2001-2002.

The quest for efficient shot selection and proficient field goal conversion represents a central battle during every basketball game at every level. Mastering the full range of scoring skills – whether drilling deep threes or finishing acrobatic layups – ultimately fuels winning performances.


Categories: Basketball


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage.


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