Why Do Basketball Players Let the Ball Roll? Answered!


You were watching the basketball game on T.V. and to your surprise, one of the players was allowing the basketball role down the court before he picked it up. It made no sense, and that’s why you’re here.

Why do basketball players let the ball roll? Basketball players let the ball roll down the court because of clock management, a team will do this to save time on the game clock. When a team is down a couple of baskets time is of importance, what better way to save time then to advance the ball down the court with the clock stopped. The more possessions this can be done the more time that is saved instead of wasted from dribbling the basketball up the court.

So now that you have an idea why a team would do this, we should take a look at when a team will do this? I will break down a couple of scenarios in which a team would use this tactic in order for a team to benefit from.

How and When Does the rolling of the ball happen?

In basketball, the rolling of the ball happens when the game and shot clock is stopped to advance the basketball. Here’s how it generally works. A team has just scored, and after the made basket the team now on offense retrieves the basketball from underneath the basket and is ready to inbound the ball to a teammate behind the baseline in the out of bounds area.

Usually, this player will lead his teammate up the court with a roll that looks like he’s bowling the basketball. It is a slow role and happens mostly towards the end of the game and or quarter. Once the basketball is in-bounded and it is touched by any player on the court the game clock starts. It is not any different when the ball is picked up after being rolled.

This strategy is only ever done when a team is in bounding the basketball on the baseline from the basket they were defending. Rolling the ball from the sideline in-bounds can happen but often rarely does.

This tactic is similar to when a team will call a timeout to advance the basketball to the half-court in the last two minutes of play. This way they can run a play and don’t waste any time in advancing the basketball with dribbling.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how this works to benefit a team to save extra seconds on the clock while a team is trying to narrow the gap when behind in points.


basketball player dribbling the ball

Examples of when you would see the ball roll during a game?

In general, saving time on the clock in order to have a better look at the basket or a chance to have a better shot is what a team is looking for when they roll the basketball down the court to conserve time.

Now as we look at these scenarios, lets no forget that the team on defense may not realize what is going on until the player picks up the rolling ball. Other players are smart enough to try and impede the progress of the roll and force the opposition to pick up the basketball sooner than the offense wants to.

At any point, it is possible that the basketball may get stolen, and I have seen incidents where the defense will dive for the basketball rolling on the court, so keep this in mind, as this is not a 100 percent foolproof way to advance the ball. Like any strategy during the game of basketball, it may not always work.

Last Second Shot Before Halftime

Just before the half time mark if there are only 3 seconds left on the clock and the offense is inbounding the basketball from the other side of the court, it would be very difficult to get a good shot with only 3 seconds on the clock if the player received it underneath his own basket.

Smart players will recognize this and lead his teammate down the court with a roll so they can get closer to center court. This way they have given them an extra few seconds hypothetically. The seconds it would have taken to dribble up the court now the 3 seconds at which point he picked up the ball to dribble and shoot. Had they not use this tactic, they would have heaved a half-court shot just before the buzzer goes off, which happens often after a quarte ends.

College Basketball point Guard Dribbling the Ball up the court during a game

Down Double Digits Before Halftime

Another scenario before half that happens is when a team is down a handful of baskets with a couple of minutes left till half, they will start to try and roll the basketball down the court. For example, this does not necessarily need to be at the end of the quarter before half for the last shot.

This can be with two minutes left and the goal for the team is to preserve time of course and cut down the lead from double-digits to single digits before halftime. It is a good strategy because some teams have bad starts or tend to give up leads in the first quarter.

The team will continuously do this until you stop them or make them pick up the basketball. It helps when the team has a super-fast guard as they are quick enough to pick up the basketball at the right time and blow by their opponent.

nba basketball game

4th Quarter Down a Couple of Baskets

When the game clock is dwindling down and the pressure to score baskets is of the utmost importance to either tie or get the go-ahead basket you will see players advance the ball to keep the clock stopped by rolling it.

Again the goal is to not waste time with unnecessary movements such as dribbling up the court. If your thinking well why don’t they pass it up-court instead? Making a lead pass towards the center is a sure way to get the basketball stolen from the opposing team and this can end the game right there with no hope in sight.

When you are able to roll the basketball down the court successfully to a teammate it has the same effect and benefit as calling a time out to advance the basketball at the half-court. When advancing the basketball by a timeout you get to inbound it from half court again without wasting a second on the game clock.

Fourth Quarter Down a Few Baskets with a Few Minutes Left

Plain in simple there isn’t much time left for a team if they are down eight points with two minutes and 15 seconds left on the game clock. Bring out your best bowler it’s time to utilize your time wisely.

The goal is to maximize each possession. If you are able to score and cut the lead to 6 points, you can bet that the team that is winning is going to use every second of their shot clock.

You will also notice that once a team rolls the basketball once the opposing team will take notice and they will be more aware the next time you try it again. Sometimes players get physical by purposely diving and getting aggressive as if it were a loose ball.

Sometimes players get careless and will pick the basketball up just before the player reaches for it to dribble it and blow by them but only to get it stolen from the player lunging. A player who plays keep away like this has more to lose than earn as this game of chance could cost the team the game indefinitely.

Two players during a game dive for a loose ball.

Is rolling the basketball legal?

Yes rolling the basketball is legal and follows every universal rule in basketball across all leagues and rule books. It is perfectly legal to pick up the basketball to shoot, dribble, or pass it after it has been rolled. As long as you didn’t dribble it and purposely roll it to yourself it’s a legal move.

Now the next time you see the basketball roll down the court it won’t shock you in fact you will have a clue as to what a team is trying to do. I am willing to bet that the team that is using this trick is down a couple of baskets.



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