Olympic Basketball vs. the NBA

How FIBA rules affect the game played in international competitions

Olympic basketball and the marquee international tournaments feature more and more familiar faces from the NBA each year. But the game still feels a bit... for lack of a better word...​ ​foreign.

There's a good reason for that. The FIBA rule book governs international play. And while FIBA rules and NBA rules - or NCAA rules, for that matter - have more in common than in years past, there are several key differences. And those differences, while subtle, can have a big impact on the game.

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Time of Game

Olympics basketball
Kevin Durant of the USA dunks the ball during the Men's Gold medal game between Serbia and the USA at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

In international play, the game is divided into four ten-minute quarters, as opposed to the NBA's twelve-minute quarters or NCAA basketball's twenty-minute halves.

If a game is tied at the end of regulation, a five-minute overtime period is played. The length of the overtime period(s) is the same under FIBA and NBA rules.

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Timeouts

Under FIBA rules, each team gets two timeouts in the first half, three in the second half and one per overtime period. And all time-outs are one minute long. That's much simpler than the NBA's system, which allows six "full" time outs per regulation-length game, one twenty-second timeout per half and an additional three per overtime period.

Another important distinction: under FIBA rules, only the coach can call a timeout. You won't see players using time-outs to save possession as they fall out of bounds in international play.

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The Three-Point Line: 6.25 meters (20 feet, 6.25 inches)

The three-point line in international play is an arc set at 20 feet, 6.25 inches (6.25 meters) from the center of the basket. That's significantly shorter than the NBA three-point line, which is 22 feet in the corners and 23 feet, nine inches at the top of the arc. That distance is actually much closer to the college three-point line, which is a 19 foot, nine-inch arc from the basket.

The shorter arc has a significant impact on play. Perimeter players don't have to stray quite as far from the basket to defend three-point shooters, which puts them in better position to help on the interior or defend passing lanes. That can make it much more difficult for interior players to operate, something that Tim Duncan found out when playing for the 2004 "Nightmare Team" that finished a disappointing third in the Athens games.

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Zone Defense

FIBA's rules on zone defense are simple. There are none. All types of zones are allowed, just like in American college and high school basketball.

The NBA allows more zone now than in the past, but players are still forbidden from spending more than three seconds on the paint when not guarding a specific player.

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Goaltending and Basket Interference

At all levels of basketball in America, the rules create an imaginary cylinder that extends up from the basket's rim, on to infinity. When the ball is within that cylinder, it cannot be touched by a player on offense or defense.

In international play, however, once a shot hits the rim or backboard it is fair game. It is perfectly legal to snatch a ball off the rim or grab a rebound from within "the cylinder" so long as you don't reach up through the hoop.

(That move isn't even legal on a Nerf hoop in a dorm room.)

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Fouls

In NBA games, six personal fouls or two technical fouls will earn you an early trip to the showers. Under FIBA rules, you get five - personals or technicals - and you're done for the day. But considering the fact that a game played under FIBA rules is eight minutes shorter than an NBA contest (ten minute quarters vs. twelve), one fewer foul to give doesn't make that big a difference. (Of course, Tyson Chandler - the only true center with NBA experience on Team USA in 2012 - may disagree.)

As for shooting vs. non-shooting fouls: under FIBA rules, a team is "in the bonus" after the fourth foul of a quarter. In the NBA, the bonus kicks in after the fifth foul of a quarter or the second in the last two minutes of the quarter, whichever comes first.