PUB Scoring

As I mentioned in Defensive Strategies, many pickup ballers live and die by the philosophy that "It's the first team to 11 points, not 11 steals." This means that scoring is king. And for that reason, knowing how to track the score is of vital importance.

Ones and twos: Pickup basketball typically employs a simplified scoring system so that it's easier for players to track the score. If you're an experienced pickup baller, you know that simple math becomes difficult, even impossible, when players are in the heat of battle and on the verge of total fatigue (which for some out-of-shape players is the first trip down the court). For that reason, conventional baskets are worth one point and three-pointers are usually worth two points.

Unfortunately, there are serious drawbacks to making the three-pointer worth double a normal basket. Players are much more likely to bomb away from downtown without regard to common sensibility. After all, hitting 25 percent of your twos is like hitting 50 percent of your ones, right? I promise you that if half-court shots were worth three or four points, people would start chucking from there, too.

This leads to many players shooting the three almost exclusively, and therefore not developing any other tangible on-court skill (like, say, passing the ball). It also creates circumstances under which a team can actually lose a game despite hitting almost twice as many field goals as the opposing team. Nothing is more frustrating than executing a precise and efficient offense and still losing to a bunch of selfish, one-trick gunners.

Time limits: Time limits are not imposed in pickup games. Instead, play ends when one team reaches a predefined total score. Common end-game scores are 7, 11, 15, and 21. The choice of score is usually dictated by how many courts are available and how many people are waiting to play. The more people waiting for next, the lower the winning score will be. Be warned: Some players will arbitrarily decide on their own end-game score, often without informing anyone. I was once involved in a heated contest in which a player yelled out "game" after he scored his team's sixth point. Everybody stood in silent astonishment as he strutted "victoriously" off the court. It's the one and only time in 15 years of playing pickup ball that I ever participated in a game that ended at six.

Win by two: Usually, the winning team must win by at least two points. This rule was probably created by losing teams who wanted an extra and undeserved chance to claim victory. Be careful how this rule is applied. While it's often assumed that a team must win by at least two points, some players will become enraged if you shout out "win by two" after they've seemingly scored the winning bucket (such as, for instance, after the game was tied 14-14). Unless you're playing in a pickup league where the rules are clearly established, you should summarize the scoring rules prior to starting any game. Otherwise, you may end up with an ugly fight on your hands.

Overtimes and dead ends: The "win by two" method inevitably leads to "overtime" games, where the final score for both teams goes several points ahead of the previously arranged end score. When two teams are evenly matched, or equally fatigued, games can go on seemingly forever. To avoid this, a "dead end" or maximum score is usually established. A sample scoring system might be first to 11, win by two, with a max score of 15.

Keeping track: Pickup games operate without the benefit of electronic scoreboards and official scorekeepers. Even if you play in a supervised pickup league, the designated coordinator is usually so poorly paid or disinterested that it's unlikely he or she will keep score for you. This means that the players are responsible for tracking the score. The best way to do this is for one or more players to yell out an updated score after each basket; otherwise, it's easy to lose track of the official score. In most cases, this will cause an argument and the players will grudgingly come to a group consensus as to what the score is. This inevitably leaves individual players and even entire teams feeling as if they've been screwed over.

Point shaving: Careless and unscrupulous players will regularly try to use the lack of an official scorekeeper to their advantage. Unless the score is called out after each hoop, these people will try to manipulate the score, taking a point or two away from the opposing team's total, or adding points to their own. I can't tell you how many times I've been on a team that I thought was comfortably in the lead, only to hear someone on the opposing team shout that the score was tied, or his team was ahead. There are also instances in which someone will claim you're jipping his team, no matter how diligent you've been at calling out the score.

Game point: There is no point as hotly contested as game point. Even the most defenseless players will put a body on you and start blocking out on game point, and even the cleanest games degenerate into hackfests. Some teams or players will even try to shame the opposing team into using the most difficult shot to win. I used to play with a group of guys that required the winning basket to be a driving layup. This, of course, provided them with the chance to maul people on their way to the hoop, thereby extending the game and giving them an "equal chance" at winning. To that end, it's difficult, sometimes completely impossible, to win on a layup. And heaven help the player brave enough to might as well stick your hand into a shark tank.

It's amazing to watch the psychological shift that occurs on game point. Good players become afraid to shoot, bad players become brave, everybody starts scrambling and diving for loose balls. Almost every call or non-call turns into an argument. Friends start screaming at each other, and sometimes won't speak for days if the final score is in dispute.

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Blogger whatupthen said...
The bright people playing pickup at Stanford University count baskets as 2s and 3s and play to 22. Hopefully that system will spread far and wide.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think location determines the scoring system because down here in Houston (where my Mexicans dominate in population) we count 2 pointers are as "tacos" and threes are counted as "rice" and you play to "fajitas". It's quite simple, really.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
You know what bugs me?

When people constantly contest if someone's foot was on the line when they shot the 2(3). And it happens quite often in serious pickup games.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Wow. That picture of the pickup game is a good example of Helpless and possibly Ego defense. Great. Nobody around the guy shooting an uncontested, possibly-too-easy shot. Nobody looks like they've even attempted to chase/shift to him.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
best article i've read so far.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
christopher -- I'm surprised those Standordites don't apply some kind of additional calculation or algorithm to the score, so that only they could accurately track it. Damn elitists.

liston -- I'm originally from Indiana, and we count ones as "corn cobs" and twos as "moonshine." There is no end-cap, though; we just play until the cows come home. I mean, literally.

sun devil -- You know, I've played pickup ball for 15 years now, and the Foot Watch has only become popular in the last couple years. And it's happening everywhere. It's like most defenders, instead of actually contesting the shot, just want to watch whether it's in or outside the three-point line.

anonymous -- You're right. You'd think that, looking at that particular group of players, that there wouldn't be any Ego Defense. But I've learned, and I'm sure you have too, that players don't have to actually be any good to have the attitude of a Pickup League All-Star. Helpless Defense, for sure, along with another one I should have added: Moviegoer Defense, where guys just stand and watch.

anonymous #2 -- Thanks, dude.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Sweet picture. We've got Whitey McGee and his unstopable gut shooting a jump shot from 3 feet. Didn't they teach left handed layups at Goofy Jones High School gym class?

And who plays ball in long sleeves? Thats just stupid. He needs to find a body to box out. FIND A BODY DAMIT!!

Blogger Bugg said...
Hmm, I played at Stanford for the 4 years I was there at the turn of the century and never played by 2 or 3's. Hell, noone I know did.

Good idea though.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Where I play it's one point per basket. Low-percentage bombers are a waste of possessions. Everything else is just basic house rules needed to have a game without official timekeeping, etc.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Makes me feel kind of glad I live in Australia. Over here we get taught to play fundamental 'Spurs' basketball. So in pick-ups, it's mainly a lot of "ordinary" passing (French pastry only once in a while) for open shots. The only threes chucked up are usually ones that are open. Some Americans would vomit at it, but we're just fine.

And what happened to that douchebag of a fella who ended the game at six? That was it, or did you call him back.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Here, here, Basketbawful.

It's high time someone take a stand against the inequities of the world's default scoring system for pick-up hoops.

If I can be of any help drafting a resolution to be put forth to the U.N. or targeting Congress to pass legislation in America, please let me know.

1s and 2s suck. Simple and plain. Time to outlaw that shit altogether.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Great post, I've played pickup in Spain and in Argentina and every detail is right-on, especially the nature of attitudes, arguments, defensive stances.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Is this picture a stock photo or from someones personal collection?

Blogger eljpeman said...
here in the philippines, it's common to play 20-20 in pick up basketball (at least in the area where i live). so that's first to twenty, change court, then first to forty. Twos and threes. There was someone who can always keep track of the score somehow (though point shaving still occurs). :)

The "win by two points" rule is not really followed here, most notably if the score is 39-37, and the team with 37 points scores a trey. But if the score is tied 39-39, the first team to get 45 will win. And if they still will be tied with each team needing a basket to get to 45, they go straight to 50 and so on until the teams agree to a final mark.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
starang -- Exactly. As for the long sleeves, I've found that the dudes who play in long sleeves are either clueless or want to "burn a few extra calories."

jaz -- I prefer playing games in which all baskets are worth one point, because, in general, the style of play improves dramatically, since the best shot is the highest percentage shot.

bob -- That kid left immediately, before our astonishment wore off. Had he stayed, no way would the six-point thing have stood. Instead, we just started another game. But to this day, the guys I play with will bring up that game every week or so, often declaring "victory" after the sixth point. So at least we got a good story out of it.

tim -- You know, I've tried really hard to update the scoring system in my pickup league, but pickup ballers are unusually resistant to change. Altering the scoring system, introducing a new ball, etc. is met with borderline hostility. I guess we're all creatures of habit.

anonymous #1 -- Spain and Argentina, huh? Cool. It's amazing to me how certain aspects of pickup ball are universal, and how certain on court behaviors will sweep across my country (and perhaps others?) simultaneously.

anonymous #2 -- I found that picture using a Google image search for "pickup basketball."

eljpeman -- That sounds like fun, and more similar to how "real" basketball is played. I had some buddies in high school, and we experimented with different forms of pickup play...two 20 minute halves, a 48 minute game, etc. I always enjoyed the type of play that was most like NBA: 48 minute games, broken into four quarters, with timeouts and everything. But that ended up being to complicated for typical pickup ball.

Blogger Skinano said...
I'm used to playing pickup ball in the bay area and sacramento, and I've always played by the rule that each basket counts as 1 point. Alas, there are still many people who refuse to do anything but throw up NBA-range 3-pointers. Blows my mind...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Your "Game Point at 'six'" incident reminded me of one of the weirdest things I've ever seen on the playgrounds, although it had nothing to do with scoring. At least I don't think it did.

My brother and I were shooting around at the local school's outdoor hoops. A camaro pulled up in the parking lot and 2 guys got out to play one-on-one at the other end.

Guy #1 took a shot, and they both hustled for the rebound. For some reason, Guy #2 took a swing at Guy #1. Then they both got back into the car and drove off.

Anyway, nice work on this blog. It just keeps getting better.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Guy #2 was actually my girlfriend. What you didn't see was the titty twister I applied in the fight for the loose rebound. "Whatever it takes" on the defensive end is how I play.

P.S. She might look like a man, but what she lacks in looks...and mental capacity...she more than makes up for on offense. We hustle for cash at the parks on weekends.

P.S.S. I have a sweet camaro for sale, if your interested.

Anonymous Justin said...
I enjoyed your post and quoted you in an article / blog post on scoring systems in pickup basketball.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
I haven't had a lot of practice learning how to figure out basketball scores. The only time I really tried is when my boyfriend asked my to score the pick up game. This was a great help. I tried to tell the Ohio High School basketball scores to my father, but I guess I was saying this wrong or reading the wrong numbers because he asked my brother instead.