What are the key differences between rules in Olympic Basketball and the NBA?

Team USA Basketball Training Session for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Team USA Basketball Training Session for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are right around the corner and the world is hyped up for the quadrennial Summer games. Hundreds of the world's best athletes will compete in Tokyo to get a medal for their country. Team USA in men's basketball has always been a juggernaut of talent who easily grab medals at the Olympics. The NBA is by far the best basketball league in the world and Team USA picks superstars and All-Stars to form its roster. They have won the gold medal every Olympic season since 1992 except the 2004 Athens Olympics.

However, Team USA hasn't had the best start to their Olympic campaign. They have lost both their exhibition games to Nigeria and Australia and now analysts are questioning if this team can maintain the USA's gold record.

What rule changes do NBA players face in the Olympics?

What angry fans don't realize is that the basketball rules operating in the Olympics and the NBA are different. The NBA is not an international competition, but rather just one league operating in a single country with the freedom to have its own rules and business ventures. Whereas, the Olympics come under the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) rules.

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There are significant differences between the two rules and Team USA needs to adapt to the changes to gain an advantage. Let's take a look at some of the key differences in rules between the NBA and Olympic Basketball.

#1 The Olympic court size and game duration is smaller

FIBA vs NBA court dimensions [Source: Canadian Olympic Committee]
FIBA vs NBA court dimensions [Source: Canadian Olympic Committee]

The NBA has a slightly bigger court and the distance between the three-point line from the rim is larger too. The Olympic basketball court is 49 x 92 feet whereas the NBA court is 50 x 94 feet. The NBA's three-point line is 22 feet in the corners and 23.75 feet above the break whereas the Olympic court's perimeter is 21.65 feet in the corners and 22.15 feet above the break. Team USA players can take threes with ease as if they are long-twos in the NBA. Moreover, the paint area has different dimensions as well.

Another major difference is the duration of the game. The NBA has four 12-minute quarters whereas the Olympics have four 10-minute quarters. The smaller game length is a huge advantage for NBA players as they are used to often playing 48 minutes in high-intensity playoff games.

#2 Olympics have no goaltending and jump ball

DeMarcus Cousins grabs a rebound for Team USA [Source: FOX Sports]
DeMarcus Cousins grabs a rebound for Team USA [Source: FOX Sports]

There is almost no goaltending in the Olympics and once the shot hits the rim, it's anyone's game. The offensive player can go up for a putback even if the ball is still on the rim while the defensive player can snatch the ball for a rebound. No offensive interference means taller players can easily go for putback dunks while the ball is still over the basket.

Moreover, there is no concept of a jump ball in the Olympics. The only jump ball is the one at tip-off and after that, any simultaneous-possession situation is decided by alternating possessions. If there is a held ball or if the ball goes out of bounds with both players' hands on it, the possession arrow will let the team know who gets the ball. This could be a slight disadvantage for tall NBA centers who would earn possession every time there would be a jump ball.

#3 Fouls and Violations

USA v Nigeria [Source: Arizona Sports]
USA v Nigeria [Source: Arizona Sports]

The Olympics eject players after five fouls instead of six in the NBA and the opposition enters the foul penalty/bonus after just four team fouls. The free-throws begin at the fifth foul, instead of six in the NBA. Moreover, technical fouls and offensive fouls also count towards team fouls and the penalty whereas that isn't the case in the NBA.

The travel rules are a little absurd in the NBA as well. A travel violation can be called on a player if he takes two steps after catching the ball before taking a dribble, which is allowed in the NBA. The pivot foot is the one the player steps forward after catching the ball in the Olympics whereas the NBA recognizes the back foot as the pivot foot, which allows freedom of movement.

Another violation different in the Olympics is the three-second violation. There is no concept of it in the Olympics as they do in the NBA. In the NBA, the players cannot camp out in the paint for the whole possession and need to clear the lane every three seconds. However, in the Olympics, there is no one stopping a player from staying under the rim the entire time.

Also Read: Team USA Men's Olympic Basketball: Complete schedule, dates, times, and matchups

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