What Is The Top of The Key in Basketball? [Picture Examples]

top of the key in basketball

The top of the key in basketball refers to the top most point of the arch above the free throw line.

Different leagues have some different rules concerning the key, with the highest level of play – the NBA and WNBA – having among the largest key/paint areas and longest 3-point lines. So, what are the dimensions of the key across the many basketball leagues and levels?

Size of The Key

Here are the dimensions of the key, as they vary depending on the league/level: 

NBA and WNBA: 16 feet (4.9 meters) width by 19 ft (5.8 m) length

key dimensions nba wnba

FIBA: 16.08 ft (4.9 m) width by 15 ft (4.6 m) length

College and High School Basketball: 12 ft (3.7 m) width by 15 ft (4.6 m) length

Free Throw Line Height:

  • Free Throw Line Length: 15 ft (4.6 m) away from the baseline
  • Free Throw Circle Radius: 6 ft (1.8 m)

Free Throw Line Width:

  • NBA: 19 feet (5.8 m)
  • College and High School Basketball: 12 ft (3.7 m)

Another common question that people ask – how far is a top of the key 3 pointer?

  • NBA: 23.75 ft (7.2 m)
  • WNBA, College, and International Basketball: 22.15 ft (6.8 m)
  • High School Basketball: 19.75 ft (6.0 m)

Many basketball fans know the importance of the corner 3-pointer, which is much closer than the top of the key 3-pointer in the NBA: 22 ft (6.7 m). Also in the NBA, the lane lines are required to be two 6-inch (15 cm) long hash marks, and they are situated 3 ft (0.9 m) from the free throw line.

Real World Example of The Importance of The Key

I remember all those times I would bring the basketball past half court and stare down my defender, as I thought about pulling up for a 3-pointer at the top of the key. As the point guard, I knew I had to make the possession happen for our offense. The defensive players were usually worried about the player they were guarding, so I knew I could get a one-on-one matchup with my defender most times.

Usually at the beginning of the game, I would be the shooter from the top of the arc. Then, as the game progressed, I was able to get to the hoop and get strong shot attempts near the basket. As I entered the key, the rim was in my sight, and so were my teammates. 

We knew we had the defense right where we wanted them. I either went from being the ball handler to the passer, or I continued to be the dribbler. When I passed to the post player, it would lead to easy two-pointer attempts. If the opponents packed in near the baseline, then I would find the open three-point shooter. If not, I could finish at the bucket for 2 points.


Why Is It Called The Top of The Key?

In 1936, the first iteration of the key was a narrow rectangular shape on the basketball court. The semicircle looked larger in comparison, and therefore, the court looked like it had a keyhole on each side.

Other Names for The Key:

  • NBA: “Free throw lane”
  • “Foul lane”
  • “The lane”
  • “The paint”
  • “16-foot lane”
  • FIBA: “restricted area”

However, the NBA has referred to the “restricted area” as the area designated by a semicircle underneath the basket where offensive fouls cannot be taken. This “restricted area arc” is found 4 ft (1.2 m) from the hoop for the NBA and NCAA. 

For FIBA, it is known as the “no-charge semicircle” 4.1 ft (1.2 m) from the basket. This semicircle is a recent innovation that originated in the NBA for the 1997-98 season as well as in NCAA men’s basketball for the 2010-2011 season.

How Many Seconds Are You Allowed to Be in The Key/Paint?

The quick answer to this question is three – the maximum number of seconds allowed is three seconds, but it differs based on the league. There are multiple 3-second violations:

3-Second Violation on Offense: the “Three Seconds Rule”

The typical three-second violation is the one for the offense in which an offensive player spends three consecutive seconds in the key. According to the official NBA rulebook, “The 3-second count shall not begin until the ball is in control in the offensive team’s frontcourt. No violation can occur if the ball is batted away by an opponent.”

  • What is the penalty for this violation?
    • Turnover / change of possession. The opposing team receives the ball out of bounds at the free throw line extended.
  • Which leagues is it in? 
    • All basketball leagues

Defensive 3-Second Violation

Also known as illegal defense, this violation is called when a defender spends three consecutive seconds in the paint. According to the NBA, the defensive three-second count is suspended by several situations, including when the offensive player is shooting or when the defender is actively guarding an opponent.

  • What is the penalty for this violation?
    • The offensive team attempts one technical free throw, and the offensive team then receives the ball out of bounds at the free throw line extended nearest the point of interruption.
  • Which leagues is it in? 
    • NBA and WNBA
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