In the games, players can choose an existing NBA franchise and play exhibition or regular season games, as well as create their own players to include in regular season team rosters. Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal were not represented in the game. In early 2000s versions, Michael Jordan is included as a member of the Washington Wizards. Earlier versions of the game made it extremely difficult for players to slam dunk, a problem that was rectified in later games.
The first two games were well received, with the Official UK PlayStation Magazine awarding 9/10 and a Starplayer award to both. They praised the motion capture and the playability. While he noted sometimes inaccurate controls and glitchy sound effects, Scary Larry of GamePro gave the first game a strong recommendation, citing the roster of real players, realistic features, beautiful polygonal graphics, and fluid animation. He commented that the game is much more realistic than NBA Jam, but has an arcade mode to satisfy Jam enthusiasts. The two sports reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the game similar scores (8.0 and 7.5 out of 10) but were sharply divided in their opinions. Both agreed that the graphics are impressive, but Dindo Perez argued that "Shootout should have played greater emphasis on gameplay", saying it is not realistic enough, whereas Video Cowboy asserted "the game has solid gameplay and a big-league look." A reviewer for Next Generation shared in the general enthusiasm for the game's graphics and animation, but also noted that they come at the cost of prominent slowdown, detracting from the feel of the game. However, he felt the gameplay was decent and the options and player roster were impressive, and concluded "NBA Shoot Out doesn't unseat NBA Live 96 as the basketball sim champ, but it has definitely raised the stakes for next year's battle." He gave it three out of five stars.