Best Zone Offense Plays Basketball

James Smith
• Sunday, 08 November, 2020
• 7 min read

While it is important to teach your players how to play against a zone defense, it's also very important to have a few zone plays in your back pocket to help you beat any zone defense. We believe that teaching zone principles will help you the most in the long-run and need to be emphasized.

basketball zone offense plays easy
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However, there are definitely times during games where you just need a zone play to get a good look at the basket. Some coaches also prefer to use their bestzoneplays when they first see a zone defense during a game.

The rationale is that if they execute a couple of zone plays right from the beginning, the opposing coach may quickly pull their team out of the zone defense. Jamie Dixon popularized this play to beat Syracuse's zone defense.

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Mostly we attack zones with a general zone offense and just work that offense. Usually that is all we need to do, as long as we execute well and are patient, make the zone shift, and work the ball inside. But at times, we will run a set zone play to get someone open for a good shot, whether an inside shot or a 3-pointer.

Also, an important part of any zone offense or zone play is offensive rebounding. Younger kids may have difficulty making the long skip pass and might find Zone -1X” below a better alternative. O1 passes to O2 (diagram A) and this causes the zone to shift.

basketball offense zone plays defence offensive vs
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O3 back-screens the outside low zone defender so that O5 is open for the skip pass from O2. This play is similar to Carolina above but without the long skip pass, and younger teams would find this easier to run.

Sometimes the middle low defender will cheat up to the high post to guard O4 and the 2-3 zone now looks more like a 2-1-2. O3 screens the outside low defender while O2 slides down to the corner.

Use this play if your point guard is a good shooter. The pass goes over the top to O1 on the wing, and assuming O4 makes a good screen, O1 will almost always be wide open for the outside shot.

O4 makes two screens. The play starts with O4 screening the outside low defender X4 so that the pass can go to O2. O5 sets the inside screen and O4 cuts to the ball-side low post for the pass and lay-up.

Submitted by Coach Ken Martini, Arlington Heights, Inhere is another play attacking the 2-3 zone defense. Or if unable to dunk, O3 catches the pass, gathers and scores off the glass.

zone coaching offense team basketball experts
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O1 passes to O3 (diagram A) and they exchange as O1 moves to the left wing, and O3 dribbles to the top. O4 pin-screens the weak side low defender X3, and O2 skip passes to O1 who has dropped toward the left corner.

O4 will bump and delay the X3 defender just enough to make the skip pass to the corner open. Use this simple play vs the 2-3 zone defense for an easy inside jump-shot.

Start with a low double stack set (diagram A), with guards O2 and O3 on the left lane line, and post players O4 and O5 on the right lane line. O4 looks at our good shooter O2 in the corner (diagram B) and might even pass fake (to get X3 aware of O2), but instead reverses the ball back to O1.

We want X1 guarding O1, and O1 takes a couple dribbles left (diagram C). From Eric Flannery, this 2-3 zone play starts with a double low stack (diagram 1).

You can run it to either side and this is determined by the point guard dribbling to either wing. As O1 dribbles to the right wing, O2 cuts hard under O3 and O5's double-screen (screening the outside low zone defender X3).

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The opposite post player O4 cuts around the double-screen for the pass inside from O1, and a lay-up. If the cutter O5 is not open, O4 flashes to the ball side elbow (diagram 6).

“Special-Down” This play starts with the same low double stack seen in “Special” (diagram 7). However, this time O2 and O3 crisscross and cut to the opposite corners, staying low and below the free-throw line extended (so that the low outside zone defender will have to come out to defend).

The ball side post player O5 immediately finds and seals the middle zone defender X5. We look to make the quick pass to O5 inside for the post move and shot.

From Lindsay Gottlieb (University of California Women's Head Basketball Coach), this 2-3 zone play gets you either an open 3-point shot for your best shooter, or a quick basket inside. O3 drops down toward the baseline (diagram 1). O1 dribbles a little to the left and O2 cuts underneath (diagram 2) and through to the left corner-wing area for a possible pass from O1 and a shot.

If the X3 defender moves outside to cover O2, then the quick pass from O1 to O4 is open for a lay-up (diagram 3). From Florida Gators head coach, Mike White, this 2-3 zone play gets you a lob pass to your big man O5.

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My 7th graders were really having difficulty playing against the 2-3 zone, which we seem to be running into frequently in youth tournaments. I dedicated an entire practice session to learning how to beat this defense in a simple way that young players could understand.

I used some visuals and made it interactive for them, instead of me just talking. First, we gathered around a table out on the floor. I let the kids set up the board and helped them with placing the defense in a 2-3 zone.

So every time they would position the offense, I would then move the defense, and then they would have to find the gaps again. Amazingly, the kids came up with the same offensive scheme that I had devised, and it is diagrammed in the drawings below.

Now, on the court, I used hula hoops and some old car floor mats that I threw down in the gaps, so they could see where to move to. One caution: players could trip and injure themselves with these objects on the floor, so we just used them in “walk through” ball rotations, not up to speed.

bounds basketball plays coachtube
(Source: coachtube.com)

Dribble only to penetrate a gap, or improve a passing angle, or to get out of trouble. Offensive rebounding is very important since the zone defenders do not have clear-cut box-out assignments (as in a man-to-man).

Now study the diagrams below, and at the end I will give you just a few simple rules. One tip: your high post O4 might initially be positioned along the lane, and then as the point guard brings the ball into the forecourt, O4 flash cuts to the high post at the free-throw line.

Make sure the wings are high and wide, so that the point-to-wing pass is not easily intercepted. Each move is to fill a gap in the zone where you can get open for a pass and shot.

If the ball is passed to the corner, O4 cuts hard down to the low block for the bounce pass from O5 (diagram B), and O3 moves to the free-throw line area because if O4 does not get the ball, then O3 is often wide open (diagram C). Here's an option where we can attack the zone straight up the middle, by passing, not dribbling.

O1 will try to dribble between (split) the two outside defenders right up the middle and will pull up for a shot just inside the free throw line. You can see that there are certain areas (hula hoops) that we want to fill as the ball moves.

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(Source: basketballhq.com)

The diagrams below show red circles that should be filled when the ball is in that location. When the ball is at the high post, duck under the zone into the paint for the pass down low.

Look to penetrate from the wing, and make good passing decisions, avoid unnecessary dribbling. Look for the shot, and when the high post is at the elbow, the opposite wing drops into the gap on the weak-side.

Keep the ball moving, with little dribbling, except to penetrate or open a passing lane. Look for an opportunity to dribble and split the two top defenders, and if they collapse, dish out to either wing.

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