When a player receives the basketball on the perimeter, there will often be a clear lane to the basket in front of them that they can attack. Being in the gaps of the defense can also confuse them as to who should guard the basketball which can lead to open players all over the floor.
If a player receives the basketball and finds themselves with an open lane to the basket in front of them, they should immediately attack the gap. Players will find that, with good spacing, the quicker the basketball is passed around the more gaps will present themselves in the defense.
Pass fakes are super effective against a zone because the defense is always anticipating the next move they need to make. Often a single defender will have the difficult task of guarding two offensive players in their area.
When a pass fake is made, the defender will usually anticipate where they need to rotate to next and start leaning towards their next assignment. This slight movement can lead to open lanes and the defenders taking valuable time to get back into the correct position.
Make sure your players have been taught how to correctly fake a pass without coming off-balance so that they can explode to the ring if the defense goes for it. When the ball is at this position, the player with the basketball has many options to attack the defense.
Nearly every time I watch a team play against a zone they put their center at the free-throw line in this position without even considering other options. The worst thing you can do against a zone is hold the basketball and allow the defense to fully recover and establish their ideal positions.
This is achieved by quick passing of the basketball, good spacing between players, and constantly looking for gaps in the defense that can be exploited. Explain to your players that when they have possession they have a maximum of one second to decide whether to pass, shoot, or dribble.
Shot fake and attack the rim for an easy basket or a foul. When the low zone defenders step up to help on dribble penetration, a simple drop-down pass to the baseline player will often result in an easy score.
One benefit of the opposing team running a zone is that the offense has the ability to decide the matchups on the court. When coaching against a 2-3zone, identify the weak links and target these defenders by forcing them to match up against your best offensive players.
As this matchup favors the offense, your guard can blow past them every time and get into the paint where they can score or create a shot their teammates. A great way to consistently get high-percentage shots against a zone is to overload one side of the court.
This strategy exploits the fact that in a zone defense each defender has a specific area of the court to guard. As long as the three players have spaced themselves out along the three-point line, the two defenders will struggle to challenge the shooters while also preventing dribble penetration.
This is a difficult task for the zone defenders so there are frequent offensive rebound opportunities (especially from the weak-side) as long as you send players to the glass, and they’re relentless in pursuit of the ball. If your team gains an early lead in the game, consider holding the basketball near half-court so that the defense is forced to discard their 2-3zone and come out and play you man-to-man.
It’s a great idea to give your team some experience and confidence when competing against a 2-3zone prior to coming up against it during a game. Assign a few 10-15 minute blocks in your practices early in the season to teach your players the strategies in this article that you think will work best for your team.
Your players will enjoy changing things up at practice, and it will give them confidence when they face a 2-3zone during a game. It doesn’t matter how well you execute overloading the zone, how often the basketball into the hands of your best passer at the free throw line, or how good your spacing is if your players don’t knock down their shots.
When the basketball is passed inside, it forces the defense to collapse and will result in wide-open jump shots for your team. If you’re serious about being prepared, I encourage you to read my article on the 2-3zone defense to completely understand its strengths and weaknesses.
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But you still need to get the ball inside, especially late in the game, or when your shooters are not hitting. First read ZoneOffense. Usually that's all that's necessary, provided we execute well and are patient, make the zone shift, and work the ball inside.
Additionally, if the ball is passed into the high post O4, O5 should “duck” underneath the zone, seal the defender, and receive the quick pass from O4 for the lay-up (diagram A). In diagram A, the wings O2 and O3 are set out a little farther than usual from the three-point arc so that the X1 and X2 defenders are not in their passing lanes (from O1).
A counter for that is a fake skip to the wing, and then a lob pass to O5 on the weak side block. When the ball is on the wing, instead of posting at the elbow or at the low block (which are usually defended in this zone), O4 will set up a little lower than the elbow, actually in the gap between the high and low defenders (diagram B).
We don't like O4 putting the ball on the floor with a dribble as this usually invites trouble from collapsing defenders. When the ball is in the short corner (O5), O4 cuts to the ball-side low block for the pass from O5 and the power lay-up (diagram C).
O5 may be able to make a quick inside pass to O4 cutting for the lay-up (once the X4 defender commits to guarding O5). When O4 has the ball (diagram C), the weak-side wing can either slide into the gap between the high and low defenders looking for the medium range jumper, or if he/she is a good three-point shooter, look for the skip pass out to the three-point arc.
The exception to this rule is that outside shooters can shoot in transition, off the break, if there is a “kick-out” pass for the 3-point shot. But if the shot off the break is not there, and we set up in our zone offense, then the “post-touch” rule applies.
A drive all the way to the hoop is usually not possible because of the three big low defenders. Looking at Diagram C, you can see that once O4 gets the ball, there are several offensive “triangles”, or passing options where you gain a 3 vs 2 advantage on the defense.
Diagram SC1 shows O1 dribbling to the right wing, engaging X1, and O2 moves down to the corner. O2 takes a couple dribbles up (diagram SC2) and this “lifts” the X3 defender, making O5 open for the pass in the short corner.
If X5 stays inside, O5 has the short corner jump-shot, or a drive to the hoop. This set uses the same general principles and rules as Zone -23” above, but gives your offense a little different look.
Meanwhile, the opposite low post (O5) cuts from underneath the zone to the ball-side lane looking for the pass from the wing. The wing passes to either O5 along the lane or O4 in the short corner (diagram C).
O5 has the option of shooting, driving to the hoop (if the X5 defender has moved out), or passing to either O4 or reversing it to O3 (who should be open on the opposite side). Note that O2 and O1 have slid down a little toward the corner in case O4 must pass back out.
Diagram F. Again using the 3-out 2-in set, O1 passes to the wing, and this triggers the ball-side post player (O4) to flash to the gap near the ball-side elbow. See diagram H. Note that the 2-3zone defense has shifted when the ball is on the right wing. Many teams defend the skip pass by having the opposite low post (X3) defender rotate out to the wing.
You can take advantage of that strategy by keeping your low post on the weak-side (instead of moving to the ball-side short corner). This set uses the same general principles and rules as Zone -23”, but gives your offense another look.
If you use a 1-4 set for your man-to-man offense, this might appeal to you... The rest of this article is in the Premium Members section or the Playbook download. The 'Trilogy' 1-3-1 offense will allow your team to get the basketball into the gaps of the opposition's defense to create scoring opportunities close to the hoop.
The 'point' is the player tasked with setting up the play, deciding which side of the floor to initially attack from, and helping to move the ball around the perimeter. The 'middle' player has several responsibilities on offense and is heavily involved with scoring, passing, and reading the defense.
They will mainly patrol the high area of the key but will be asked to occasionally step out and screen for the players on the wings. The 'wings' are in charge of getting the basketball inside and also attacking the paint with dribble penetration from the perimeter when the time is right.
The players you put at these positions have big decision-making responsibilities during this 1-3-1 offense and will be asked to attack often. Despite their limited movement, the warrior must have a high IQ as they're heavily involved in passing and the spacing of the offense.
For this offense to work, you need to force the low defender of the zone to guard the basketball on the wing. This will allow you to split the middle defender with your two post players which is a very advantageous position for the offensive team to be in.
When this happens, x5 will be forced to guard the ball which will allow the other player to dive towards the rim looking to receive the pass for a layup. Skip pass to (3) which will force a long closeout resulting in a driving opportunity.
If an immediate drive by (3) against the closing out defender isn't available, (4) and (5) will slide across to the opposite side of the key to create the triangle options again. The offense continues like this, with the post players move side-to-side in the gaps of the zone defense, until an opportunity to get the ball inside and attack opens up.
But will also work for older and more experienced teams who understand and can take advantage of the spacing and angles that this 1-3-1 offense creates.