Best Zone Plays Basketball

James Smith
• Sunday, 15 November, 2020
• 27 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.

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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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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. 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.

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.

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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. Use this play if your point guard is a good shooter.

We can also run a simplified “91” against the 2-3 zone. O4 and O5 move up to the top. 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. Having an athletic O3 who can jump and finish inside is key.

Or if unable to dunk, O3 catches the pass, gathers and scores off the glass. O1 passes to O3 (diagram A) and they exchange as O1 moves to the left wing, and O3 dribbles to the top.

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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). The opposite post player O4 cuts around the double-screen for the pass inside from O1, and a lay-up.

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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.

If time is a factor, skip these first two passes and get right into the play. 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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Iowa 21 and 31 Indiana Conn UCLA and UCLA-22 Raptors Hornets Wolf Pacers Selecting and implementing effective basketball plays is one of the most important roles of a basketball coach.

Is there a better feeling for a coach than drawing up a play in the dying minutes of a close game that your players go out and execute to perfection and score from? The ability to call the right play at the right time during a game can often be the difference between your team winning a losing.

This means the players don’t have to call out the play and alert the other team. In every basketball league in the world, you’ll see smart coaches save their timeouts for end-of-game situations so that they can huddle with their team and set something up.

This can be beneficial when one of your star players is struggling to get into the flow of the game. Getting them a good shot and seeing the basketball go through the net can do wonders for their confidence.

For example, it’s always good to have a quick-hitter three-point play up your sleeve for late in games when your team is down by 2. Consider taking a little time out of each practice to make sure your team can do this effectively.

zone basketball defense
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This happens by running an immediate ‘floppy’ out of the 1-4 set where both guards cut off screens to find open space. Key Personnel: This is a versatile play as every player can potentially get a shot out of it.

The point guard must be a good decision maker to find the open player. Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a 1-4 high set.

After screening, 4 and 5 immediately duck in and look to receive the quick pass for the layup. The point guard has now had 4 great passing options which lead to quick open shots.

Coaching Points: The players must know who the initial cutter is going to be so that the guards know who must set the screen. The point guard must be a great decision maker at the top of the key.

There will be open looks from this play… your point guard must be able to make the pass on time and on-target. Overview of the Play: One of my favorite basketball plays for catching the defense off guard getting a quick post up.

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If the post isn’t open, there’s a staggered screen for a weak side shooter. Key Personnel: A great post player at the 5 position.

The key goal of this play is to get a quick and clear post up. Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a 3-out 2-in formation with the posts on the elbows and the wing players in the corners.

1 starts the drill by dribbling their defender down one side of the floor to create good screening angle. If 1 can’t get the basketball into the post, 3 and 4 set a staggered screen for 2 who cuts to the top of the key ready for the open shot.

Coaching Points: Start the play with your best shooter on the same side as the best post player. Overview of the Play: UCLA curls allows your team to get open layups at the basket by keeping the lower key open and running guards off screens towards the ring.

If the first two players can’t get open, the play ends with a traditional wing pick and roll. Key Personnel: A well-rounded play that doesn’t require any player to have a specific skill-set.

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The player that receives the basketball on the wing (3) should be able to attack and make good decisions out of the pick and roll. Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a 1-4 high formation.

1 then performs a UCLA cut off 5’s screen looking to receive the pass for the open layup. 4 and 5 then set a staggered screen for 2 who curls towards the ring looking to receive the pass for the open layup also.

If they don’t receive the pass they clear out to ball side corner. 5 then sets a pick and roll for 3 who attacks the rim hard looking to score or create a play for a teammate.

Coaching Points: This is a great play because it keeps the post defenders out of the paint. On the pick and roll, the only inside defender will be the defensive point guard.

Instructions: Setup: The play begins in a horn set with your wing players level with the lower blocks. The play starts with 1 passing to either of the two post players on the elbow.

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2 can cut either high or low off the flex screen and looks for the pass from 4 and the easy layup. The two guards will look like they’re exchanging wings, but your best shooter will quickly cut to the top of the key off an elevator screen for the three-point shot.

Key Personnel: A great shooter on the wing who will run the baseline cut. Instructions: Setup: The play begins in a 1-4 high formation.

They must make a quick change of direction and burst through the elevator screen. For this reason, 2 should wait an extra second before starting their baseline cut.

That’s why it’s important for 2 to quickly change direction and create separation so that the post players have time to step closer. If 4’s defender predicts the pass and cuts it off, 4 should dive to the hoop for the layup.

Key Personnel: The point guard (or a player who initiates the offense) must be a good shooter. The wing player that receives the basketball must be a good decision maker and preferably can shoot the midrange shot and also finish at the rim.

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Instructions: Setup: The play begins in a 1-4 high formation. 1 then makes a UCLA cut off the screen by 5 looking to receive the pass for the layup.

As this is happening, 3 and 4 walk their players down towards the weak side low block to set a double screen for 1. Coaching Points: One of the advantages of this play is that it can be run on either side of the floor.

If you’re coaching a young team, they shouldn’t cut outside the three-point line. Make sure 5 sets the pick and roll screen on the correct angle that allows 2 to attack the rim.

The name of the play comes from the opening cuts made by the guards. This play is guaranteed to get your team open shot opportunities.

Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a high 2-3 formation. The play begins with either of the top two guards making a pass to a wing player.

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Coaching Points: 5 must hold their position on the high post as 1, 2, and 4 use them as a screen. Overview of the Play: A quick hitter to use against a 2-3 zone to get your best shooter an open shot off a flare screen on the wing.

Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a 1-3-1 formation with a player that can shoot in the corner on the same side as your best shooter. The play begins with 1 take a few dribbles and passing to 2 on the wing.

2 then takes two or three dribbles towards the top of the key forcing X2 to follow in order to deny the open shot. While this is happening, 4 has walked x4 towards the rim handsets a screen so that X4 can’t contest the shot.

2 uses the flare screen and 1 makes the pass over the top for the open three-point shot by 2. Coaching Points: The flare screen set by 5 must be quick so that X2 is caught off guard.

This play will only fool the defense once or twice a game so keep it in mind for special occasions where you need a three-point shot. It involves moving the defense over and then screening the weak side low defender to open a lane for the lob pass and finish.

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Key Personnel: A point guard that can throw a great lob pass. An athletic perimeter player to catch the lob pass and score either by dunk or layup.

Having forced the defense to rotate to one side, 5 established position behind X4 and nudges them up the lane to create space on the baseline. 3 then cuts hard to the ring behind the screen from 5 and catches the lob pass from 1 for the easy score.

Coaching Points: Since this play is designed to catch the defense by surprise, don’t use it more than once or twice each game. Lob basketball plays can be a great way to get the crowd involved.

If you have an athletic player that can finish, use this play to engage the crowd! Instructions: Setup: The play begins in a 4 out 1 in formation with the shooter in the corner.

The play begins with 1 passing to the wing on the same side as the corner player. 3 then cuts all the way across the court under the high zone defenders to the opposite wing.

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Coaching Points: • 5 must not telegraph that they’re going to set a screen or X5 will fight through it early and be able to contest the shot. • 4 must cut hard and quickly along the baseline for the catch and shoot.

• If you’re going to use this play, make sure your players work on this shot during practice. Overview of the Drill: This is a quick hitter play for your team’s best shooter.

The play starts by moving the defense and then your shooter will run off a double screen and receive the basketball for the open shot. 1 must be able to make a good pass at exactly the right time to the shooter.

1 will start the drill by making a pass to the team’s best shooter (2) on the wing. 2 immediately makes a deep cut behind the defense as 1 dribbles across the top of the key to create a better passing angle.

Coaching Points: This play can be run on either side of the floor. Overview of the Play: This 2-3 zone play is designed to get an open three-point shot on the wing or in the corner by overloading one side of the zone and forcing 2 defenders to guard 3 offensive players.

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Key Personnel: • A point guard (1) with good decision-making skills. The play begins with 1 dribbling to either side of the floor to drag the high defender in the zone X1 to the wing.

At the same time, 3 slides down towards the corner to give 1 more space on the wing. If X2 doesn’t slide across to stop dribble penetration, 1 can finish with a floater or midrange pull-up.

At the same time that 1 uses the screen from 5, 3 deep cuts along the baseline to the opposite corner. If X2 does stop dribble penetration (as we expect they will), 1 passes to 2 on the wing who should be wide open for the three-point shot.

Coaching Points: • It doesn’t matter which side of the floor this play is run on since both wing players will be in shooting positions. Overview of the Play: This is a quick hitter designed to get a good shooter an open three-point shot from the corner off a skip pass.

Due to the skip pass, this may be hard for young teams to execute, but high school teams and older will find a lot of success using this play. Instructions: Setup: Your team starts in a 1-3-1 set with the low post player on the same side as your best three-point shooter.

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Coaching Points: • When 5 sets the screen on the back side of D4, they need to make sure they don’t do it until the pass is about to be made. After using the pick-and-roll, the point guard has a number of options to give your team in the best opportunity to score.

Coaching Points: 5 must set the screen on a good angle so that 1 can attack the rim. A lot of youth players set the screen on the side of the defender, and they easily slip under it.

Overview of the Play From a 4-low formation, the ball is passed to the middle players at the top of the key. The play then involves a flex screen and pin down which provides two great open shot opportunities.

Instructions: Setup: The play begins in a 4-low formation with the big son ball-side. 4 cuts to the top of the key and receives the inbounds lob pass.

3 waits an extra second and then cuts to the top of the key and receives the pass from 4. Coaching Points: 3 must be able to make smart decisions with the basketball and hit the open player at the right time and on-target.

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Overview of the Play: The play begins in a box formation and involves your best shooter setting a simple back screen for a center to get open for a quick layup. The screener then uses a gate screen to open up a catch and shoot from the wing.

Key Personnel: the Best shooter should start on the weak side low block. 1 steps inside the court and sets a cross screen for 5 who looks to duck in for the pass or post up on the ball-side low block.

Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a box formation with the shooter inbounding the basketball. The play begins with 4 stepping off the low block to receive the pass.

By this time the shooter (2) has walked their player into the middle of the key. 4 and 3 then set a gate screen on the low block which 2 sprints through to get open for the shot.

Coaching Points: The gate screen provides the primary scoring opportunity. Only after you’ve run the play a few times and the defender cheats should the shooter look to use the single screen from 5.

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This is a great play for youth basketball due to its simplicity. The shooter should give a small ‘nudge’ to their defender before cutting through the gate screen to create separation.

If none of the shots are open, the team can either post up one of the big or set a ram screen for the perimeter player. Key Personnel: This play works the best if 1, 2, and 3 can hit an open outside shot.

A second later (timing is important), 4 sets a down screen for 1 who cuts to the top of the key. 4 then immediately sets another screen for 2 who cuts from the inbounding position to the wing.

5 can receive the quick pass inside for the layup or post up on the low block. 5 can sprint up and set a screen on 2’s defender, and we’re now in a pick and roll with fantastic spacing.

Overview of the Play: This play starts in a box set and has numerous scoring opportunities including a shooter cutting off a double-screen for the shot, a post player diving to the rim, and a pick-and-roll with great spacing if none of the first two options are open. The post player that you want to screen on the pick should start on the ball-side low block.

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Instructions: Setup: The play begins in a box formation. The play begins with 5 sliding to the high post and setting a double screen with 4.

2 curls tight off 4 and 5’s double screen looking for the catch and shoot on the wing. If 5 notices their defender helping, they duck to the rim for the layup.

3 takes a few steps towards the rim and the pops out calling for the basketball to draw their defender out with them. If no immediate scoring options are open, 1 inbounds the basketball to 2.

4 and 5 immediately set a staggered down screen for 1 who cuts to the top of the key. 4 slides down to the weak-side short corner and both wing players create the best angles possible for the drive and kick.

1 uses 5’s screen and attacks the rim looking to score or dish off to an open shooter after reading the help defense. Overview of the Play: One of the bestbasketballplays out of the common stack set to get your best shooter an open midrange or three-point shot on the wing.

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Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a stack formation except the point guard (1) who is on the weak-side elbow. The play begins with 4 popping out to the perimeter and receiving the pass from 3.

As this happens, 2 drags their defender lower by taking a few steps towards the hoop and calling for the basketball. 1 should take a dribble in the opposite direction to get the defenders moving towards the middle and to open up the pass to 2.

4 and 5 immediately set a staggered screen for 2 who reads their defender and cuts out and receives the pass from 1 for either the midrange or three-point shot on the wing. Coaching Points: It’s important for 1 to sell the fake dribble towards 3 at the top of the key to get the defense moving across.

At the beginning of the play, players shouldn’t face the direction they’re going to go, or they’ll give away their movements. The two guards move to safety positions and keep their defenders occupied.

Key Personnel: Best used on a team with great post players. 5 waits for one to two seconds while facing 2 and then cuts across the lane to set a strong screen on 4’s defender.

If 5’s defender cuts off the pass, 4 should back out to the short corner to open up the paint for 5. After screening, 5 seals 4’s defender and pivots towards the hoop where 3 should be able to pass to them for the open layup.

If no options are open, 3 passes over the top to 2 and the team sets up the half-court offense. Coaching Points: 1 and 2 must call for the basketball while cutting even if they know they won’t receive it.

The ball gets to the top of the key, a quick flash from the weak side, and then a pass to the corner to the in-bounder off strong screen. A player capable of setting a strong screen on the ball-side low block.

This means that instead of being on the low blocks and elbows, players are approximately 3 feet wider than usual. The play begins with 3 popping out to the wing and catching the pass from 2.

On 3’s catch, 4 immediately flashes to the middle of the key to receive the pass. 5 will set a screen on the low ball-side post player and 2 will curl around to the corner to catch the pass from 4 and take the three-point shot.

If x3 does get around the screen, 5 will be open for the bounce pass and layup as x5 is forced to defend the player in the middle of the key. Coaching Points: This is one of the basketball plays where we catch the defense off-guard, it’s not going to work if you run it too regularly.

If 5 does get the catch inside, they must go up strong because x5 will usually turn around and foul. Overview of the Play: This is a 2-3 zone BLOB box set with multiple scoring options.

Instructions: Setup: The play begins in a box formation. 1 pops high to the slot and 3 moves down to the block with 4 to set a double screen.

If 2 isn’t open for the shot, 3 flashes to the high post and 1 passes the basketball to 3. 4 then sets a back screen on the bottom wing defender and 5 sprints backdoor looking for the open pass and layup.

4 pops out to the wing after setting the back screen and is then open for a three-point shot depending on how x4 decides to play it. If 3 feels like they have a speed mismatch against x5, they can also attack the rim from the high post.

The decision made from this spot will often decide whether your team gets and open shot/layup or not. Teach your players what option will be open depending on how the defense guards them.

Key Personnel: Two players who can knock down the open three-point shot (2 and 3). One player who can read the situation and make the correct pass (1).

Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a 1-4 high formation. The play begins with 2 and 3 cutting to their respective corners calling loud for the basketball.

4 and 5 wait a second and then cross paths and cut to opposite low blocks. 1 then reads where the defenders moved to and passes to the open play for the shot.

Coaching Points: If one of the shooters does receive the pass and takes the shot, the opposite corner must immediately sprint back on defense to prevent the fast break. I always advise the in-bounder to look at the player cutting to the opposite corner at the start of the play.

Key Personnel: A strong shooter (2) who can make the three-point shot at a high percentage. Post players (4) and (5) who are capable of making a strong skip passes.

Instructions: Setup: The play starts in a 1-4 high formation. 3 sprints to the strong side short corner at the same time.

Coaching Points: 5 can also dribble to the wing to make the skip pass to 4 easier. Overview of the Play: This 2-3 zone quick hitter BLOB play results in either an open three-point shot in the corner or a post player shooting an open jump shot from the low block.

This occurs by forcing the low zone defender to make a decision on who to guard. Key Personnel: A strong shooter (2) who can make the 3-point shot at a high percentage.

A post player (4) who can make a midrange shot close to the basket. The play begins with 5 cutting down the key and sealing the middle zone defender (x5) with a screen.

2 cuts towards the ball-side corner and should be open forth pass and shot if 4 and 5 have done a good job of sealing their opponents. 1 cuts to the ball-side slot to force the ball-side guard defender (x1) to hold their position.

4 and 5 should be setting the screen at the same time and 2 must immediately cut to the corner for the shot. Face the middle of the floor, and they can even make to set a screen before cutting there.

This quick hitter won’t work if you’re running it every time you have a baseline inbounds. The player inbounding the basketball must make the correct read and pass.

Overview of the Play: This is a 2-3 zone BLOB set designed to get your best shooter an open shot on the strong side corner. The play works by screening the two side defenders in the zone in a creative way.

Key Personnel: A strong shooter (2) who can make the three-point shot at a high percentage. Instructions: Setup: Begin in a box formation that’s pushed closer to ball-side.

When 2 sees that 5 has just set the screen on x2, 2 will then sprint off 4s back to the corner preparing to shoot. It involves clearing out two of the low zone defenders and creating a gap for a player to receive the pass for a quick midrange shot.

Key Personnel: A strong shooter (2) who can make the three-point shot at a high percentage. A post player (4) able to cut into the gap and make a short midrange shot.

Instructions: Setup: Players are set up in a stack formation on the ball-side edge of the key. 2 immediately cuts to the corner calling for the basketball to drag out the low wing defender (x3).

This leaves a gap for 4 to step into and receive the pass from 1 for the open shot. If x3 does stay and cut off the pass to 4, that will leave 2 open in the corner for the catch and shoot the three-pointer.

Coaching Points: As always, timing of the screens and cuts is crucial for the play to be successful. 4 needs to wait for the gap to open up before stepping up and calling for the basketball.

Very important that 2 is calling for the basketball as they cut to the corner to drag the defender out with them. 1 must read x3 and then make the correct pass to the open player.

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