Best Zone Press

Christina Perez
• Thursday, 03 December, 2020
• 8 min read

WIN MORE GAMES with offenses, defenses, plays, drills, fundamentals, strategy, animations, video, Playbook download, youth section... unique, mobile ready. Before proceeding with this page, read Transition Defense “, on full court defense. Set up the 2-2-1 zone press like this (see Diagram A).

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(Source: www.jes-basketball.com)


Two other defenders should be positioned just inside the half-court line, and the fifth player plays “prevent”. Once the dribble is started, they should attack and trap him/her near the sideline (Diagram B).

Now the opposite guard and mid-court defenders play the passing lanes (see Diagram C). Oakland University coach Greg Kampen (see video below) wants the ball stopped and trapped along the sideline at half-court.

Once the press is broken, or the offense crosses mid-court, all defenders not on the ball should sprint back to the paint to protect basket (unless there is an easy trap in the sideline, mid-court line corner). The on-ball defender should stay on the ball and stop dribble penetration.

There are variations and adjustments to this basic zone, depending on how the offense uses their point guard... i.e. whether he/she tries to receive the inbounds pass, or make the inbounds pass and then receive the ball right back. We want to keep the ball out of the hands of the best ball-handler, and have someone bring it up who is not comfortable in that role, thereby increasing the chance of a turnover.

In this case, the X2 defender will deny the pass back to the in bounder, and will play him/her man-to-man, in full denial. But again remember, all zone presses have an element of risk, and are a gamble.

press zone break against
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Instead, place your X5 back in “prevent”, to protect against the long pass and lay-up. The other four defenders match up with the other four offensive players and playful denial, trying to prevent the inbounds pass.

Until the ball is passed inbounds, you have a 5 on 4 situations, with five defenders and only four offensive receivers. This is the advantage of not guarding the passer, but rather having X5 protect against the long pass.

Our favorite (high school varsity level) is the full-court matchup press “system”, initially pioneered by Rick Piano at Kentucky. A good press can create back-court turnovers, steals and easy baskets for your team.

So it is an offensive weapon as such, and a way to come from behind, or a way to break open a close game, and a way to wear down a slower, not well-conditioned opponent. It may help nullify the opponent's “big”, who may labor to get up and down the floor. It favors a well-conditioned team with a deep bench, and with more substitutions, allows more of your players to get playing time.

A fair amount of practice time is required to develop a good, cohesive press. You risk giving up the easy transition lay-ups, and you have to be willing to accept that fact. If your players are not well-conditioned, fatigue can become a factor.

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You might want to press only in certain situations (e.g. after a made basket), or certain times of the game, as a surprise tactic. This press would probably be less effective at higher levels where good ball-handling guards could break it down.

Vulnerable along the sidelines at half-court, but you can adjust to a 1-2-2 (but then there is no defender back deep as a safety). 2-2-1 zone press ... allow the inbounds pass (to the corner), get the ball-handler to commit, and then aggressively trap and rotate.

It has the advantage of always having pressure on the ball no matter what press -breaker the offense uses. The match-up press is different from a zone press in that we have our defenders all match-up with someone when the ball is inbounded... much like man-to-man defense. Run and Jump Press ... Coach Forrest Larson of Lake Geneva Badger High School (Wisconsin) has put together an excellent DVD entitled “Simplified Run and Jump”.

Do you just want to use it as a surprise tactic, and make the offense less comfortable? As a high school coach, I tried to find the simplest way to attack any defense with consistent principles that would work for any press.

Rather than adjust to the defense, we played to our own strengths and used the same attack plan. This will create a numbers advantage down court for the other players on your team.

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If none of those opportunities are available, reverse the ball to the weak side of the press. I advocate patience with the ball until we beat the first double team and then once we got it over half court we would seek out the open man for a lay-up.

We want to punish the pressing team by getting high percentage shots consistently. Jumpers lead to deep rebounds and fast break opportunities going the other way and potentially playing into the opponent’s game plan.

It gives your team great trapping opportunities while being a good press for containment and not allowing easy scores on the other end of the floor. Players running the 2-2-1 press in older age groups have to play smarter in order to not allow the pass over the top and easy layup.

To put it simply, the goal of the press is to keep the ball out of the middle of the court and force the opponent to play down the sidelines. Allows you to disrupt tempo The 2-2-1 press forces the opponent play at an uncomfortable pace.

On one end of the floor they’re forced to be slow and deliberate to bring the ball up the court, but once it’s been advanced it often leads to the opponent taking tough and rushed shots. Run down the shot clock By taking away long passes and forcing the offense to be deliberate with the ball and make smart passes and ball reversals, it’s going to wipe a lot of time off the shot clock and potentially force a back court violation.

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When players are in a team press like the 2-2-1, it means you have to trust your teammates and work as a unit. For whatever reason, I can confidently say that players play much harder when your team is implementing a press.

Fatigue the opponent It’s physically and mentally tough to play against a press. Defenders trapping must move their feet into position and not reach or slap at the ball with their hands as this will often result in a foul.

What you do when the press is beaten will depend on the age and experience level of the team you coach. Back Line Out of the other three players, you need to decide which one is best at reading the play and intercepting the basketball.

The responsibility of the front line player on ball-side is to pressure the dribbler after the catch and force them down the sideline where we can trap the ball. It’s imperative that these players are able to put pressure on the basketball and channel the ball-handler down the sideline without getting beaten off the dribble.

The key is to keep a bit over an arms-length distance away from the offensive player and force them to play slow and methodical. The ball-side second line is responsible for trapping the basketball and forcing the opposition to make a lob pass over the top that can be intercepted.

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The weak-side second line player is responsible for falling back and protecting the ring. The single person in the back line’s primary responsibility is to intercept the basketball.

As talked about in the initial setup, this position should be the best player on your team at reading the play and intercepting the ball since they will get plenty of opportunities to do so. Instead, we start the two front line defenders (X1 and X2) on the high posts and wait until the ball has been passed in before picking up the player with the basketball.

This plays to our advantage in slowing the ball down and potentially getting a back court violation. Instead, we start the two front line defenders (X1 and X2) on the high posts and wait until the ball has been passed in before picking up the player with the basketball.

This plays to our advantage in slowing the ball down and potentially getting a back court violation. We don’t want to allow their point guard to survey the floor and make easy reads as to where they should pass it to.

When the closest guard closes to defend the ball-handler, they must position their body in a stance that forces the offensive player towards the sideline (where our traps will occur). If they do dribble middle past the on-ball defense, it’s the weak side front line players job to come across and help and make them pass back to the sideline.

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The last man back (X3) should always be in-line with the basketball and be ready to pick off any long passes made over the top. Once the offensive player is forced to the sideline it’s time for the middle-line to help and trap the ball.

As the dribbler nears the second-line, the strong-side second-line player (X4) moves up to set the trap with the on-ball defender (X1). The goal of the trap is not to steal the basketball but to force the player with the ball to make a lob pass over the top that can be intercepted.

If your players reach in and try to steal the ball it will more often than not result in a foul call. This will keep the energy of the team up while also further distracting the offensive player that is being trapped.

When the trap happens the weak-side front-line player (X2) must immediately move into the middle of the floor and become and interceptor. The back line player (X3) is now the main interceptor and is in position to pick off any lob passes over the trap.

The weak-side second line player (X5) now falls back and protects the basket from easy layups. Most 2-2-1 presses end after the first trap and use this lob pass over the top to break the press before the point guard comes and receives the easy pass before setting up their half-court offense.

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The ball-side front line player (X1) should try and take away the easy pass to the closest guard. This is a very effective trap once it has been drilled to your team and is fantastic and continuing to disrupt the tempo of the opposition.

If the press is beaten in the front court, X1 and X2 can look to double the ball or get a tap from behind. If they double the ball X4 and X5 become the interceptors while X3 stays back and protects the ring.

I prefer my teams to go with option two which is much simpler for youth players and allows us to set up our half court defense and play from there. A variation you can use for the 2-2-1 is to deny the inbounds pass instead of allowing the opposition to enter the ball uncontested.

As soon as the ball has been inbounded the on-ball defender takes a step off and resumes channeling the basketball down the sideline, while the weak side front-line player sprints to their position as interceptor/help defender in the middle of the floor. The conservative 2-2-1 press is a variation of the 2-2-1 that I’ve used when the team I’m coaching has one big and fairly athletic player that I would rather have stay back and defend the ring at all times.

Many coaches use this version without considering the original 2-2-1 because they assume the biggest player on the team should always be all the way back. This player must sprint laterally across the court looking to make an interception instead of falling back to protect the ring.

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I find this variation to be less effective at stealing the ball compared to the back line player being the main interceptor, but if you have the right personnel, it’s great to be able to still run the press while still guarding the ring with your big player. By forcing them to play fast and slow at the same time, the opposition will find it incredibly hard to ever get into a rhythm on offense which is exactly what the 2-2-1 press sets out to achieve.

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