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Thanks to Syracuse, West Virginia, Baylor and others, the prevalence of zone defenses have taken shape in college basketball.  Moreover, there are teams on the high school levels and even some professional teams that feature some sort of zone defense as a part of their defensive schemes.  Because of this, offenses need to find ways to run a solid and consistent offense against zone defenses.  This article will provide you with three types of zone offenses and ways that you can teach them to your team so that you can be prepared when you face a zone defense team.

The Need for Zone Offense

With the increasing popularity in playing multiple defenses, several teams have decided to start playing zone defenses.  In being a team prepared for a zone (either by surprise or knowing in advance thanks to scouting), you will need to have some sort of zone offense for these situations.  If not, your players will become confused at this defense that you have not prepared them for in advance of the game.

Concepts Designed to Defeat Zone Offenses

When putting together a zone offense, there are a number of concepts that can be used.  These concepts are:

  • Filling the natural gaps of the zone.  Zone defenses rely on players guarding area, not specific players.  By getting into the right alignment against a given zone, we can get certain players to be guarded by two players or to be left wide open if they are aligned in the natural gaps of the zone.

  • Post penetration.  Even though the zone defense is designed to take away the middle of the floor, this does not mean that the zone completely eliminates post penetration by the offense.  We can find ways to get the ball inside and continue to honor the post even against a zone defense.

  • Ball and player movement to attack the zone.  When we use the pass and cutters, we are never using passing and cutting for the sake of passing and cutting.  All of our offensive actions must be done with a purpose.  When we pass, we want to always honor the post area or skip the ball if at all possible.  Also, players cannot stay stationary against a zone because that affords the zone defense the luxury of not having to expend itself as much as we would like.

  • Proper use of screens.  When we run our zone offense, we need to know which defensive players to screen based on the slides of the zone.  We also want our players to learn how to cut off of screens properly if they are using the help with cuts.

  • Use of the dribble.  One way that we can attack a zone is by using the dribble wisely.  Many teams that play zone are accustomed to passing as a way to move the ball.  By having this extra added weapon at our disposal, we create a new situation that the zone has to defend.

  • Utilization of personnel.  Our players have to be put in positions in the zone offense to be successful.  Not every player who plays basketball can shoot the three-point shot or score from the low post.  Against zone defenses, we can put players in specific spots and allow them to be successful doing what they do best.

  • Ball and shot fakes.  This is an underrated part of zone offense because the zone is so predicated on ball movement.  Players are anticipating what the ball does more than what the actual offense does.  Shot fakes by offensive players can force the defensive players in the zone to raise their hands above their head, allowing for some advantageous passing angles.  Pass fakes can get the zone to move allowing passing angles that were once thought to be impossible.

If I had to sum it all up in a sentence, I would say that our zone offense concepts would be to get in the zone natural gaps and attack the zone with purpose using basic basketball fundamentals of cutting, passing, dribbling, screening and ball fakes.  Using these concepts, I have designed a method of attacking zone defenses by putting all of these offensive concepts into a structure that is simple and players can enjoy running in a game.

Types of Zone Offense

When choosing a type of zone offense, the philosophy is simple: use a zone offense alignment that allows your offense to attack the gaps of the zone.  For this, we have two types of zone offenses that we will use to attack the two types of zone alignments.

The first type of zone offense is the odd-guard front zone offense.  The odd-guard front zone offense is designed to work against 2-3 and 2-1-2 zones because of the even-guard front nature of both of these zone defenses.

The second type of zone offense is the even-guard front zone offense.  The even-guard front zone offense has been created to work against 1-3-1, 1-2-2 and 3-2 zones because all three of these types of zones employ odd-guard fronts.

When we talk to our players about zone offense, we remind them that we run our even-guard front zone offense against odd-guard front zones and our odd-guard front zone offense against even-guard front zones.

Odd-Guard Front Zone Offense

The first of these alignments is what we call "2-Down".  In this zone alignment, we will put #4 and #5 in the short corners and #2 and #3 just below the free-throw line extended.  #1 will assume the point position.  The basic concept of this offense is to get the ball to #2 and #3 and get into a high-low look.  We want to get the ball into the short corner with the screen on the middle man of the zone or to get the ball to the elbow.

It is absolutely imperative that #2 and #3 are below the free-throw line extended because if they are, they will draw the forwards (X3 and X4) in the match-up.  This is as opposed to drawing either X1 or X2.  Doing this will open up the middle with our action inside for #4 and #5 and it will allow us to attack inside against the zone.

Diagrams of "2-Down" vs. 2-3 Zone

The initial alignment of "2-Down" shows #4 and #5 in the short corners, #2 and #3 in the gaps just below the free-throw line extended and #1 at the point with the ball.

When the ball goes to #2 below the free-throw line extended, #4 screens the middle man of the zone (X5) and #5 comes under the screen.  As soon as #5 clears on his cut, #4 will slip the screen to the high post and look for a pass.

When #2 has the ball, his first pass look is to #5 in the short corner.  When #5 gets the ball, his first pass look is to #4 as #4 dives to the front of the rim.  His second and third pass looks are to #3 and #1 respectively.

The second pass look for #2 is to #4 in the high post area.  When #4 gets the ball, his first pass look is a high-low look at #5 going to the basket.  His second and third pass looks are to #3 and #1 respectively.

The third pass look for #2 is to make the skip pass to #3 on the top of the zone.  When this happens, #4 and #5 bleed across.  The pass looks, in order, for #3 are #5, #4, #2 and #1.

The fourth pass look for #2 is to make the pass back to #1.  When this happens, #4 drops down to the ball-side short corner as #5 moves to the help-side short corner.  From here, #1's pass looks are the reversal to #3 or back to #2.

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