A defense will run a 2-3 zone for several different reasons. It could be because they don’t think that your team shoots well, they might be undersized, also could be what they do well, or maybe to take you out of your normal man to man sets. Whatever the reason is, it is your job as the head coach to have your team prepared to play against a 2-3 zone.
Before talking about how to beat the zone it is important to recognize what the defense is trying to get you to do by playing your team in zone. The goal of a 2-3 defense is to keep everything outside, make the offense stagnant, and force contested 3 pointers. As a coach it is important to make sure that your team does not fall into these traps. Don’t let the defense dictate what you are going to do on offense.
The best way to beat a zone is ball movement and player movement through the zone. If your team is just standing around the perimeter passing the ball back and forth it is easy for the defense to guard. The ball needs to be moving around the zone, and players need to be flashing into the zone for passes. If you can get the ball in the high post then the defense has to suck in, this opens up teammates. It is the same if you can get a catch on the low block. The biggest thing when playing against a zone is, don’t let your players be ball stoppers. A ball stopper is someone that catches and holds the ball every time that they touch it, this will kill your zone offense. Keep the ball and your players moving.
In a zone defense every player is designed a specific area to guard and anyone that comes into that area is there responsibility. A great way to score against a zone is to overload a specific side or spot on the floor. This causes the defensive players to have to decide who they are going to guard and how they are going to guard them. If you can get the ball moving quickly and then overload a part of the zone, your team will usually end up with a good shot. Reversing the ball out of the overload will also allow you to end up with a good shot too, because the backside of the zone is usually focused on the over load as well.
Along with passing the ball around and through the zone you can beat a zone with dribbling. I hesitate to say this because players will think that they can break down a zone by going one on one with the dribble, this is not the case. The only time you should be dribbling; is off of a ball screen, driving a gap, or to improve a passing angle. A lot coaches don’t really use ball screen plays against the zone, and it wasn’t till I played professionally over in Spain that I really realized how good they actually work. If you can get one the top two defenders to make a mistake on the ball screen then this opens up great offense for the rest of the team. I mentioned earlier the term “driving the gap”, this simply means that when you catch the ball in between two zone defender on the perimeter there is a gap between those two players. If you drive that gap then both defenders are going to suck in to you and that means that there are now two defenders on you. When you pass the ball out the double your team will have the advantage because they are now 4 on 3. This can lead to a good shot or another gap drive, by this time the defense is all out of sorts and scrabbling, this leads to an open look.
It is important to have set plays and motion plays against a zone. Motion plays are continual movement until someone shoots the ball or breaks the play off. Set plays are when you run the play and you are looking for a specific shot for a specific player. Your zone playbook should have 2-3 motion offenses as well as 4-5 set plays, minimum. The set plays can be for 3′s, lob’s, high post, low post, ball screen, etc. Your teams motion offense should include a ball screen motion, cutting motion, and some kind of high low motion. Your set plays should get you 6-10 points and the should be plays that your team can execute very well. (BHQ’s 2-3 Zone Plays)
A couple of other notes about playing against a zone, don’t shoot early 3 pointers and crash the offensive boards. What a lot of players don’t realize is that if a long 3 is open at the beginning of the play, it will be there 20 seconds later after you have already run some offense. Unless you have a knock down shooter that is just feeling it, encourage your players to run offense. If nothing is there then shoot the 3 or even better then that try to shoot a 3 out of the offense. If the ball goes inside out to a good shooter then they need to shoot it every time, unless you are running a specific set play. It is really hard to defensive rebound out of a zone because it is so hard to get matched up for a box out on the shot. Make sure that your offensive players are taking advantage of this. Remind them to go hard to the glass and get second chance points for your team.
Beating a zone is all about not falling into the traps and running your offense the right way. You don’t have to shoot great to beat a zone, just be aggressive and attack the zone. Prepare your team in advance and explain to them why you shouldn’t shoot quick 3′s and how it is important to keep the ball moving. The more your players understand what they are supposed to do the better they will do it.