Many teams are unprepared for playing against zone defenses. That is why a lot of teams employ a zone defense. Playing against a zone is not rocket science, but we often make it more difficult than it should be.
It is impossible (and very unwise) to ignore zone defenses because at some point you will be forced to play against one. As the coach, it is imperative that you equip your players with the knowledge and techniques necessary to beat a zone defense.
The following 10 fundamental ideas should be incorporated into your zone offensive system and sets.
So, here are the 10 fundamental ideas for building a zone offense:
- Fast Break the Zone Defense
In virtually all zone defenses, the team will place their big men/post players in or near the lane. As post players, they are also probably playing near the basket on the offensive end of the court. So, in general, the biggest and least mobile players have to run farther than the smaller, quicker players. If you look to incorporate the fast break, you can exploit this weakness.
- Move the Basketball in Correlation to the Zone Defense
If your opponent is playing a lazy zone or a packed-in zone, you will want to move the ball more quickly. You may also be able to hit the high post and swing opposite for a jump shot. Essentially, you may need to hit more perimeter shots, but you still need to move the ball and attack. If your opponent plays an aggressive or trapping type of zone, you may need to be more methodical in your attacking. Move the ball, but with more purpose. Looks for the gaps and seams in the zone and break cutters into those areas. Basically, however your opponent plays should be recognized so you can prepare as to how you want to control the tempo.
- Overload the Zone
Have as a either a set play or as a part of your zone continuity where you outnumber the defense on one side of the court. As example of this setup is the 1-3-1 zone offense with a baseline runner. As the baseline player roams, the overload will shift from side to side.
- Split the Zone
Your zone offense will not be very effective if you let the defenders basically matchup with you. Move players so they are between the defenders. By not allowing the defenders to easily match up, you are forcing the zone to adjust and shift or else they will be allowing easy, open shots. A simple way to split the zone is to remember that when they play an even front zone such as the 2-3, you use a one-man front. When they play an odd front zone such as the 1-3-1, you use a two-man front.
- Control the Free Throw Line
Make use of a player who is good at shooting and passing from the free throw line / elbow area. Through your offensive system or set plays, if you can get the ball to that area the zone defenders will need to adjust. If they should move up from the basket area to cover, that makes them weaker under the basket. A high / low pass works well in this situation. If they attempt to cover that area from the wing, that leaves a wing player open for a shot attempt.
- Cut the Zone
By cutting through the zone, it forces them to play you man-to-man for a short period of time. This leaves a part of the zone uncovered where another player can step in for an open shot. If they don’t cover the cutter, you may get yourself an easy layup.
- Reverse to Overshift the Defense
Keep the ball moving and don’t let it stay on one side of the court. Reversing the basketball from one side to the other causes the zone defense to move. If it does not move quickly enough, they will give you an open shot.
- Screen the Overshift
When the basketball is on one side of the floor, have a weakside offensive player step in to set a screen on the outside defender. On ball reversal, have a player cut further out than the screener / defender. This weakside screen does not allow the defender to get back to his defensive position quickly enough to defend the shot.
- Pull the Zone High
This will work best when you have the lead. If the defense is content to sit back, let them. When they come out to defend, this will open up the court for backdoor cuts and flashes to the ball. The more you can pull the zone out higher, the more open the court becomes.
- Exploit their Individual Weaknesses
If your opponent has some weaker defenders, make sure you get your best players into those areas. For example, get your good post player(s) to where they have a weak or shorter inside defender. Also, put your good shooters on the side of the weakest perimeter defender. In a man-to-man defense, poor defenders can often be hidden because they will be guarding your weakest offensive players. In a zone defense, they are forced to guard the player in their area. Don’t let bad defenders catch a break by letting them hideout in a zone.