Zone Offense Approach

We took a look at how we typically attacked Zone Defenses this year using our 'Gaps' and 'Ball Screen' Concepts.

Google Slide Presentation:

Zone Offense YouTube Playlist:

Attacking Zones

The majority of most Coaches practice plans revolve around their man to man offense, however one forgotten piece of their plans is their building of Zone Offense. Although it varies from year to year we generally see somewhere around 30-35% of our possessions versus Zone Defense. The vast majority of these zone defenses fall into one of four categories; A) 23 Zone, B) 32 Zone, C) 131 Zones, or D) Box & 1 Zone. So as we coaches plan out our practices we must make sure to include a plan of attack against these kinds of Zone Defenses.

The main thing I attempt to do with my Zone Offense is to keep it simple. In my opinion having a few simple "Zone Concepts" that your players can use to read the defense is much more beneficial than implementing a bunch of Zone Specific Set plays. There are two main Zone Concepts that we are going to discuss in this post. One of them is our "Gaps" approach, which centers on Spacing, Ball Movement, and on occasion Drive & Space Reactions. The other is "Head Tap", aka a high ball screen designed to bring two defenders to the basketball. We will also discuss a few options to use Off Ball Screening as a means to pin "wing defenders" in certain zones.

"Gaps" Concept

The Gaps Concept is probably something that all coaches are familiar with. Depending on the formation of the Zone Defense our offensive players are simply aligning themselves in the Gaps. By doing this we are simply trying to achieve that pivotal "Zone Concept" of making two players guard one. In the diagram below we have the "Gaps Concept" drawn against a 23 Zone (the most common zone we will face). Here the guards (1,2,3) are aligned in the Top and Wing gaps; and the forwards (4,5) are aligned in the High Post and Baseline gaps.

3 Ways to Break it Down:

Perimeter Ball Movement

One of the negative to 23 Zone Defense is that it can be susceptible to ball reversal. So by quickly moving the ball from gap to gap you may be able to create open looks.

High Post & Short Corner

Entering the basketball behind the defense can also open up the "one more pass" that can lead to kick out shots & drop pass layups.

Drive & Space

Attacking the Gaps of the defense with the dribble is another great way to distort the defense, make two guard one, and drop the ball off to another player for quality shots.

"Head Tap" Concept

Using the ball screen as a pressure release within our Man to Man Offense made its use in our Zone Offense a bit more seamless. The simple tapping of the head signals to our Middle Man that he needs to now become a ball screener. Just as in the Gaps Concept we are trying to get to the moment where two defenders are guarding the basketball. The ball screen will not always create a score, but by drawing those two defenders it has done its job in creating the initial small advantage that we need to get a shot.

Teaching Points:

Inside Ball Screens

In scenarios where the top two defenders are spread wide the screener should set the screen to the inside where the other top defender can be drawn in.

Outside Ball Screens

In most scenarios the top defenders are closer together, and in these scenarios setting the outside ball screen is a great way to force the wing player to commit to the ball.

Wing Players

One teaching point for the off ball players is to make sure they are moving away from the ball handler as he uses the screen. This will ensure that the maximum amount of pressure is placed on the second defender that is committing to the basketball.

Off Ball Screening Options

When facing off fronted zones using some Off Ball Screening can be a great way to take advantage of the bottom or wing defenders. As I had mentioning in the introduction to this post finding a way to mesh your man to man concepts with your zone concepts in a must. This is going to make it much easier for your players to focus on what they're seeing than on what they're trying to remember.

One action that we used versus both Man to Man and Zone Defenses was our Baseline Stagger Action. We used this as a counter to our Motion Strong Action and also used it versus some Zones as well, looking for Pin & Seal opportunities.

Other Off Ball Options:

Pin Action

Pin Action is a great way to separate the top two defenders of the zone and slide a shooter into the high post for a jump shot.

A. Exchange & Stretch the Top

B. Pin the Top, Slip to Middle

Pop Action

This is a great way to get your primary ball handler a shot exploiting the bottom defender in the zone. You are entering the ball to the wing, and then eventually getting a Pin Screen from 4 to the Corner.

A. Hit the Seal if not Open

Box & 1 Strategies

If you coach a high caliber player then you need to be prepared to combat the Box & 1 Strategy. This defensive tactics is trying to take away your best player and force your secondary players to beat them. For a number of reasons Box & 1 Defenses can be especially disruptive:

1. It can Frustrate Your Player

2. It can Force You Out of Your Normal Offense

3. It is Unconventional by Nature

4. It is Daring your "Other Players" to Step Outside of their Normal Role

There are three basic strategies we employed versus this defense that found some level of success; the Spread Ball Screen, Posting Up, & simply Running Our Man Offense. The Spread Ball Screen allows us to get the ball in the hands of our "Boxed Player" immediately and either get a shot or make a play out of a 2/1 situation. The Post Up can be a great way to isolate a bigger guard (or forward) by getting the ball to the corner and distorting the zone. Simply running your Man to Man Offense can also be a great way to keep your players in familiar territory while perhaps emphasizing the "backside" of your system.

Recommended Clinic Notes

Over the past two weeks there has been a number of great clinic talks given through the platform. I have putting together detailed notes on all the presentations I've watched (we're up to over 60 presentations now) and there are a number of great Zone Offense & Defense presentations that may help spark some creativity in coaches. I would urge you to check out ones I have accumulated notes on if this is an area of need for you.

1. Matt Cline | 23 Zone -

2. Will Rey | Multiple Defense System (131) -

3. Mike Divilbiss | The Buzz Defense -

4. Brian Barone | Press & Zone Attacks -

5. Russ Bergman | Attacking Zone with Ball Screens -

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