By Hal Wissel
In zone defenses, defenders are assigned to a designated area of the court rather than an individual offensive opponent. When you attack zone defenses, you should understand the type of zone you are playing against. Different zones employ different strategies, from sagging inside to pressuring outside shots, overplaying passing lanes, or trapping the ball. Zone defenses are named according to the alignment of players from the top toward the basket; these alignments include the 2-1-2, 2-3, 1-2-2, 3-2, and 1-3-1 zones.
Several common set offenses are used against zones. One method of attacking a zone is to use an offset alignment. Attack a zone that has an even front (two players) with an odd front (one player), and vice versa. This allows you to get into the gaps or seams of the zone—the areas between defensive players—where the defenders may be indecisive or late in covering. Other set attacks against the zone include sending a cutter or cutters through to open areas on the weak side and inside and overloading a zone area.
Principles for Attacking Zone Defenses
The basic principles for attacking zones are more important than those for a set zone offense that includes plays and options that can be diagrammed because knowing the basic principles will help in any set zone offense.
• Fast break. Beat the zone upcourt and attack it before the defenders get to their zone positions.
• Use good spacing. Spread the zone. Three-point shooters should spot up behind the three-point line.
• Move the ball. The ball can move faster than the zone can shift. Pass the ball from the ball side to the weak side. Move the ball inside, then out.
• Reverse the ball. Pass the ball to make the defense move in one direction, then quickly reverse the ball back (snap-back pass) to the opposite side.
• Be a triple threat. Square up to the basket and be a threat to score. Make use of shot fakes and pass fakes.
• Split the zone. Outside players should move into the gaps or seams of the zone (between defenders) and within shooting range.1
• Draw and kick. Penetrate between defenders to draw your teammate’s defender to you and create an open passing lane to your teammate.
• Use cuts. Send a cutter or cutters through to the weak side or to the inside behind the defense. It is very difficult for the defense to have visual contact with both the ball and an offensive player cutting through and from behind.
• Show patience, poise, and good shot selection. When you are patient, the defense can become fatigued and make mistakes.
• Attack the offensive boards. Although the opponent’s better rebounders can be positioned in the inside zone areas, they have a more difficult time matching up to block out aggressive offensive rebounders.