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Surviving Your Second Year as a Basketball Coach

Chapter 7 - Beating the Junk Defense

by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook

Junk defenses can really stymie a young team if they are not well grounded in dealing with zone defense. Some of the more common questions received by the Coach's Notebook and seen in various coaching bulletin boards concern tactics to use against "junk" zone defensive formations. The questions usually pertain to the 1-3-1, Box and 1 and Triangle & 2 zones. These defensive configurations can appear confusing even to an experienced team if they are being seen for the first time. For more information on conventional defenses, please see my articles, "Basic Man to Man", "Pressure Man to Man", and "Basic Zone".

The thing to remember is that all zones are compromises. To compromise means that one is willing to give up something in order to gain something else. People play zones to protect or hide players, or to constrain the defensive extension. What is given up is the individual responsibility inherent in a man to man defense. Zone responsibilities are about guarding an area rather than a particular player.

Junk zone defenses are often labeled as gimmicks. They are attempts to recover some of the advantages lost in the compromise of playing zone, so the junk defense is more like a hybrid of both zone and man to man. An optimistic coach will claim that the benefit is attaining the best of both worlds. I prefer to think that the junk defense is actually a compromise of a compromise, and therefore a weakened dilution of the basic zone defense.

Discussed in this article is the Box and 1 defense because that's what my buddy, Ed Riley, described above. If you run into a new variation, take minute and sketch it out on paper. The principles applied here will work against other formations. You may need to align the players a little differently to start the offense.

Fundamental Ways to Beat a Zone

To beat the gimmick defense, you must understand how to play against a zone. Breaking down a zone defense can be summed up in a few simple steps:

  1. Push the ball up the court as quickly as you can and still control the action. If the offense beats the defense down the floor, the zone will not have time to set up and open shots may present themselves with nothing more than fundamental two man plays.
  2. Place players in open areas. If the defense has two guards on top, counter with three. For example, the defense shows a 2-3 zone, you counter with a classic 1-2-2 with a point guard, two wings and two posts.  If the defense has three people out front, like in a 3-2, counter with 2-1-2 where you have a post man on the free throw line.
  3. Overload the zone. Just because the defensive players are guarding areas doesn't mean the offensive players must play in certain areas. Put four players on one side of the floor. The zone will not have adequate coverage on that strong side.
  4. If the zone is set up, make the defense MOVE. There are two basic ways to do this. One, attempt to drive between two defensive players. They will be forced to close the gap. For a moment you will have two defenders on the ball. Someone nearby will be open. Two, use short, quick passes. The defense will not be able to keep up as the ball moves from side to side. If you have an overload situation, someone will soon be open for a shot.
Beating the Box and 1

The Box and 1 will devote a defender to your best scorer (B1). The other four opponents will play zone, usually in a box formation (diagram #1). B1 will need to best both his man and the zone to get a drive at the basket.

What happens, though, if B1 becomes a post player? In diagram #2, B5 has moved to the high post and B1 is on the block.

Now, according to the rules the defense has imposed on itself, Both Y1 and Y4 are defending B1 (diagram #3). When B2 drives, forcing Y2 to pick him up, B3 is wide open for the pass.

In diagram #4, B3 has excellent angles to pass to B4 or B5 as well as an open shot from the wing.

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