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Zone Offense Principles

There are many books on the subject of playing half court offense. Shuffle, flex, triangle, etc. Which is the right one to use? I am not sure there is one good answer. Each team differs in ability, size, and speed. Some teams play better against an odd man front rather an even man front (1-3-1 vs. 2-3 zone defenses for example).

Everyone coaches at different levels of basketball (grade school to high school) and one thing remains constant: EVERYONE plays a zone defense. We should all strive to teach great man defensive principles to our athletes. However, the NBA is the only league (NOT!!!!) that exclusively features a man defense. The upcoming changes for the 2001-2002 season are going to allow, what we all know to be true at this moment, a zone defense. How else is anyone ever going to stop Shaquille O'Neal?

So, let's cut to the chase. How do you beat a zone? PASSING, PASSING, PASSING. The offense must have the ability to adjust to either type of zone (remember odd vs. even). If the defense sets up in a 2-3, run a 1-3-1 zone offense. The reverse can be said about attacking a 1-3-1 or 1-2-2 defense, set your offense in a 2-3. The offense must be able to handle pressure and not attempt to put the ball on the floor. This "non-dribbling" is really hard on the younger kids. It must be taught. The ability to catch the defense off guard is the responsibility of the offense. When you have succeeded someone on defense will be out of position. Find the open player and let them shoot.

How do you do this? Ball reversal. Sounds simple enough. Can it be accomplished? Absolutely! You must teach your offense patience. Get them to slow down. Don't rush. Turnovers are caused from rushing the attack against a zone defense. Be patient on offense!

Some ideas

You have several options in order to work against a zone defense. The most common zone defense is a 2-3. Two defenders at the free throw line extended. The other three defenders in front of the basket. The better rebounder (or tallest player) is normally in the center. The other two defenders about 10 - 15 feet in line with the middle player.

The offense has one job - SCORE. How do you break down this defense? Many try, few actually succeed. The first idea - dribble penetration. You can use your better ball handlers to dribble into the interior of the defense. This forces the defense to adjust and "double down" on the dribbler. Surprise - someone must be open. The question is... Who? If the defense has proper instruction and fundamentals, the outside wing on the ball side should be open. The penetrator passes to the open wing for a jump shot. The farther the dribbler can get "into the paint", the more opportunity for a higher percentage shot. The dribbler may get far enough to make a pass to an open post player. This is really what you are after, a high percentage shot.

Two minutes into your first game and you use the method mentioned before. The defense adjusts and shuts down the dribble penetration. Now what? The team panics and relies on outside shooting and can't hit the side of a barn. The trouble starts here. You have no movement, no passing, just the dribble and pass out to a wing. You take the loss with honor and regroup. Now, how did that motion offense work? You ask yourself.

Relax. You do not necessarilly need a "motion" offense. You need to develop some rules. Each player must have a role on the team. If you want to have some success against a 2-3 zone defense, consider a 1-3-1 offense. You already have a point guard, a shooting guard, two forwards, and a center.

Rules for Guards

The guards rules are easy. Stay along the perimeter and move! They are allowed to cut to the basket and then return to some open spot on the perimeter. The main problem is spacing, maintaining 10 - 15 feet apart is optimal. But, don't stay in one spot! Also, make your perimeter players move to either side of the floor. They should be able to shoot from anywhere. Use your small forward as another guard and place them on the perimeter as well.

Rules for Post Players

Your "power" forward becomes a high post player and the center is your low post player. The center has an easy role. You want the center to receive the ball for an easy two points. Explain to the center to go ball side as the ball is passed along the perimeter. The guards are looking for a seam in the defense. They should look for a pass to the post. The high post player has the responsibility of being in charge of the offense. The point guard should always look to the high post player first. This high post pass allows the perimeter players to adjust to different spots on the floor and the point guard to actually become an offensive threat. Also, this allows the center the freedom to "roam" along the baseline and inside.

These few rules should help open up your mind and your team's half court game. Watch for future additions to this article.

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