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The Seven Principles of Zone Offense”

Posted by Steve Bzomowski on February 18, 2007

Never Too Late Basketball Camp’s ZONE OFFENSE PRIMER

Against any zone you want to do seven things:

1) line up in the gaps, that is, against a two person defensive front (2-3, 2-1-2) you should line up with someone top of the key, two players on the wings and two in the post;

2) perimeter players should look to dribble the ball into the gaps, between defenders. The idea is to get two players to guard you, just like you do against man-to-man and then kick it out to a teammate, get the defense moving;

3) use pass fakes to move the defense. This is the only time I advocate putting the ball up over your head. Do a hard, short snappy fake as you do a short step, then step with the same foot to pass. If you get good at this, you can jerk the defense all over the place and free teammates up for easy scores;

4) get the ball inside to the post players to collapse defense, not necessarily to score, but to collapse defense. Post players should move toward the ball with both hands high over their heads to give a clear target;

5) when post players catch, they should immediately square up to the hoop and process three thoughts: a) am I open, b) is my post teammate open, c) if neither a) or b) kick the ball out to the weak side, or opposite where the ball just came from;

6) one of the post players should be running the baseline, behind the bottom line of the defense as much as possible to flatten out the zone, to get inside defenders turning their heads and to give more room and opportunities to catch in the paint;

7) an additional thing to remember: when you devise a zone offense and you utilize cutters, when a cutter goes through, that cutter creates a vacuum in his/her wake, a vacuum in which a teammate should step into to receive a scoring pass.

You can run it with no cutters against a 2-3 using a point guard, two wings, high post low post exchanging scheme, and against 1-2-2 or 1-3-1 you can use two guard, high post and low post and corner line-up. Post players in both scenarios should exchange using an X-cut pattern almost every time the ball is reversed.

The simple rule is: against man-to-man you want player movement, against zones you want ball movement. There should be NO turnovers against zones; perimeter players should step WAY OUT to get reversals. If the defense challenges those outside passes, that just opens up the middle, which is what the offense wants.

One HUGE point regarding all perimeter players in any zone offense is that they should constantly be adjusting their positions as the defense moves. The flatter the zone gets, or the more it collapses, the more they can step in. The higher the defense steps out, the farther out the offense should step out. This is going to sound overly technical and I never heard anyone else coach this but it is absolutely true: the perimeter players should stay between 12-15 ft from the line that could be drawn between the two defenders they are splitting (remember, you’re always in a gap between two defenders whether you have the ball or not) and on a perpendicular to the spot that is the mid-point between those two defenders.

Say you are a wing player (on the left side) against a 2-3 zone. One defender is on the baseline and one is around the left elbow area, the two closest defenders to you and the ones you are splitting. Say the ball gets swung to the right wing, that elbow defender would probably dive into the middle of the lane, thereby changing the line between her and the defender who is on the baseline. You should adjust your position so that you stay on a perpendicular to the line between those defenders and 10-12 ft away from that line, spaced equally away from them. That means you are open and available and in the best place to catch and shoot. Closer and you’re not open; farther away and you aren’t taking best advantage of what the defense is giving you. (To give you perspective, the lane is 12 ft wide.) This all becomes totally second nature to players as they become more experienced.

Use back screens on the baseline and wings. Use skip passes, generally, and skip passes specifically on those back screens. When not penetrating and when not utilizing ball fakes, move the ball quickly; remember…ball movement versus zones.

Oh, and it REALLY helps to have some zone buster shooters. You can even start calling one another “zone buster” or “buster” or “zobbie”.

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7 Responses to “The Seven Principles of Zone Offense””

  1. Dan Ziminski said

    “Post players in both scenarios should exchange using an X-cut pattern almost every time the ball is reversed.”

    What is the X-cut pattern?

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  2. Say the ball is on the right wing and there’s an offensive post player on the right hi post and and an offensive post player on the right lo post. The ball gets reversed to the left wing via the skip pass or simple reversal through the point guard. The hi post player from the right elbow then dives to the left low block then the lo post player from the right lo block flashes to the left elbow (or hi post). That’s the x-cut. (Principle 4,5, and 7 come into play.)

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  3. John Klein said

    When I played in that 40 and over league back in NY (actually, CT), 2 things about zones really surprised me:

    1. How much old guys liked to play zone defense
    2. How little I knew about zone offense

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  4. When I played (and play) pick-up, I am, admittedly, insufferable. You know, “Okay, who’s guarding me? You’re in for a nightmare. Alright, who wants a headache today?” Stuff like that. If the other team or my team suggests zone defense, I stop play and humiliate them by suggesting, correctly, that the reason they don’t want to play man-to-man is that they’re lazy. “Don’t you want a workout? Don’t you want a sweat? Let’s go, we’re not playing zone”. That’s only part of the problem. The rest of it is players have less of an idea what to do in zone defense then they do in man. Not to mention the offense which is, as you suggest, fairly clueless, which results in a bad game. And, really, who wants to play in a bad game. Might as well make the game as good as it can be.

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  5. jim v said

    when i’m playing pick-up and someone suggests playing zone my stock response is “zone is illegal in this gym”

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  6. […] (RSS) « The Seven Principles of Zone Offense” “What ‘Posting Up’ Really Means” […]

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  7. Buddy said

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    I’m happy to seek out so many helpful information here in the post, we want work out more strategies in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . . Buddy

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