5 Tips to Successful Zone Offense


Zone defenses are designed to keep teams out of the paint and help provide rim protection for teams. They take away man to man principles and require players to defend a zone of the floor. Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim has become famous for his zone defense at Syracuse. Attacking a zone defense is different from attacking man to man defense. We will discuss some tips to successfully attacking a zone defense.

Before we get into the tips in breaking down a zone, let’s first understand basic zone principles. A coach will format his offensive players in accordance to the defensive zone.  Players should position themselves in between the gaps (empty spots) of the zone defense in order to create high percentage shots. The use of ball fakes, shot fakes, and pass fakes can help create space against a zone.  Passing high, low and looking opposite helps shift the defense and create openings.  Against a zone, guards should typically continue to put the ball in motion until there is enough room to create an efficient play and post players should try to flash to the foul line when possible.

Now that we understand basic zone principles, here are 5 tips to breaking down a zone defense:

Always be in Triple Threat
This is the easiest concept, yet the most overlooked concept of beating a zone. Often times players pass the ball around the zone with the ball over their head, standing straight up. Defenses can relax when the offense is in that position. Playing in the triple threat position tells the defense you’re looking to make a play and not just pass the ball around.

Ball Reversal
Zone defense, like any defense, becomes easier to play when the ball sits in one place for a long period of time. By holding the ball, you’re allowing the defense to stand still and get comfortable. The key to successfully beating a good zone defense is by making the zone shift. The more ball reversals you have, the more times the zone must shift from side to side, creating openings for drives, passes and shots.

Player movement
Similar to ball movement, zone defenses become much easier to play when the offensive players are stagnant. Constant movement on offense forces the defense to keep their head on a swivel and makes you much harder to guard. Simple cuts through the zone force defenders to take their attention off the ball momentarily and can open up scoring opportunities for your team.

Drive the Gaps
Zone defenses are typically designed to keep teams out of the paint and shoot from the perimeter. Getting the ball into the interior of the zone goes a long way to breaking down a zone defense. As stated earlier, a couple of ball reversals shifts the zone and open up driving lanes. On rare occasions, this can lead to you getting all the way to the rim, but penetrating a zone off the dribble will definitely lead to kick out threes and dump off passes for lay ups.

Utilize the High Post/Short Corners
Another key to breaking down a zone is to attack the soft spots of the zone; these are the high post and short corners. Having a player at the high post can help get easy ball reversals. When the ball reaches the high post, the player should look immediately towards opposite ends of the court to pass for an open shot or to an open player. When the ball is in the short corner, the guy in the high post should dive to the rim in order to occupy the backside of the zone and to create an open player and/or additional ball movement.

These five tips, though simple, can help you and your team break zone offenses this season.

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