Attacking a 2–3 Zone — The Little Things
There are a few different ways to strategically attack a 2–3 zone.
You can run a patterned offense, you can go 4-out with principles, you can run set plays, you can adapt your base man-to-man offense to your zone offense, you can do all of the above, etc.
What we’re going to look at today, however, are a few “little things” that you can teach your players about attacking a zone.
Some of these will seem obvious; some of them might be things you’ve never heard of.
Here are a few things to consider adding to your zone attack:
- Alternating Current
- This is an idea stolen from Dick DeVenzio.
- When attacking the zone, do the OPPOSITE of what your teammate who just had the ball did.
- So, if the ball was zipped to you as a reversal pass — wait a second, see what develops, and then make your next move. The theory here is that, if the ball was zipped to you quickly…the defense is shifting…and openings will develop. If you just zip it right back, you don’t have the opportunity to make a quality read.
- Also, if the ball was held by the passer before you…when you catch it, look to reverse it as quickly as possible to keep the defense moving.
2/ Ball Fakes (fake a pass to make a pass)
- This is classic zone offense attack, right? To get the zone moving and create openings, a simple ball fake can do wonders.
- Even as I’ve lost one (or two or three) steps as I’ve gotten older, if you put me in a high school scrimmage against a team playing zone…I can do wonders by simply having the ability to ball fake intelligently.
- If you want to pass to the short corner? Ball fake the high post first.
- If you want to pass to the high post? Ball fake the short corner first.
3/ Blind Cuts
- If you can cut behind the defense’s head into a gap, it makes life so much more difficult for your opponent.
- They can’t defend what they can’t see!
- This is effective in the same way 45 cuts are effective.
4/ Using Ball Screens
- There’s an entire post on this if interested, but using a ball screen against a zone can be a very dangerous part of your zone attack.
5/ Crashing the Glass
- Most zones aren’t taught properly on how to rebound out of the zone (“Just find someone and box them out!”).
- That’s why part of your zone attack should include offensive rebounding.
- This will vary from coach to coach. Some like to send 3, some like to send 4, some like to send the entire house.
- Regardless of what your philosophy is, tell your “crashers” to focus on:
- not allowing themselves to be boxed out
- not running to an opponent’s back (watch film for this and see how common this actually is for offensive rebounders)
- get a hand on the ball!
- GO EVERY TIME!
6/ Equiangular Triangles
- Another DeVenzio teaching point — this one focuses on off-ball spacing.
- If you are on the weakside, position yourself directly in the middle of the two backside defenders. This puts pressure on them to communicate, decide where they adjust their positioning to, and makes it impossible for one player to guard you.
- See the picture below for details:
7/ High Low Action
- This is another classic action that has stuck around for what feels like centuries. It’s stuck around for so long because…it works.
- This can be effective with a catch from the high post OR the short corner.
- On a high post catch, the short corner player gets to the block/open gap.
- On a short corner catch, the high post dives into a gap.
8/ Playing Out of the Short Corner
- Something I’ve noticed that is effective is really emphasizing the short corner on offense.
- Oftentimes, you’ll have a bigger player in this position who will be able to see over the defense (if their butt is to the baseline) and make reads. This is a great spot on the floor against zones because you can see EVERYTHING:
- open shooters on the opposite side of the floor
- cutters going to the rim
- flashers cutting to the high post/gaps
- easy safety outlets to guards on the perimeter
- Playing out of the short corner puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
9/ Put Your Best Playmaker in the Middle of the Zone
- UVA, when they had Ty Jerome, did this against Syracuse a few years ago and gave them fits.
- Regardless of who your best playmaker is, stick them in the middle of the zone. If nothing else, the defense will worry more about them because they’re your best player.
- Putting this player in the middle allows you to run your offense through a playmaker you trust — not a bumbling big man who just flashes to the middle because it’s your zone offense.
10/ Have great shooters all over the floor :)
I love a good zone defense — always have, always will.
BUT…if you can do a few things to counter the defense, you can almost always make them pay.
I think it’s worth noting that by doing 2–3 things in your zone attack that are COUNTER to what most zones see will go a long way in giving your team a distinctive edge.
Happy zone busting!
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