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5 Wrinkles For A 2-3 Zone Defense


More and more teams are utilizing zone defenses to stop opposing offenses. While there are many reasons for doing so I won’t go into them in this article. Instead, I want to address another pressing topic that every coach, whether seasoned or new, has surely asked themselves at some point during the season; What do you do if your zone defense isn’t working?

Do you stick it out and hope that the funk will end? Most coaches will say no. Do you revert to your man-to-man defense? This would probably depend on your team. While everyone’s team make up is different, one thing that the majority of coaches will agree on is that in this situation something needs to change.

Here are 5 possible ways you could mix up your 2-3 zone defense:

Zone Defense

Trap All Skip Passes

Every offensive coach can tell you that ball movement is key when facing a zone defense. They will further tell you that ball movement forces a defense to shift quickly and can therefore help exploit slow shifts.

One of the common methods of ball movement when attacking any zone is that of the skip pass. By forcing the zone to overload one side of the court and then skipping the ball cross court to a player on the wing will cause the defense to shift quickly. Any time zone defenses are forced to shift quickly and “cover up” it runs the likelihood of sending two players (in this case the weakside top guard and weakside bottom forward) to stop the ball. When two defenders see each other both running towards the ball confusion often takes place. As I’m sure you can guess what happens next; both players drop off thinking the other one will cover the ball. As a result, the offensive player has a wide open catch and shoot opportunity.

Smart coaches who see this happening will adjust their zone accordingly. One way to combat this scenario is to simply trap all skip passes! Send both the top guard and bottom forward to trap on any skip pass. The top guard will have the responsibility of taking the ball handler’s high shoulder away while the forward will be responsible for the baseline side.

Double the Post

In comparison, if the offense is pummeling you inside with their post players, adjust your zone to double the block. Traditionally, coaches have the tendency to think that doubling the post is strictly a man-to-man concept. However, as you’ll see the formation of a 2-3 zone is perfect for doubling!

Typically, most post entries are from the wing (which your strong side top guard should have). When the ball is entered inside, send your weakside top guard to double taking away the post player’s middle shoulder and the middle man of your zone should be instructed to take the  baseline side away. Your strong side forward and strong side guard are in a full on deny for any passes out on their side of the floor (the easiest pass to make). If done correctly, the only pass available for the post would either be to a guard at the top of the key or a weakside player. Your weakside bottom forward will play a free safety in this scheme and will look to intercept any pass out.

3 Passes and Match

This is a wrinkle that throws EVERY offense off guard! However, to run successfully teams must all be on the same page and have great communication or will otherwise pay the price. I call it 3 Passes and Match. The idea is simple, the defense will start out in a 2-3 zone defense thus triggering the offense to run their zone offense. After 3 passes, defenders will match up to the closet offensive player and play the rest of the possession with man-to-man principles. This is a great scheme to run coming out of a timeout.

Jam the Paint

Our team calls this “Green” (the color of the key at our school). We use this defense when we face teams who have absolutely no outside shooting threat BUT have a great post player inside. The concept is simple and can therefore be implemented in a timeout. There is only one rule; all 4 defenders who are not guarding the ball must have at least one foot inside the key. Your defense is essentially begging the offense to shoot an ill mannered shot. The one thing your team must be prepared to do is, once the shot goes up is that players cannot stay in the paint. Long shots (three point shots) tend to have long rebounds (outside the paint). When the shot goes up defenders must be disciplined enough to take two steps outside the paint to box out.

Extend and Pick Up Early

Lastly, zones are notorious known for being “lazy”. And by lazy I mean having no pressure. Often offenses are allowed to sit back and reverse the ball until a gap presents itself. Instead, instruct your players to extend and pick up early. Have one guard pick up the ball handler as they come pass half court with the other guard taking away the first pass to the middle. Bottom forwards, especially the strong side can look to intercept any lazy passes made to the wings. You will be surprised at how many turnovers you can create by just picking up the ball handler when they don’t expect it. Once the ball is within normal scoring range, zones can revert back to normal zone principles.

Written By Dave Stricklin

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