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3 Simple Strategies to Attack a Zone Defense

- By

Want to score more points against zone defense? Here are 3 really simple yet effective strategies that every coach should consider.

These strategies work against all types of zone defenses and will help you score more points...

Strategy #1 - Put Your Best Ballhandler in the Middle (Even if They're 4 Foot Nothing)

I picked up this strategy from Danny Miles who is #4 with most wins in college history (900) and the head coach of Oregon Tech.

It's very common for teams to put their big man at the free throw line in the middle of the zone offense. Instead, he urges you to put your best ball-handler and creator there. It's doesn't matter if they're 5'2".

Big players usually aren't as good at catching and handling a ball in traffic. But if you put one of your best ball handlers in the high post area, they will be able to drive around the bigger defensive players. They can score, dish, and cause lots of problems for the defense. This especially causes match up problems for the defense because they always put the biggest clumsier players in the middle of the zone defense. They will not be able stop your quick guards.

Coaches should take a real good look at just putting one of their taller kids in the middle - because usually those kids don't pass or shoot it very well and you don't attack as well with that kind of kid.

Strategy #2 - Attack from Behind the Zone

One of the best ways to attack from behind the zone it to always have at least one player in the short corner area.

You'll find that on almost every ball reversal the player in the short corner will be open. Then the wing can pass down to the open player in the short corner.

Once the ball is there, this is a very tough place to guard because at the moment none of the defenders are looking at the short corner player (because he or she is "behind" the zone).

  

Once the ball is caught in the short corner you have several excellent options to get high percentage shots...

  1. If wide open, the short corner player can take one step to the basket for a lay up.

  2. The short corner player can shot fake and take it to the hole.
  

  1. The player in the middle can dive to the basket and receive the pass from short corner (this seems to be open for a lay up almost 50% of the time).

  

  1. If they double down, the short corner can kick it out for a wide open three pointer.
  

The key is to force the defense to guard what is front of them (with ball reversals, cutting, and screening actions) and then attack from behind the zone. It works extremely well!

Strategy #3 - Put Em Where They Ain't

I can thank Coach Ken Sartini for reminding me about this strategy and catchy phrase...

I heard a college coach say this about attacking zones... "it's not rocket science... put em where they aint!"

Keep things simple, put your kids in the gaps of the zone.

This is a common strategy but I feel it's worth mentioning in this context because it's a good reminder to keep things simple. Attacking a zone doesn't have to be complicated.

Not to mention, wording things so players understand can certainly help. Sometimes when you say "find the gap" players don't really understand what you mean (even when they tell you that they do understand).

Try wording things differently. Simply tell your players to find spots where's there no defense (go where they ain't at).

Do you currently employ all three of these strategies?

I'll bet not. Use these simple suggestions and you'll get better. These strategies work against all types of zone defenses.


Recommended Products:

Beating the Zone - 75 Set Plays to Score Against Zone Defense
In this eBook, you will find 75 zone plays that you can use against any zone defense. It includes 2-3 zone plays, 3-2 zone plays, 1-3-1 zone plays, baseline out of bounds plays, and multi-purpose zone plays. You will also learn how to exploit the weaknesses of zone defenses, learn new ideas for running zone plays, and much more ... (more info)


What do you think? Let us know by leaving your comments, suggestions, and questions...



Comments

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Matewing says:
2/5/2010 at 8:13:55 AM

i'll try strg#1... i think we loose the mismatch on this spot(d#1 d#2 vs a#4)... but... who knows..

Matewing

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Richard Goetz says:
2/12/2010 at 4:41:16 PM

I think strategy #1 is excellent as long as you currently have a "clumsier" player at the high post, i would still prefer to have a big guy at the high post so long as he is a decent passer and ball handler. I think a guard in that situation may be able to create some more, but his lake of size will make it difficult for him to get consistent scoring chances against a 2-3 zone. Strategy #2 is excellent and sometimes just forcing a team to defend that short corner entry is enough to open up the middle of the lane and get them to over rotate and get easier looks, you gotta make 'em defend the "backside". #3 and number 2 really go together in that the way to attack a zone is to attack from the weak side and force the zone to stretch and rotate and then passing in the the 'little tears' in the zone. I think 3 excellent ideas that will definately help a coach who is struggling against a zone.

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Joe Haefner says:
2/13/2010 at 7:06:48 PM

Thank you for your thoughts, Richard. You make some good points.

I think the ideal situation is to have a player who has the quicks to get around the post players to create and can also finish down low with the bigs.

My old high school coach had a player a few years ago that was 6'1 2-guard that he stuck in the high post. He just ate up all of the big guys because he was so much quicker. It didn't hurt that he could jump out of the gym and could finish over the bigger post players as well. He won State & the Drake Relays (high school division) in the high jump. I think he got 6'11.

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Joe B says:
2/16/2010 at 4:09:22 AM

We have one player under the basket behind the defense running from short corner to short corner. I have had this team for 2 years when we first started I put my best guard at the high post and it was very successfull. We got easy shots and layups. Guard was small but great court vision and court awareness.

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Antonio Barrote says:
2/16/2010 at 5:26:08 AM

Great tips..

Here's five more principles to attack any zone defense (from Coach K):
- use the ball intelligently (penetrate the gaps - penetrate and kick)
- use ball reversal and pass fakes
- flash to the middle
- bigs must stay behind the zone
- screen the zone

This season, we've had a lot of success attacking zones by building an offense based on these principles...
The only strategy we haven't used is #1, but I'll give it a try....

Thanks, Breakthrough Basketball :)

Like
   

Greg says:
2/16/2010 at 6:07:06 AM

Great info! Our league allows zone for the first time and we struggled the first two games, but we won our 3rd game big after learning the basic principles outlined in http://www.basketballalberta.ca/clientuploads/ZoneAttack_MacKay_Mike.pdf. What was really huge was the drills where they aren't allowed to dribble. We scored more without dribbling in the drill games than we did with dribbling. It's also important that the 1 learn to freeze the guards with a dribble. That lets him pass to the wing where he can catch it much closer to the basket.

At the last practice, I taught them your strategy #2 above and it worked unbelievably well in a scrimmage. If 5 gets it in the short corner that mid-post was open almost every time. Unfortunately our kids are two young to shoot from the wing if 5 has to kick it out to 2 (we shouldn't allow zone in our league). What I told them was to reverse the ball as quickly as possible if the ball goes out to the wing. 4 then cuts to the other short corner and 5 to the other mid-post. 3 is probably wide open anyway though.

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Mike says:
2/16/2010 at 8:13:47 AM

All great stategies for attacking zones. What I try to do is put my big guy on the block, give him the ball and then look to pass out to the weakside elbow area. The zones will always collapse on the ball and if you have shooters who can knock down elbow jumpers they will get alot of uncontested shots

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Joe Haefner says:
2/16/2010 at 8:40:32 AM

Joe B, Antonio, Greg, & Mike, thank you for all of the great thoughts and tips!

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Geezzoo says:
2/16/2010 at 8:47:00 AM

Good chat re attack the zone... Noone

pointed out that the short corner shot is

a high percentage shot for a reliable shooter... I want that player to first look for that shot... the look will draw defense then the cutters will be visable... I hammer that I want that shot which in turns gives the shooter confidence... I find that when a player knows I EXPECT him/her to shoot they are much more confident....

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ryan says:
2/16/2010 at 1:25:50 PM

i agree with Geezzoo on this. i have found that i have to actually tell my kids to shoot the ball, which i find odd. but against the zone so many times they just dribble and pass the ball on the outside. one thing i found really helpful is just telling my kids to shoot the open shot. if they don't, then the zone just sits back and waits...

i know this won't be a groundbreaking comment. but through the few years i've been coaching, i found it just really depends on your personnel. i like to have high/low positioning usually high post to opposite block. i personally prefer someone who can shoot the free throw line shot and who is comfortable with driving playing the high post. whether it's one of my big men or my 2 guard. the one thing i tell everyone who goes high post, is that they need to make themselves a threat (not just catch the ball and pass back out right away) this makes the defense collapse or at the very least turn their heads and attention to the high post. that's when my team really gets going against the zone...

i like the idea of having a smaller guy skill player at the high post, but ultimately i think it just depends on personnel. the one problem i can forsee with that, is if your bigs are not too skilled away from the basket. if a small guy takes the high post, then the big men are either crowded down low, or it puts one of them outside. not saying it won't work though, as this year i've put my best driving guard at the high post at times against a smaller team (so he can finish easier), just some random thoughts... thanks to everyone for all their ideas and comments!

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Johnny Griffith says:
2/16/2010 at 2:32:09 PM

We have a big who has usually played in the high post for us against a one-front zone while everyone else, bigs included spreads the floor in four corners. She''s a great passer AND can put the ball on the floor and dribble effectively, so our offense has worked really well almost always. She''s injured, though, and we don''t have another big who is as good a dribbler or passer, so teams have been able to stimy us a bit more with an off-front zone. I think we''ll try putting one of our very good guards in the high post over the next few games and see how it plays out. I wouldn''t if we still had our number one big, but this seems to make sense, since we don''t have a mobile, good-passing big right now. Thanks.

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Jon K says:
2/16/2010 at 3:29:04 PM

My 6th grade team used to struggle against zone defenses. Especially last year even though we run a couple of your plays - Pitt, flat, and double. What I started teaching the kids is to use take the open/outside shot early in the game. This opens up the short corner like you would not believe. We got down 9 early, but won 36-33 because the short corner was open the whole 2nd half. We take more shots doing this, and our plays work much better because the defense must respect the outside shooter. We also tell them to fake the shot and pass. This gets the defender out of position and opens up 2 players. Thanks for all the great information.

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Ron Adams says:
2/16/2010 at 6:26:23 PM

Coach we use the same 4 principles regardless of running offense against man to man or zone defenses
a.) change sides of the floor
b.) make at least 3 passes
c.) get a lane touch either by pass or dribble penetration
d.) allow the defense a chance to make a mistake However as far as the x's and o's you have given some good stuff here Coach....We love the short corner...Thanks

Like
   

Greg says:
2/16/2010 at 6:42:51 PM

On strategy #3, I'm not sure it stands by itself. If I tell the kids to fill the gaps, they'll stand stationary in a gap with the defense free to play center field and intercept a pass. Sealing a defender, freezing one with the dribble, or screening turns those gaps into areas that can be attacked (i.e., passed into). Just a thought.

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Mike says:
2/16/2010 at 7:49:18 PM

Great strategies! I coach middle schoolers and I am going to employ all of them. We are a good team and your advice is going to make us better.

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Dave says:
2/16/2010 at 9:40:54 PM

We started using option #2 with our 6th grade team vs the zone in the last 2 weeks.
We have the 4 player moving the baseline hiding behind the defense. It does work provided the boys move the ball quickly and look for the low guy coming across. The wing guy needs to make sure he ball fakes either to the middle or the top guy before dishing to the low guy. We find the middle guy diving to the middle works a lot of the time. He also draws fouls from the defender trying to recover.

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ralph says:
2/17/2010 at 12:46:37 PM

We run a great motion offense against man defense and are good pressure defenders,but teams have been playing a lot zone and traps against us so your advise will really help us.

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coach joseph says:
2/22/2010 at 7:44:24 AM

thank u for the info i will try with my team and give you feedback later

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Terri says:
10/19/2010 at 7:54:37 AM

I am coaching a high school girls team. It is very small private school. I have 9 girls and NO ball handlers! I only have 2 players who played last year and they are both post players. Although we are are working daily on ball handling, i need a offense that centers areound the post players. I also realize that we will have to pass alot. I cannot afford for the ball to be kept in any one persons hands too long, because none of them can handle any pressure, they have all learned to set screens, and I feel like maybe we are going to have to create scoring opportunities with screens and feed the ball to post players. (I also have No shooters who would be a big threat) Would appreciate ANY suggestions

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Jeff Haefner says:
10/19/2010 at 8:08:29 AM

Terri -

That's a tough one. You better be damn good at rebounding and defense. That's what I would focus on. Frankly, your offense will probably struggle since you don't have shooters. So there will be lots of rebound opportunities and you actually have a chance at being great at rebounding and defense. Don't tell your team, but they'll never be great at offense unless you have some kids that can shoot. Otherwise the opponent will just sag and collapse on your inside players every time. Offense is all about spacing and movement, no matter what you choose.

I would just run a motion offense and create rules that fits your team. You might want to 2 out 3 in alignment. You'll want to experiment with alignments and rules. You can check out this ebook which teaches you how to develop a motion offense based on your teams strengths:
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/pr/motionoffense.html

You might also want to consider posting on our forum because we have some smart coaches on there:
http://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/forum/

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Dalton says:
11/10/2010 at 8:57:09 AM

thank you for these tips i coach a little league team and we got beat so many times because of a zone defense!!! these will help big time.

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clint says:
11/16/2010 at 10:45:27 PM

we are 4 & 0 this season, just beat one of our toughest rivals, I''ve used alot of your ideas from your website! thanks its great!!!!

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Brian Holman says:
1/6/2011 at 9:56:44 AM

We run a play that takes advantage of the short corner - it kills zone defenses.

Danny Miles is great coach at Oregon Tech - my dad also played college football with him at Southern Oregon College. Great guy. BH

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mark saxton says:
1/13/2011 at 12:34:23 PM

Best basketball book I have ever read by far is Dick DeVenzio's "Stuff Good Players Should Know . . . " book, Intelligent Basketball from A - Z. Don't forget the "fling" pass under the F section. When the high post player does get the ball, especially if his back is to the basket, an instant "fling" to the weakside wing gets a wide open shot most every time, and often causes that weakside low-block defender to come all the way out to the wing to challenge that shot. If he does come out, now the 2-3 is really messed up, and either the inside or the short corner will be wide open as the low middle defender tries to figure out who to guard.

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Larry Dean Jackson says:
1/20/2011 at 12:55:50 PM

These are our offensive rules with one additional one. Rule #4 (which may be part of your rule #3)- after you make a pass cut through the zone and go to an open spot.

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James says:
2/8/2011 at 6:53:35 PM

This is awesome. Just started coaching my son's team and i'm learning more then I did in the past 15 years of playing rec ball. Wish I had this resource when I was growing up. Keep up the great comments and thanks Breakthrough Basketball.

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Randy says:
2/15/2011 at 7:36:54 AM

We have used a rover with 4 shooters on the perimeter. The "rover" weaves through the zone. This is similar to the small man in the middle. The perimeter players pass the ball to each other while looking for a 3 or a lane in the zone to pass to the rover who can drive for a layup or kick out for a 3. Movement and spacing are very important. The perimeter players should move to help keep the defenders guessing. While helping the "rover" receive the ball with a chance to score. If you have good 3 shooters the zone will go away soon and it will be back to your winning offense. If the 3's are not there layups or free throws will work fine.

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Ben says:
8/30/2011 at 2:33:10 AM

Great tips, very useful. One of the problems I have come across is that kids don't understand the concept of driving to pass against a zone. They expect that if they go to the basket on the first drive they will get to shoot. My rule is that we must make the zone change shape twice before we will get a good shot, but patience doesn't always come easy to juniors...

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Mel says:
8/31/2011 at 11:34:41 AM

I always attack zones from the side for 2 reasons. 1) It creates a mathematical advantage vs. the zone structure itself. 2) If every player moves to a specific spot with each pass, it creates a mathematical advantage vs. an individual player within that zone structure. It doesn't matter what kind of zone it is, zone defenses are easily stretched beyond their limits when each player moves on each pass which consistently creates 2 on 1's and 3 on 2's.

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Steven Hickcox says:
10/25/2011 at 9:17:01 PM

Interesting with the first strategy of getting your ballhandler in the middle because that's where I've been putting mine! He happens to also be my son and I've been working with him on post moves which he can do when it's just him posting up in practice, but he tends to get intimidated when there's defenders standing near the basket. My mistake is that we haven't done any post drills with defense present.

One thing worth noting about Zone Defense - especially for younger players (I'm coaching 5th and 6th - co-ed), they tend not to move from their spots so if you're a team that likes to drive it to the basket, that becomes a problem. And the bigger problem is that for most young players, their shooting is spotty at best. That's why I prefer to work the ball inside against the Zone where our odds of making a basket are better as well as going to the charity stripe.

We played against a team last week that was actually pretty effective at clogging the passing lanes while in the Zone Defense. My players panicked a bit and our Motion Offense just fell apart. When a team can play effective Zone Defense like that, nothing will come easy and you need some players who can bump and grind their way to the basket.

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John Ramsey says:
11/8/2011 at 10:32:09 AM

I think the tips are very helpful for a volunteer coach like me. Thank you for the information.

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richard golong says:
11/11/2011 at 7:44:34 AM

thanks i will try t

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john ferguson says:
11/15/2011 at 9:47:19 AM

these tips are great to help children learn the great game of basketball. thanks!

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John Q says:
12/9/2011 at 8:47:37 PM

Love it. This can be coached at the 5/6 grade level to beat up on a zone D (3/4 grade a bit early for them to grasp unless a "travel" type team). We have incorporated into our practice O time each week. It will make a zone D team work to move to a new idea (man/1.2.2/2.1.2 etc). It can be done in a in very little time and is easy to grasp. Basketball instruction (coaching!) if done properly can teach man or zone on D. If the coach is good on the other team a zone can be beat without a lot of effort.

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MikeL says:
12/19/2011 at 12:55:47 AM

Instead of putting a guard at the high post, we work real hard at teaching all our forwards to pivot, then pass quickly to the block or short corner, or shoot. We want everyone to be capable of playing high post. The key is to catch the ball without being cowed by converging defenders who lean into you.

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Erick says:
1/14/2012 at 3:08:42 PM

Strategy #1 works perfectly. I coach junior high and we faced a basic 2-3 zone in our first game this past Thursday. Instead of running one of my bigger guys to the high post like I did last year, I floated my best player from one of the low blocks to this position. Despite a 6'5" 8th grader playing in the middle for the other team (my player is probably 5'10", 5'11"), he was able to beat this taller, slower player nearly every time, scoring 22 points, all but 4 on drives to the basket. When they tried to stop him, my player dished off to the wing or other big man for more easy shots for a total of 8 assists. At the next level, this might be a bit harder to do because the defenses will be more athletic, but you should also have more athletic players on offense to dish off to. Thanks for this strategy!!!

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Miami Heat Tickets says:
6/11/2012 at 12:33:48 PM

I'm an aspiring basketball player, I really love to play this sport. My goal is to really enhance my playing ability, skills and attitude.
Everyday I read on informative and helpful articles like this. It really helped me a lot. Thanks. Hope you continue to write one. :)

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admirer says:
6/24/2012 at 10:35:06 PM

this is such a great offense designed to beat any zone offense.

just please give new plays in a simulation mode and not arrows.

sports fan
basketball assistant coach
basketball head coach

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Anthony Czarny says:
10/23/2012 at 3:53:11 PM

I am new to coaching and have tag teamed with another parent to coach our sons fifth grade team. I never quite realized how much goes on during a game. Your tips are helping us build a foundation that we will be able to use for the rest of our lives. Thanks a bunch.

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GregO says:
11/21/2012 at 11:27:35 AM

I've had success attacking the gaps of even-front zones (e.g. 2-3) with an odd-front offense and odd-front zones (e.g. 1-3-1) with an even-front offense. Thoughts?

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Jeff Haefner says:
11/22/2012 at 8:08:57 AM

Greg - That's a good strategy that has worked well for us too. Especially if you have guys that can shoot, drive, and pass. Good ball movement and pass fakes really helps in the gap attack offense.

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Ryan says:
1/17/2013 at 5:08:44 PM

I am the best player on my team, and my team depends on me for scoring. I can score much better against a man to man than against zone because I just need to beat my man. Do you have any tips for creating shots for yourself against a zone? Any help would be appreciated.

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Ken says:
1/17/2013 at 5:56:03 PM

Ryan -

Playing vs zones is completely different... you are going to have to attack gaps/seams in the zone and set up one of your other players.... they will have to do the same for you.

Make sure that you are in a passing lane. One of your players can set a screen for you on the top of the zone and see if you can get open that way... but IF you are going to try to do this all alone, you WILL be in for a LONG NIGHT.

What age group do you play with?

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Ryan says:
1/17/2013 at 11:53:01 PM

Thanks a bunch! Really cleared things up for me. I play in highschool. I used to struggle with not being aggressive enough, so I'm trying to really break through that barrier, because I know that I can score efficiently, and I have been told it by teammates and coaches. My coach even told me he wants me to shoot 15-20x a game.

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Ken says:
1/18/2013 at 9:19:48 AM

What more can you ask? A coach that wants you to shoot 15-20X a game? Heck, I had some great shooters and never told them that... they just knew that they had the green light unless we were holding the ball.....

Green light Ryan.... Shoot the ball when you are open.... ( hopefully you aren't forcing them )
Get your teammates to help you get open and do a little on your own.

Good luck, I hope this helps and I'm glad that I helped you a little before.

Like
   

Ryan says:
1/18/2013 at 11:13:38 PM

Thanks again. I had a good game and scored 16 against the best team in our league.

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Ken says:
1/19/2013 at 11:05:46 AM

Your welcome Ryan...nice to know that I was able to help you via this site. Sometimes its difficult to explain things to people.... hope you have continued success..

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jonathan says:
4/9/2013 at 3:31:40 PM

i can see the plan is working very good.thank u all

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destiny says:
5/7/2013 at 11:09:14 AM

thanks for all your help on this i really appreciate it

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Prince DR says:
11/18/2013 at 1:10:42 AM

I love #2. It makes sense. I will use it more because many of the teams that we play against love using the 122 zone. I use #3 to its fullest here. I tell my team to consistently attack from the elbows with cutters to the middle, and we often end up with an open lane or open 3 point shots. I am very intrigued with number 1. Many teams we play against will not expect it.

I am planning to put my 3 man on the middle though. He is above average height for a Filipino youth. Penatrates well, fast and leaps ridiculously high. I use a motion offense in the 131 initial set. This is because I am more inclined to place my 1 and 2 beyond the arc since they and their backups are excellent three point shooters. Any advice on this? I would love to learn more.

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EH says:
1/30/2014 at 11:49:28 AM

Ryan, set screens for your teammates and you will be surprised how quickly you end up being open too.

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Mother Tiffany says:
8/1/2014 at 4:55:24 AM

Additional Tips on "Attacking a Zone Defense":

*Quick passing is an important element of attacking any zone. The defense will shift as the ball moves, but if the offense can move the ball faster than the defense can react, open shots can result. Quick passing against a zone often leads to open three-point shots, and zone defenses are less effective against teams with good three-point shooters.

*Dribble penetration is very effective in breaking down a zone. If a guard can dribble into the gaps in the zone, multiple defenders must converge on the ball. The ball handler can then often pass to an open teammate for a shot. This strategy illustrates why preventing dribble penetration is important in playing an effective zone defense.

*Passing the ball to the interior of the zone can have similar effects as dribble penetration: as the defense collapses, a quick kick-out to the perimeter can result in either an open shot or continued quick passing, as the defense is now imbalanced.

DISADVANTAGES:
*Zones tend to be weak on the perimeter, so they are not very effective against teams with good outside shooters.

*When a shot is attempted, it is often harder for players in a zone to find counterparts to box out for the rebound, which sometimes results in an offensive player getting an easy offensive rebound.

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Ramón Torres says:
9/23/2014 at 4:29:21 PM

NC

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