3 Simple Strategies to Attack a Zone Defense

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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...


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KEN says:
1/21/2022 at 4:43:33 PM

Good information - enjoyed the read.


Philip Mullins says:
10/28/2017 at 3:10:42 AM

Where is the block? I understand everything else but the block confuses me. Thanks. Philip, Ireland.

  1 person liked this.  

Lotus says:
5/19/2017 at 7:39:02 AM

Greg, The link in this post is no longer working. Could you send me the pdf if you have it.



Stanley says:
12/17/2016 at 5:11:28 AM

I like Option 1 very much. My daughter is the 7th Grade point guard facing the 2 3. When she drives toward the basket she get swarmed by 3 to 4 girls. They literally collapse around her. The good thing is that her team mates are open. The bad thing is that she is surrounded and there is barely a lane to pass the ball out of. How does she get the ball back out to them from inside the swarm?

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
12/17/2016 at 7:56:35 AM

She'll need to make the pass before getting swarmed. If catching in the middle, a simple progression is to look for:
- shot (if open)
- drive (if can get lay up)
- pass opposite

That's the order of what to look for. But that decision process should be made in less than a second. Basically if you can't score, swing the ball to the opposite (weakside) wing immediately. Against a zone you want good ball movement and more times than not, the opposite wing is open for a shot or chance to attack a close out.


Coach Fusco says:
2/14/2016 at 11:56:40 AM

Just remember when strategizing, no mater what defense or where you want to attack (high or low) you form a triangle with your players. The play shown has the triangle. Also the short baseline guy remains behind the defense.


Sean Moreno says:
11/18/2015 at 10:27:22 AM

I love your strategy #1 but it is by far the most complicated strategy mentioned and would take quite a bit of coaching to get them to run it right. Also, my small guards would have trouble finding good passing lanes with the bigs guarding them. Additionally, you would need good (at least above average) shooters on the outside to allow space for the high post player to attack or even receive the inlet pass.

Strategy #2 and #3 would be much easier to run but again, you need to have shooters to stretch the zone.

I just took over the Varsity basketball team at my high school and zone has been killing us because we don't have shooters. Most teams play a 2-3 zone versus us and the 2 defenders on top rarely get higher than the free throw line. Therefore, hitting the high post player with a pass is impossible because 3 players are essentially on him already.

Through my experiences coaching and playing, the best way to beat a zone is with ball movement (make the zone shift), attacking the gaps, having shooters that stretch the zone (to create gaps/spacing) and/or transition offense that prevents the defense from setting up zone.

Got any suggestions for a coach that is dealing with kids that can't shoot and don't have the stamina to beat the zone with transition offense?

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
11/20/2015 at 3:02:05 PM

Yea if you don't have kids that can shoot there's not much you can do at the high school level. Looks for ball reversals and post ups if you have some posts. Look for short corner and middle action.

If anyone finds the secret to your issue, I hope they tell me. From what I can tell the only thing you can do is either get better players that can shoot or develop them.

For strategy #1, I have found that to be the easiest to implement. But if you don't have a player that can make decisions and use the footwork and dribble to create players, then it doesn't work at all. You just put a kid in the middle, move the ball, and keep good spacing. They get lots of touches and just create.

If the zone isn't coming past the free throw line, I feel for you. I don't think there's much you can do with the middle or anything in the high post. Your only hope is to work the ball around until you can get a seal in the post area near the basket or short corner.

If you can just get one guy to improve and hit a few outside shots, it will change everything.


Chuck Brown says:
5/1/2015 at 7:47:44 AM

You're right about outside jumpers busting the zone. Get your players practicing that top of the key shot and knocking it down. In reference to passing from the wing into the high post, the passes get stolen a lot. So it seems that keys to bust a zone are shots from the top (or the short corner) and quick passes around the perimeter, kind of like the frozen rope concept in baseball where a person can be thrown out from the outfield by hitting the cutoff man...in this analogy, the cutoff man is in the corner...I hope I didn't confuse you too much and I hope this helps.


Peter says:
1/11/2015 at 3:42:41 PM

I love all the strategies and have used some of them but I think pushing the ball up the floor as fast as possible before they can set up on D has worked very well. You need the horses so it works affectedly


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



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.

*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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