Zone Offense Tip - How to get lay ups against a 1-3-1 zone defense

This video clip is from Don Kelbick’s Continuity Zone Offense & Concepts To Beat Any Zone Defense. This will help you score more points by showing you how to match up and distort a 1-3-1 zone defense.   This will create wide open scoring opportunities in the middle of the zone. And it will create mismatches & expose the opposing team’s smaller defenders on your best post player… under the basket. You can even use this tactic on the perimeter to isolate the bigger, slower defenders in the zone.
First, you align your offense with the defenders in the 1-3-1 zone defense.
Frame 1
1 initiates by dribbling towards the right wing. 2 spaces towards the corner.  That way, if x2 decides to trap, 2 is open.  If x5 defends the pass to the corner, 5 is open under the basket. 3 shifts up to clear x3. 4 seals x4 on their back, then cuts to an open spot for the pass. 1 passes to 4.
Frame 2
5 seals x5 for an entry pass from 4. 5 tries to seal x5 under the basket. Typically, x5 is not a post player in the 1-3-1 zone defense, so this should create a mismatch.
Frame 3
If x5 overplays the seal and the entry pass, look for a backdoor lob. If x5 denies the duck in, 5 needs to take x5 further up the lane to open up a lob pass.
Frame 4
As Don says in the video clip, you want to "Force the zone to make decisions they do not want, and put them in recovery immediately."


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Coach Joe says:
8/18/2017 at 2:08:44 PM

I love this offense. We ran it last year w/ our 16U team and it killed. The 2nd practice after installing the system we scrimmaged our 18U team and were able to score on almost every possession. Throughout the season teams we faced would start our in a zone and usually switch to M2M after the 1st quarter. It's easy to learn because, aside from the initial set, its not position specific. It can also be run against any zone. This is really good stuff.


Coach Phil says:
8/18/2017 at 9:21:44 AM

This is nt the rotation any 1-3-1 would take. Once the top pushes the ball to the right the 3 would drop down to weakside block. The 5 fronts the ballside block. The 2 picks up the ball and the 1 either doubles or slides to ball side elbow. The 4 slides down between and gets ready to jump to the corner if there is a pass to the corner


ebcougar14 says:
8/18/2017 at 8:13:11 AM

Coach Abner, your statement is tru, but as either x3 or x4 help with the 5/x1 mismatch 2 & 3 drop to corners or as Coach Kelbick shows in video 4 cuts through to the dunk corner either of them will be open. Getting the ball to the middle kills the 1-3-1. We also like to put our 3 slasher there who will take advantage of the x5 mismatch. Most teams that run the 1-3-1 have an extremely athletic x3 or x4 on top that is really aggressive and creates havoc in the passing game. The key is to stretch them, create space against the remaining 4 defenders and take advantage of your mismatches.

  1 reply  

Coach Abner says:
8/18/2017 at 10:33:00 AM

I actually own this DVD. :)

I love coach Kelbick and have worked with him at his attack & counter camps. He knows more about this game than most of us ever will. And again, I like this concept and he's obviously correct in that you want any zone to make decisions that it doesn't want to make. "Get them in recovery" is absolutely sound advice.

However, in this particular scenario, a few points need to be made. Any defense needs to be willing to give up certain shots. You cannot guard everything. In our 1-3-1 we will give up contested or rushed 3 pointers. Sometime we fail at that and give up open threes but I'll concede that against most teams unless they have a sharpshooter then we will adjust .

We are not going to allow you to post up our Warrior (baseline runner) isolated with your big player.

If a player pops out to the TOK as in the video and diagram, our middle defender doesn't chase that high. Middle stays between ball and basket but that is still the 1's ball. Not the middle defender (which is typically your big.) Our X1 is rangy, athletic and pretty quick.

As I said X3 will sink to help backside block as the PG dribbles to the right. When the ball is passed to the 4 at the TOK, X1 takes the ball, X4 sinks to help on the interior, X3 plays 50/50. X2 also sinks to play 50/50 between O1 and O2.

X1 is applying intense pressure on O4 which is likely a post player. Can O4 make the high low pass with X1 pressuring, X4 in help and the Warrior fronting? If they can do that tip your hat to them. We may even trap O4 with X1 and X4 in that situation depending on the personnel.

Now let's continue the play and assume the high low isn't open. If the ball is reversed to the 3 on the wing, X2 sinks to cover the backside block, fronting the offensive player -- no lobs allowed. The Warrior covers the player in the short corner (Middle NEVER guards SC) X4 (middle defender) drops to cover the block and X1 sinks to cover high post, reading O3's eyes.

That's how we'd play that anyway. This offense can certainly beat a 1-3-1, but in the end it all comes down to execution. The only reason I commented is that I saw the headline, "How to get lay ups against a 1-3-1 zone defense."

I'd argue that it's in no way a magic bullet against a good 1-3-1.

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Guinness says:
8/18/2017 at 11:30:53 AM

Makes sense, sorry posted then this popped up.

Coach Abner how do you adjust to 3 being a good 3-pt shooter while staying in your zone? X3 guards tighter and trust your X4 to stop the dribble penetration threat from 4, daring him to shoot mid-range and obstructing the passing lane inside to 5?

  1 reply  

Coach Abner says:
8/18/2017 at 4:14:18 PM

The key (well, one of the keys) to any good 1-3-1 is "No direct passes." If we allow straight line bullet passes we're dead. Kids know that and will fight to not allow it.

So in this scenario, I assume you mean when the ball is dribbled by the PG to the right lane line, if X3 drops to cover the block? Or do you mean when 4 has the ball TOK?

Anyway I'll try to discuss both.

If X1, the top of the zone, allows O1 to make a direct line pass to O3 on the wing, and O3 is a knockdown shooter we have issues. And I will "remind" X1 to play bigger than that and force that pass to be a lob or even a bounce pass which gives X3 time to close out and guard the ball. I am looking at the first diagram and X1 would not take the ball unless we're trapping high. That's X2's ball so X1 can sit back and possible even deny O4 the ball. X2 is either on the ball pressuring or is "funneling" and playing mid way between O2 and O1 depending on the defensive call. Again in the first diagram X4 isn't moving at all. They should be moving to stay between ball and basket.

If O4 has the ball TOK, I do not have the middle player guarding the ball. I have X1 guarding it. Middle player will stay lower if the offense is trying to isolate my Warrior.

My Warrior (baseline runner) is also not allowing that post player to get in front. Make the O4 player make a great pass to enter it.

X3 doesn't have to sink to the block now, X3 can play 50/50- or even "Shadow" closer to the shooter.

In this specific circumstance I'm not worried about O3 being the shooter. I'm worried about O2 being the shooter. X2 has a coverage issue here because X1 is taking the ball (O4). A pass to O1 and a direct pass to O2 would be a problem.

This is where daily drill work comes into play to read eyes and move on the flight of the pass. X5 (Warrior) needs to be able to get out to cover that corner.

If not, X2 needs to be in the passing lane (between O4 and O2) to make that pass a lob so the Warrior can get there.

If THAT doesn't work, we'll extend the 1-3-1 and trap :)

  1 person liked this. 1 reply  

Guinness says:
8/21/2017 at 7:41:09 AM

Thanks coach! Yes I was thinking more O4 with the ball TOK.


Joe Haefner says:
8/18/2017 at 11:50:26 AM

By the way, thanks for bringing these points up! This makes for great conversations and better understandings on how to counter different defensive and offensive strategies. Great stuff!

I do stand by the headline... it can get you more lay ups. It's not meant to be a magic bullet, though. Maybe I didn't articulate myself well enough.


Coach Abner says:
8/17/2017 at 8:21:33 AM

Good concept, but as a 1-3-1 coach this is not how the defense rotates or even sets up against such a formation.

Isolating the base line runner is a common tactic but a good 1-3-1 will always have support inside.

For example, why in the world would X3 chase the wing that high? As O1 dribbles right, X3 should drop, not chase high.

X1 should not allow the 4 to casually catch the ball at the TOK and allow that high low pass. In the diagram X1 isn't doing anything.

That's a really bad 1-3-1.

  1 person liked this. 1 reply  

Guinness says:
8/18/2017 at 11:26:06 AM

Yup it's strange because the vid and the diagrams are not the same.

X3 is guarding a (presumably) knock-down spot-up 3pt shooter. If he slides to the corner w/ball on strong side or hovers at the wing, X3 must pay attention to him. In the vid, 3 stays wide at the wing.

Also, in the vid 4 gets the ball at the left elbow while 1 drifts weakside right, pulling attention from X1. The diagram indicates X1 would be digging / harassing 4 while still able to recover on 1.

The vid does touch on the best part of attacking zones: force defenders off the ball into no-win decisions & move the ball quickly, attack quickly.

  1 reply  

Joe Haefner says:
8/18/2017 at 11:48:41 AM

While I admit that was an error on my part with x3 in the diagrams above. At the same time, I have faced 1-3-1 zone defenses that trap and take away the reversal pass.

Either way, this is still a tried and true principle of beating zone defenses. Cut and replace. The player leaves an area with the goal of dragging the defender out of position. Then another offensive player fills the area.

There are two important things to consider:

1 - If the defense doesn't know this is coming ahead of time, it can catch them off guard.... even if it's only for a split second, it still creates an advantage.

When looking at this, we have the luxury of knowing what's coming ahead of time.

2 - It's a tactic or play that might only be used a couple of times a game. It's not an end all and be all.

At the same time, a coach might decide to teach dozens of counters based on the defense's reactions out of this formation.

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