Dragan Sakota coached Zadar and Cibona Zagreb (Croatia), Paok, Iraklis, Peristeri, Aris, AEK, and, this season, Olympiakos (Greece). In 1991 he won the Saporta Cup with Paok.
When putting a team together, every basketball coach wants to have a satisfying number of good defensive players on his roster. This is also the main reason why a coach spends a lot of his practice time working on team and individual defense. Since the primary defense for most teams is man-to-man, the coach’s biggest satisfaction is when he sees that his defender is able to successfully guard the opponent’s outstanding player.
In reality, everybody knows that guarding the opponent’s “star” is a very difficult task. It is also difficult for a team to mat- ch-up with a team that has a high level of collective offensive play and can attack in a variety of ways. Facing these two kinds of problems are the coach’s main reasons for using alternative defenses, such as the simple zone defense and the unorthodox zone defense.
My subject of discussion is the offense that can be used against the one-four zone. However, before I delve into the philosophy of this defense and my theory of how to attack this and other zones, I would like to share with you my experience facing the one-four. The first time was in 1987 at the final game of the “Yugoslavian Cup.” Like any young and inexperienced coach, I was surprised and unprepared when the opposing team switched to the one-four zone. Since I had no organized offense for this kind of defense, I acted on my instincts. I quickly substituted the player that was being closely guarded by a man. The opposing team then switched from the one-four back to a simple zone defense and the game fortunately turned in our favor.
From that day on, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to face this kind of defense and before every game I now pay special attention to the possibility of that defense being used. My players and I will not be caught surprised and unprepared. I always have a play prepared for every kind of unorthodox zone defense: the box-and-one, the triangle-and-two, and finally, the diamond-and-one.
The box-and-one defense consists of four men playing a box zone defense, with one man playing aggressive man- to-man defense against the best offensive player (diagr. 1). The goal of this defense is to neutralize the scoring potential of this player. The box is used to force the outside shot by preventing easy shots from close range. However, this defense has its weaknesses.
The box-and-one is not a good choice to use against a team with several good outside shooters and can easily be broken with penetration at the gaps.
The best way to attack this defense is to place one man in the gap between the two defensive guards. This man should then make an effort to penetrate in this gap, with the intention of drawing the two men to cover him. This quickly opens room for the wing man. Once the ball is kicked outside, the offense should not differ much from any other offensive motion used against a zone defense.
The slight difference though, is seen when an individual player is pressured by a defender who is not following the zone formation. In order to give more space to his teammates and remain an offensive threat as well, this player should always set up outside or near the baseline. In this offensive motion, however, a problem can occur when the individual player that is being pressured is the team’s point guard. In this case, the point guard must switch positions with the 2 guard, with the 2 taking on the point guard duties. However, the best solution is to have two point guards in the game at this time so the offense can run easily and effectively.
With this offense, you can see that the individual player’s job can be difficult when confronted by this defense. For this reason, the other four players have a bigger responsibility. They must attack based on principles from offenses against a normal zone. The best way to prepare for this kind of defense is to use an exercise “shell” during practice sessions. We force the offense to penetrate in the gaps in order to disorientate the defensive formation and create easy free shots. When preparing for this defense, it is of vital importance to make the right player selection. You should have four effective shooters from the perimeter. They should be very agile and good passers. Since you are confronting a defense with plenty of rotations, you should have a big low-post man who is capable of finishing mismatches and getting offensive rebounds. When you have finished your preparation for attacking this defense and have selected your best players, you can then proceed in choosing the one or more systems you might have for the box-and-one zone. At this point, I will show you the system I have used for a long time against the box-and-one, an effective system that still helps me today.
The basic alignment for this attack is one- four low (diagr. 2). The man in position 1 organizes the play in such a way that he waits for 3, who is being pressured to receive a back pick from 4 and then continues on the other side. Here, he will receive a double pick from players 2 and 5 (diagr. 3). Since the whole defense is focused on the ball and looking for a shot to come off the double pick, this double pick can be used as a decoy so the play can quickly be transferred to the other side. At the same time when 3 comes of the double pick, 2 aggressively sprints to the opposite side and 4 pops out to the high post to receive the ball from the 1 (diagr. 4). As soon as 4 gets the ball, he must immediately pass to 2, who should now be open for a shot.
When 4 passes the ball, he has to cut to the basket, looking for a return pass and an easy lay-up. 2 has several options. Considering the fact that he is a good shooter, his first option would be to face the basket and, if open, shoot. He should also see that 4 is cutting to the basket for an easy lay-up. However, 2’s third option is to look at 5, who has flashed at the high post area. 2 can pass to him for a shot or involve him in a high-low game (diagr. 5).
In case that 2 does not do any of this, he returns the ball to the point guard, who now makes a strong move towards the ball to receive the pass. After the pass, the team’s alignment is exactly the same as it was at the beginning of the play, only the players are now on the opposite sides (diagr. 6).
Therefore, 2 sets the double pick for 3, and runs to the opposite side, followed by 5, who pops out to receive the pass from 1 (diagr. 7). Then, 5 passes to 2, who in this moment should be able to attack the basket either by feeding 5 on the post, or using him for a pick-and-roll game (diagr. 8).
The principles of this defense are similar to the box-and-one defense, with the only difference being in the formation of the players. The alignment consists of an odd-man front. The clear purpose of this defense is to attack the point guard in order to disorganize the offense (diagr. 9). This defense is weak against teams with good shooters and players who can penetrate from the baseline. For this reason, the same principles that we use in an offense against the box-and-one can be also used against this diamond-andone defense. Penetration is a very powerful weapon against this defense. Not only because of the kick-out pass option, but because it offers the chance for an inside game as well; the diamond defense is particularly weak and vulnerable at the low post.
One particular offense that has been tested a number of times and with great success against this kind of defense is the following (diagr. 10): 3, who is facing the man-to-man defense, stands in a stack position next to 4. In the meantime, the ball is being passed around the perimeter. Once 2 receives the ball, he dribbles down, opposite from the stack, and passes it to 5, who pops out to the corner. 2 then cuts to the opposite side. While he is cutting, 4 makes a flash to the level of the foul line, and receives the pass from 1 in order to then pass it to 2, who should be on the other side in a triple-threat offensive stance. (diagr. 11). However, when 4 has the ball on the foul line, 3 moves to the other side, intersecting with 2’s cut, and makes a strong pick for 5, who uses that pick to cut towards the ball and possibly receive an easy pass either from 2 or 4, according to the timing of the movement.
In this triangular position, 2 and 5 now have a good chance for an easy shot. 3 is also in position for an open jump-shot from the foul-line if the defense is not aggressive. If, however, none of this occurs, 2 returns the ball from his triple-threat position to 4, who again passes it to 3, who has just received a pick from 1 in order to get open (diagr. 12). If 3 does not have a shot, he passes it to 1, who rolls in towards the basket after the pick. The pass to 1, as well as the pass to 5, are the two possible final passes that can happen. During the course of this attack, however, the option for making a diagonal pass to an open player- due to a possible defensive delay-always exists. Obviously, in order for any of these options to work, good timing between the players is a must.
Never allow yourself or your team to be surprised when facing this kind of defense. By being prepared, you let your opponent know that you have been expecting his move.
- Use all offensive principles against a zone defense.
- Choose a wise offense in which the tightly-guarded player can move in such ways that he would give his teammates more space to create and be effective offensively.
- The four men that are facing the zone defense should have a greater responsibility in the game than they usually have, since their closely-guarded teammate will give them more space.
- As long as the tightly-guarded player is the point guard, it is recommended that he switches his position with another guard who is not being pressured or, if possible, have two point guards in the line-up.
- After every shot shot, be in position for the offensive rebound since this defense is vulnerable to that aspect of the game.
- It is vitally important to make a wise selection of the four players who will be facing the normal zone defense. The wing players should be good shooters, and the “4” man, who is the key against this kind of defense, should also be a good shooter and a good passer.
- Insist on an aggressive defense that will gain quick possession of the ball and run the fast break at every opportunity. This will prevent the zone defense from setting up properly.
Many coaches consider these unorthodox zones a poor way to play defense and I agree. However, since the nature of using these zones is to surprise the opponent, I strongly recommend that before a game, a coach should spend a few minutes reviewing what to do if one of these defenses is used.