Kevin Sutton is the head coach of Montverde Academy in Florida and he is considered one of the best high school coach in the USA. He was selected as assistant coach of the USA Men’s Under 16 National Team in 2009, winning the gold medal at FIBA America’s Championship in Argentina, and qualifying for the FIBA World Championship in 2010. During the summer he also coaches at some of the best basketball camps, such as the Nike Skillz Academy, the Five Star Camp and the basketball camp of Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. Moreover, he's also author of several technical publications on DVD.
Zone defenses used to put a lot of fear in me as a young coach. As I have grown as a coach, however, I have literally faced every zone possible: 2-3, 1-3-1, 3-2, 1-1-3, 2-1-2, and 1-2-2. The primary lesson I have learned when facing these different zones is this: when the ball is in the corner, every zone becomes a 1-2-2 zone! It is from this finding/premise that I started to develop my "Attacking Zone Defense Philosophy." In this article I am going to address the following topics: Principals for attacking zone defenses.
- Offenses that I run against zone defenses.
- Set plays that I run against zone defenses.
PRINCIPALS FOR ATTACKING ZONE DEFENSES
The principals that I teach my players all stem for the fact that I want to be as aggressive as we possibly can when we face a zone defense. The principals are:
Principal One: Beat the zone down the floor to get easy baskets.
Principal Two: Attack the zone with confidence.
Principal Three: Move the zone from side to side or corner to corner, so that you can determine their slides and where the lazy man of the zone is playing.
Principal Four: Use two types of penetration: dribble and pass. Force the defense to guard both makes it difficult on the defense.
Principal Five: Maintain proper spacing, 12 to 15 feet (3 - 4 mt.) apart. This make for good ball movement, play movement, fluidity, and balance within the offense. Spacing also makes the defense have to work that much harder.
Principal Six: Rebound! What can you say about rebounding that is not positive? Getting points off the offensive glass is a must!
Principal Seven: Screen the zone whenever possible and then shape up. Screening the zone, much like rebounding, is a positive thing. The more open shots you get against a zone the higher percentage you should be able to shoot. Screening the zone and shaping up after you screen permits open shoots to occur.
Principal Eight : Bigs play with heels on the baseline and behind the zone. This allows for the observation of openings. It also allows for flash cuts and it makes it very difficult on the defense to box and rebound.
Principal Nine: Play inside out and not outside in! Make the defense stop your inside game first. A good inside makes for a great outside game.
Principal Ten: Patience. Exhibit patience vs. a zone. Always look to get the “best shot” and not just a shot. Rush or quick shots help the defense and hurts the offense.
OFFENSES THAT I RUN AGAINST ZONE DEFENSES
I run two different types of zone offenses: gaps and gaps motion. Gaps offense is a stationary offense where every offensive player lines up the “gap” between two defenders. The purpose of this offense it to engage two defenders and create open shots by using dribble penetration. Ball movement and fakes are important elements to the success of this offense. The second offense I run against a zone defense is what I call gaps motion, which is similar to regular gaps with its principles of maintaining proper spacing and occupying two defenders. In gaps motion, I allow for random movements against the zone. It is more difficult to scout because there are no set patterns to the offense. The players are allowed more freedom to cut with a purpose and screen with a purpose.
Penetration becomes an even more important element to the success of this offense. The post players play with their heels on the baseline and start in the “Short Corners.” This position of playing behind the zone defense give the offense two advantages:
- The ability to locate openings to exploit.
- The ability to improve screening angles and opportunities to score.
SET PLAYS AGAINST ZONE DEFENSES
I feel that set plays are good against a zone because they provide the offense several advantages:
- The coach and the players know who is going to shoot.
- The coach and the players know where the shoot is going to be taken, from which gives the offensive team a better opportunity to rebound the miss shot.
- All of the players are in the proper positions when the play starts. Which allows for maximum opportunity for success.
These set plays have been very good to me over the course of my coaching career. When they are run correctly they are difficult to defend.
Timing, spacing and coordinated movement are all important to the effectiveness of the play. The names of the players are Z1-5:
- Z1 is from diagram 1 to diagram 6.
- Z2 is from diagram 7 to diagram 12.
- Z3 is from diagram 13 to diagram 19.
- Z4 is from diagram 20 to diagram 24.
- Z5 is from diagram 25 to diagram 31.
More teams are choosing to play zone defenses. Therefore, I challenge you to develop your principles/philosophy/beliefs of how you want to attack zone defenses. Design shooting drills that simulate the movements of your offense.
By doing this, it will give your players the confidence they will need to take -and make- those same shots during a game. Lastly, I challenge you to continue to study the game.
When you become a student of the game as a coach, you are making yourself a better coach and teacher, thereby making your team a better team!