Dear Coaches, Players, Friends,
"I hate it. It looks like a stickup at 7-Eleven. Five guys standing there with their hands in the air." ~ Norm Sloan, on zone defense
Today's Theme - Attacking the Middle of the 2-3 Zone Defense
Watching Duke and Syracuse men's teams play each other in the NCAA "Sweet-16" was really interesting, with both teams trying to attack each other's 2-3 zone defense. Several evenings before, a very good Michigan State team had major problems attacking Syracuse's zone. After watching all this, studying it, listening to TV commentators, and taking notes, I came away with what I now consider key elements in attacking the 2-3 zone defense.
I believe now that the most important key is getting the ball into the high-post, "middle space", to an offensive player who can score and make good decisions with the ball. See diagram 1.
Good things can happen when you get the ball inside in the green space. I'll detail this below.
Don't simply settle for 3-point shots (diagram 1). It's very tempting and requires little effort to just launch 3-point shots, as you can always get a 3-point shot. You must get the ball inside, and you must establish this early in the game. If you can score inside, it takes the pressure off your 3-point shooters. If you can get the ball inside, the defense will have to sag more, and then the outside becomes more wide open.
Realize that against the 2-3 zone, you will have to work hard to get those inside shots, and you must be patient.
Take the first good shot that avails itself. Sometimes, especially with a shot clock, it's hard to get a good shot. Too often I see a pass go in to the high-post/middle area and instead of the player simply turning and shooting the open short shot, he/she passes it back out or forces a bad pass down low.
Pass fakes and shot fakes are very important fundamentals for opening passing and dribble-penetration lanes.
Avoid perimeter "passing around the horn". We used to think that passing quickly back and forth around the perimeter was a good thing, to over-shift the zone. But in reality, this leads to player stagnation with little movement and usually fails, or results in someone just jacking up a 3-point shot.
Attacking the middle space
In the past, we have used a 1-3-1 offensive set with a player occupying the high-post area. But now I believe that instead of having a player constantly occupying the high-post (and clogging the middle), it's better to leave the middle space open, and then attack that space by having your post players flashing there for a pass. How to get the ball in the middle space:
1. Opposite low post flash and pass from the wing.
2. High-post screen and dribble-attack. If the high-post player cannot get open for a pass, he/she could screen either of the top two defenders. This can result in dribble-penetration into the middle space.
3. Opposite wing flash. If you have a wing player who is comfortable here, he/she can flash to the middle also. We have two inside post rebounders if he/she shoots here.
4. Dribble-penetrate the middle. Instead to the guard going all the way to the hoop and into the shot-blockers, a nice simple pull-up jump-shot often works great here. Or a dribble-drive followed by a kick-out pass to the opposite wing may be right the play.
Making decisions in the middle space
A number of good things can happen once we get the ball to your "decision-maker" in the middle:
1. Turn and shoot. Often the best option - a short, relatively easy shot when the shooter is open. Far too often, I see players passing up this shot, and some not even looking for the shot.
2. Pass hi-lo to low post.
3. Shot fake and dribble-drive.
4. Pass to opposite wing, or to the point, for an inside-out 3-point shot.
See this for more: Key Elements/Principles in Attacking the 2-3 Zone Defense.
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