Attacking a Zone
The evolution of modern basketball and rule change on offensive possession (24” official, 22” real), forces us to rethink what choices to take when deciding on an offensive attack against a zone defense. |
We have all trained, some, by studying the great “historic” offences, (from Dean Smith’s T-game to development of Gamba and Sales´ give and go, or Valerio Bianchini´s “10” and many more…), copying them, adjusting them to our team’s characteristics, searching for variations, details, but always within a general scope: the attack flowed continuously, theoretically infinitely, and always needed some time to work the defense, forcing them to make a mistake to take advantage of.
Today, and even more so in the future if defenses learn how to really start taking advantage of the offenses´ limited time to pass the half court line and get a shot off, I think we must explore, that is, again explore other paths.
First of all, on the rise are the multi-use, adjustable attacks (more or less perfectly, but as we know: not exactly 100%, but able to be executed safely and quickly, so that upon identifying the type of defense and the choice of the “perfect” attack knowing that the 24” clock is ticking…) to create problems for all types of defenses. You gain a little bit of precious time, especially if you have lost some against a half-court press, without needing to stop, read and call out the system; any man around the perimeter could start it, not necessarily at the base; giving you time to better understand what type of defense you’re up against, without having to throw away several offensive possessions, which might come in handy later on. In my teams, I have always had a throw-in for any type of press, which takes the players to the right positions to start attacking at half-court, independently of the type of zone that we might find.
Another thought is the use of typical "situations" in a broken system, like a clear-out (more central than lateral), and the pick and roll, with less than 8-10-12 seconds to shoot, even if your game is running “continuously or for target,” it doesn’t matter, it still hasn’t broken the defense, and in the remaining seconds (with a psyched up defense and psychological pressure against the offence) it becomes difficult. All considerations discussed on attacking man-on-man defense are even less so (in my experience) when attacking against a zone.
Finally, but the key concept, I understand that I am beginning to prefer “target” offences, with a clear execution and target to be reached, as quickly as possible, to leave at least 7/8 seconds left for pure creativity on from one or two players, leaving the remaining players without the ball in “strategic” locations to improve drop passes from a pick and roll or a 1-on-1 in a well executed penetration. And naturally, talking about target offences, the first step is to understand what are the common strong points and/or movements you train your players up against a man-on-man defense that may also work against a zone defense. For example: if a team bases its attack on a specific player posting up down low against a man-on-man defense, it would be logical to build proper movements to have him receive the ball in that position in the zone as well; if the spaces are different, you’d have to watch out for dribbling in traffic. In our case, the idea is easy: I have always had teams that use blocks for shooters and pick and rolls on attacks against man-on-man defense; obviously it would be silly not to use these concepts when attacking a zone defense. Let me expand on this: this isn’t about deciding who should shoot, which is a good question in specific situations or important possessions: This is about forcing the defense to try and stop our player’s shot, in a dangerous position, and then taking advantage of these adjustments, often emergency, unfortunate measures, to get an easier shot with players down low, or free three-point opportunities, while without to much time or space (which are the majority of cases…).
Here are a few systems that we have used in recent years, all achieving satisfactory results.