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Basketball Drills - Breakdown Drills for Teaching the 2-3 Zone Defense

By James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook, @ http://www.coachesclipboard.net



The 2-3 zone defense is the most commonly used zone defense, designed to stop the inside game. But we still want pressure on the ball, on the perimeter. See Al Marshall's Aggressive 2-3 Zone Defense and 2-3 Zone Defense. Just like teaching man-to-man defense, to get good at it, you must also break down the 2-3 zone defense into drills, so that rotations become a habit, without players having to think about it.

Some players and coaches have the wrong notion that playing zone defense allows defenders to "rest" and loaf somewhat on defense. In fact, to play a really good zone defense, defenders have to work very hard, sprint in their rotations, move on the flight of the ball, and close-out on shooters with high hands. It's been said that "a good zone looks like a man (and a good man looks like a zone)."

Individual Skills Drills

Spend time on individual skills each day... these drills are quick and don't take a lot of your practice time, but are important for developing the skill set necessary to play good zone defense.

Stance Drill

In diagram A, we get all players lined up four or five across (depending on your number of players) in rows. In the stance drill, we have players maintain the correct defensive stance for one minute. We want the hands and arms up and out, and feet shoulder width apart, weight on the balls of the feet (not flat-footed), knees bent and butt out.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - stance drill

Surprisingly, it is not easy for players to hold this position for 60 seconds, as arm and leg fatigue creep in. You must do this drill regularly to strengthen these muscles so that your defenders don't lose their defensive stance late in a possession. A zone defense looks "lazy" when players are tired, not sprinting, and hands are down. While players are holding this stance position, you can use this minute to talk to them about anything you want.

Slides Drill

In diagram B, after doing the stance drill for one minute, we do slides from side to side, again maintaining a good defensive stance with arms out and up, weight on the balls of the feet, and using good footwork, without crossing our feet. Start with players chattering their feet in place.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - slides drill

As the coach yells (or points) the instructions, "right" or "left", players slide accordingly and chattering again once they stop sliding. Make sure that when players slide, they do not lower their hands... hands should remain up and active. Do this for another minute.

Triangle "Anticipation - Deflection" Drill

In diagram C, break the team down into 4-player groups. The player in the middle gets in the defensive stance (described above) and will try to anticipate and deflect the pass. After receiving the pass, the passer should hold the ball for a couple counts to allow the defender to get set, and can pass to either receiver. Do this drill so that each player gets 30-45 seconds of defending. This drill teaches defenders to read the passer and improves reaction time and quickness.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Deflection Drill

Ball Pressure Drill

In diagram D, each player has a partner. The defender is an arm's length from the offensive player, and he/she pressures the ball-handler with active hands, but without reaching in and fouling. No dribbling is permitted, and the offensive player must use his/her pivoting skills to protect the ball. Do this for 30 seconds and have players switch offense and defense.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - ball pressure drill

Contain the Dribbler Drill

In diagram E, each player again has a partner. The defender is an arm's length from the offensive player, and he/she pressures the ball-handler with active hands, but without reaching in and fouling. Dribbling is now permitted, when the coach yells "go", the offensive player dribbles either left or right for a few steps, as the defender moves his/her feet quickly to contain the dribbler. Have the offensive player dribble to the right and to the left several times, and then switch offense and defense.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - contain dribble drill

1-on-1 Full-Court Zig-Zag Drill

In diagram A below, each player has a partner of similar quickness and size. We use both sides of the floor and each two-some is confined to their side of the court. The offensive player tries to dribble the length of the court (staying on just half of the court), and attacks to score.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Full-Court Zig-Zag Drill

The defensive player tries to cut and turn the offensive player as many times as he/she can coming up the court, and then defends 1-on-1 at the basket. The defender must get low and move his/her feet quickly. Hands should be active, but the defender must not reach in and foul (there is even a variation wherein the defensive player must keep his hands behind his back at all times). If the defender gets beaten, he/she must turn and sprint to recover.

1-on-1 Full-Court Zig-Zag and Close-Out Drill

In diagrams B and C, again each player has a partner of similar quickness and size. We use both sides of the floor and each two-some is confined to their side of the court. The offensive player tries to dribble beyond half-court and then passes to a coach standing out-of-bounds along the sideline.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Zig-Zag and Close-Out Drill 2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Zig-Zag and Close-Out Drill

The defensive player tries to cut and turn the offensive player as many times as he/she can coming up the court. Once the pass is made to the coach on the sideline, the offensive player turns and sprints back to the half-court line and then back and receives the pass back from the coach (diagram C above), while the defensive player sprints to the endline and then back to close-out on the ball. Both players then finish by playing 1-on-1.

Rotation and Close-Out Drills

The following drills help develop the necessary "habits" in rotating within the 2-3 zone defense, and closing out on the offense.

On-Off Drill

In diagram F, as the ball is skip-passed to the left wing, X3 must first close-out with high hands, and then retreat back inside once X1 gets over to the ball. This is called going "on and off" for the forward defender (X3). Defenders should sprint quickly as the ball is in the air, as soon as it leaves the passer's hands. Close-out with high hands in a good defensive stance.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Skip-Pass to Corner Drill

Skip-Pass to Corner Drill

In diagram G, as the ball is skip-passed to the left corner, X3 must close-out with high hands and defend the ball. This is his/her man and X3 does not go "on and off" in the corner, but stays with the ball. X1 drops inside to prevent a pass to the lane or elbow. Defenders should sprint quickly as the ball is in the air, as soon as it leaves the passer's hands. X3 closes-out with high hands in a good defensive stance.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Skip-Pass to Corner Drill

Forward's Wing and Corner Rotations Drill

Now we will drill how the outside low defender (forward) X4 defends the pass to the wing and to the corner. In diagram F2, as the ball is passed to the wing O2, X4 goes "on" (closes-out with high hands), and then retreats back inside ("off").

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Forward's Wing and Corner Rotations Drill 2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Forward's Wing and Corner Rotations Drill 2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Forward's Wing and Corner Rotations Drill

As the pass goes to the corner (diagram F3), X4 closes-out with high hands and stays with the ball in the corner. As the ball is passed back out to the wing O2 (diagram F4), X4 simply drops back inside, as normally X1 would already be on the ball O2 and there is no need to go "on and off" here.

Forward's On-Off Rotations Drill

The next several diagrams H - K show how our two outside low defenders (forwards X3 and X4) rotate as the ball moves around on the perimeter. In diagram H, as the ball is passed from the point to the right wing, X4 goes "on and off" initially closing-out with high hands, and then retreating back inside. X3 moves inside the paint. As the ball is passed back to the point (diagram I), X3 moves back out to his/her usual neutral position.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Forward's On-Off Rotations Drill 2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Forward's On-Off Rotations Drill

As the ball is passed from the point to the left wing (diagram J), X3 goes "on and off" initially closing-out with high hands, and then retreating back inside. X4 moves inside the paint. Diagram K shows a wing-to-wing skip-pass, with X4 going "on and off" and X3 dropping inside.

Spend a few minutes with the three offensive players passing the ball around on top while X3 and X4 rotate accordingly and quickly as the ball is in the air. In you have an assistant, use both ends of the court and make sure all of your inside defenders get enough repetitions.

2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Forward's On-Off Rotations Drill 2-3 zone defense breakdown drill - Forward's On-Off Rotations Drill

Get the complete article!
The rest of this article is in the Premium Members section and the Deluxe CD and downloads. It also includes all of these important drills:


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Helpful DVDs:


Al Marshall's Aggressive 2-3 zone Defense

Al Marshall's Aggressive 2-3 zone Defense - The Defense Your Opponents Will Hate!
By Al Marshall. Coach Marshall has 42 years of coaching experience and has been a very successful head boys varsity coach at Cascade HS in Cascade, Iowa. Coach Marshall has accumulated 629 career wins at the high school level and his teams have led Iowa the past six years in lowest points allowed per game. He is ranked 4th in all-time wins in the state of Iowa, and has 39 district and conference championships under his belt. Coach Marshall is noted for his great defensive teams and his 2-3 zone defense... and now in this two-DVD set, he shares the secrets of his great success... (more info)

Price: $49.95
buy it now!

Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to the 2-3 Match-up Zone Defense

Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to the 2-3 Match-up Zone Defense
By Jim Boeheim, Syracuse University Head Coach, 2003 NCAA Champions! For the first time ever available on video, Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to the 2-3 Match-up Zone Defense outlines the responsibilities, rotations, and reads for each player with marker board diagrams and then supported by on-court demonstration and game footage... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now from the Coach's Clipboard Basketball DVD -  Video Store!


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