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Basketball Offense - Attacking the 2-3 (or 2-1-2) Zone Defense

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

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The 2-3 (or 2-1-2) zone defense is the most commonly used zone defense, designed to stop the inside game. The 2-1-2 zone is the same as the 2-3, except that the middle low defender is positioned a little higher in the paint, so the terms can be used interchangeably. Good outside shooting can rip this zone apart. But you still need to get the ball inside, especially late in the game, or when your shooters are not hitting.

First read Zone Offense. Mostly we attack zones with a general zone offense like "Zone-23" below and just work that offense. Usually that is all we need to do, as long as we execute well and are patient, make the zone shift, and work the ball inside. But at times, we will run a set zone play to get someone open for a good shot, whether an inside shot or a 3-pointer. In teaching our system, we first teach our basic zone offense(s), and then add a few plays as the season progresses (see 2-3 Zone Plays). But first, if you are coaching young players, consider this simple 2-3 zone offense... easy to understand and teach.



"Zone-23"

Rules - this zone offense uses a 1-3-1 offensive set.

1. O5 will run the baseline from short corner to short corner and we will try to pass the ball to O5 from the wing (O2 or O3), usually after reversing the ball once. We do not want O5 to post up on the low block, as this spot is too well-defended by the three low zone defenders... a pass here is usually double-teamed and results in a turnover. Additionally, if the ball is passed into the high post O4, O5 should try to "duck" underneath the zone, seal the defender, and receive the quick pass from O4 for the lay-up (diagram A).

2. In diagram A, the wings O2 and O3 are set out a little farther than usual from the three-point arc so that the X1 and X2 defenders are not in their passing lane (from O1). After receiving the pass, O2 or O3 can dribble in, get the defender to commit and then pass or shoot. If the ball goes into the short corner, O2 and O3 should both slide down to the corners. Good skip passes between O2 and O3 catch the zone over-shifted (diagram B), but make sure the skip pass is open... some teams will aggressively try to steal this pass (with the weak-side low defender cheating out). A counter for that is a fake skip to the wing, and then a lob pass to O5 on the weakside block.
2-3 zone offense, using a 1-3-1 set 

3. O4 moves with the ball. When the ball is at the point, O4 is at the free-throw line. When the ball is on the wing, instead of posting at the elbow or at the low block (which are usually defended in this zone), O4 will set up a little lower than the elbow, actually in the gap between the high and low defenders (diagram B). We don't like O4 putting the ball on the floor with a dribble as this usually invites trouble from collapsing defenders. O4 should receive the ball, pivot and face the hoop and either shoot or pass without holding the ball too long... a quick decision is needed. When the ball is in the short corner (O5), O4 cuts to the ball-side low block for the pass from O5 and the power lay-up (diagram C).

2-3 zone attack, using a 1-3-1 set

4. You can get the ball to O5 by a pass from O2 or O3, or occasionally from O4. Oftentimes, it is easier to make the wing-to-O5 pass after reversing the ball once from side to side, as this causes the zone to shift (e.g. O1 passes to O3, O3 skip passes to O2 and O2 then passes to O5). O5 may be able to make a quick inside pass to O4 cutting for the lay-up (once the X4 defender commits to guarding O5). Another option for O5 is to pass to O3 in the opposite corner. Additionally, when O5 gets the ball in the short corner, O2 can slide further down into the ball-side corner and usually will be wide open for a 3-point shot if O5 passes back out (because the X1 defender will usually not drop all the way down to the corner).

5. The weak-side wing always cuts to the corner when O5 gets the ball (Diagram B). When O4 has the ball (Diagram C), the weak-side wing can either slide into the gap between the high and low defenders looking for the medium range jumper, or if he/she is a good three-point shooter, look for the skip pass out to the three-point arc. The weak-side wing must be an offensive rebounder on the back-side.

6. Outside shooters have a tendency to let the first open shot go. So that we continue to try to get the ball inside, we have a rule... "one post-touch". Before taking an outside shot, the ball has to go inside to O4 or O5 for at least one touch. The exception to this rule is outside shooters can shoot in transition, off the break, if there is a "kick-out" pass for the 3-point shot. But if the shot off the break is not there and we set up in our zone offense, then the "post-touch" rule applies.

7. Whenever perimeter players have a chance to dribble-penetrate the gaps in the zone, they should usually be thinking about a pull-up jumper in the gap between the low and outside defenders. A drive all the way to the hoop is usually not possible because of the three big low defenders.

Looking at Diagram C, you can see that once O4 gets the ball, there are several offensive "triangles", or passing options where you gain a 3 against 2 advantage on the defense. Quick passing will get you a good shot.

Using the Short Corner
The diagrams below show a great way to use the short corner. Diagram SC1 shows O1 dribbling to the right wing, engaging X1, and O2 moves down to the corner. O1 passes to O2, which causes the low outside defender X3 to come out and guard O2. O2 takes a couple dribbles up (diagram SC2) and this "lifts" the X3 defender, making O5 open for the pass in the short corner. O2 passes to O5 (diagram SC3). O4 dives to the ballside block. If X5 comes out to defend O5, O5 passes to O4 for the lay-up. If X5 stays inside, O5 has the short corner jump-shot, or a drive to the hoop. With this attack, we are pressuring X5 to defend two players. If X4 helps on O4's dive cut, O3 reads this and cuts to the weakside block for a pass from O5.

2-3 zone offense - attacking the short corner 2-3 zone offense - attacking the short corner 2-3 zone offense - attacking the short corner

"Zone-23" starting in a 3-Out, 2-In set

This set uses the same general principles and rules as "Zone-23" above, but gives your offense a little different "look". Instead of starting with a high post, the attack comes from underneath the zone, from the opposite low post. This means that we must start with a wing entry. Refer to the diagrams below.

The offense is started by O1 passing to the wing (Diagram A). If the wing pass is being denied, O1 dribbles to the wing, with O2 making a shallow cut out to the point (Diagram B). As the ball arrives on the wing, the ball-side low post (O4) cuts to the short corner yelling "ball, ball, ball!", in hopes of drawing the low post defender out with him.

Meanwhile, the opposite low post (O5) makes a cut from underneath the zone to the ball-side lane looking for the pass from the wing.

2-3 zone offense, using a 3-2 set

The wing passes to either O5 along the lane or O4 in the short corner (Diagram C). O5 has the option of shooting, driving to the hoop (if the X5 defender has moved out), or passing to either O4 or reversing it to O3 (who should be wide open on the opposite side). If the pass from the wing goes to the short corner (O4), then O5 cuts to the low block looking for the pass from O4. Note that O2 and O1 have slid down a little toward the corner in case O4 must pass back out.

2-3 zone offense, using a 3-2 set

Hi-Lo Option

Diagram F. Again using the 3-out, 2-in set, O1 makes the pass to the wing, and this triggers the ball-side post player (O4) to flash to the gap near the ball-side elbow. After receiving the pass, O4 pivots and looks inside or makes a shot fake, and passes to O5 who maneuvers inside the opposite post defender for the pass and shot.

If the pass to the wing is being denied, then do the simple dribble entry and rotate as seen in Diagram G. O1 dribbles to the wing. O2 sliding to the corner will help to occupy the O4 defender, forcing the O5 defender to move up on O4 as the pass is delivered to the elbow. O5 works to get that inside position again for the pass and shot.


2-3 zone offense, using a 3-2 set

Skip Pass and Weakside Attack.

Here is another way of attacking using either the 1-3-1 or the 3-out, 2-in set, especially if O4 is being denied and fronted. See diagram H. You'll note that the 2-3 zone defense has shifted when the ball is on the right wing.

Many teams defend the skip pass by having the opposite low post (X3) rotate out to the wing. X3 will then drop back down once the outside defenders catch-up in their rotation. You can take advantage of that strategy by keeping your low post on the weak-side (instead of moving to the ball-side short corner). Then make the skip pass to O3, and as X3 rotates out, make the quick pass inside to O5. O4 screens the middle (X5) defender so that he cannot rotate in time to defend O5.

"Zone-I"

It's important for zone offenses to get some dribble-penetration in the gaps. With "zone-I"...

"Zone-23" starting in a 1-4 set

Again, this set uses the same general principles and rules as "Zone-23", but gives your offense another "look". If you use a 1-4 set for your man-to-man offense, this might appeal to you...

For the complete article, including "Zone-I" and "Zone-23" in the 1-4 set , get the Deluxe CD, the Playbook download, the Playbook & Animations download, or by become a Premium Member.



See this clip - using the short corner:
From Kermit Davis (from "The Ultimate Package for Zone Offense")




Related pages: Zone Offense, Screening the Zone, 2-3 Zone Plays, Simple 2-3 Zone Offense, and Stanford Motion-Zone Offense.


Several helpful DVD's...

Bob Knight: Encyclopedia of Zone Offense
Bob Knight: Encyclopedia of Zone Offense
with Bob Knight, former head coach at Texas Tech and Indiana University; Over 900 career wins, 3X National Championship Coach, Five Final 4 appearances; 4X National Coach of the Year;1984 US Men's Olympic Coach (Gold Medal)

Bob Knight opens his championship playbook and shows you how to beat zone defenses. Using the same concepts he used to amass over 900 career wins and three national titles, Knight doesn't just coach his zone offense, he teaches it.

In this on-court clinic presentation, Coach Knight teaches you everything you need to know about playing against a zone defense.... (more info)

Price: $119.99
Buy Now from the Coach's Clipboard Basketball DVD - Video Store!


Coach Izzo teaches his 1-3-1 set for attacking zone defenses
Tom Izzo: The 1-3-1 Zone Offense
with Tom Izzo, Michigan State University Men's Basketball Head Coach, 2000 NCAA Champs, 3X National "Coach of the Year"
Get an insider's view into the Michigan State playbook with this fantastic DVD instructed by Coach Tom Izzo. These set plays have led Tom Izzo and his program to one NCAA National Championship title, four Final Fours, and eight NCAA appearances in his ten years as a Division I head coach. Coach Izzo has won 77% of his games utilizing these set plays. This video will demonstrate ways to take advantage of any type of zone defense... (more info)

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


Coach Self teaches how to attack zone defenses
Bill Self: "Basic" and "Motion" 3-Out 2-In Zone Offenses
with Bill Self, University of Kansas Head Coach; 2008 NCAA Champions
Bill Self focuses on seven principles for effective zone offense and teaches you the Jayhawks' "basic" and "motion" 3-Out 2-In Zone Offense. He walks you through the necessary techniques of both the perimeter and post players such as quick ball movement, skip passing, lob passing, utilizing the short corner and using high/low motion. Self also demonstrates drills that any coach at any level can use to enhance the continuity in the zone offense. He discusses responsibilities and reads and demonstrates the cuts, screens and movement for every position. As a bonus, Self also includes a handful of quick-hitter plays and out-of-bounds baseline plays... (more info)

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


Coach Boeheim teaches zone offense
Jim Boeheim's Complete Guide to Zone Offense
with Jim Boeheim, Head Coach, Syracuse University, 2003 NCAA Champions!!
Coach Boeheim, one of the most respected minds on the zone and match-up zone defense, now shares on video, for the first time ever, his views on how to take advantage of any zone defense. Coach Boeheim's zone offensive principles are simple: ball movement, man movement, and patience. He uses each of these principles in teaching a zone offense which can be run against a 2-3, 3-2, 1-3-1, and match-up zone (odd or even fronts). He combines chalkboard instruction with on-court demonstration and game clips. In addition, he covers the techniques necessary to effectively attack any zone with these offenses that include... (more info)

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


Coach K teaches how to attack zone defenses
Mike Krzyzewski: Duke Basketball Attacking the Zone
with Mike Krzyzewski "Coach K", Duke University Head Men's Basketball Coach; NABC "Coach of the Decade," 12X NABC "Coach of the Year," Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2001), 3X NCAA National Championships ('91, '92,'01)
In an energetic and information-packed on-court presentation, Coach Krzyzewski explains the zone offense and principles he uses in attacking a half-court zone defense. Krzyzewski believes the secret to effective zone offense is to keep it simple by running one highly effective offense that can be utilized against even the most potent defenses. Coach Krzyzewski has designed a zone offense that is easy to implement and impossible to stop! In addition, Coach K shares the five major components... (more info)

Price: $44.99
Buy Now from the Coach's Clipboard Basketball DVD - Video Store!


Geno Auriemma: The Simplified Zone Offense
Head Women's Coach, UCONN, 5X NCAA Championship Coach, 5X National "Coach of the Year"
In an exciting on-court presentation, Coach Auriemma teaches simple strategies for beating a zone defense that are easy to implement and impossible to stop! Auriemma provides drills, strategies and player positioning to help your perimeter and post players beat the zone. He demonstrates a 3-2 Zone Offense and a 1-3-1 Zone Offense that include similar principles, but will confuse your opponents. In addition, Coach Auriemma also gives you eight quick-hitter zone plays... (more info)

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