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Basketball Plays - 2-3 Zone Offense Plays

By James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook, @

First read Zone Offense and 2-3 Zone Offense. We mostly attack zones with a general zone offense 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 of these plays as the season progresses.

You can screen the zone. An effective method is to swing the ball to one side and then, as the zone shifts, back-screen the weakside of the zone. Note that with any of these plays, if the play breaks down, O1 should recognize this and resume your usual zone offense. Also, an important part of any zone offense or zone play is offensive rebounding after the shot goes up. Get those second and third shots!

So here are some set plays that you can run against the 2-3 zone.


This play is designed to attack the 2-3 zone from the back-side of the zone, using a skip pass and screening the back-side of the zone. Younger kids may have difficulty making the long skip pass and might find "Zone-1X" below a better alternative. But this is an excellent play for stronger high school teams.

In diagram A, O1 passes to O2 and this will cause the zone to shift. O3 slides down into the weakside corner. O5 backscreens the outside low zone defender so that O3 is open for the skip pass from O2.

basketball play Carolina basketball play Carolina basketball play Carolina

As the pass is being made, O4 cuts to the ball-side elbow (diagram B). Once the pass is made, O5 lets the outside defender slip by out to the corner and O5 now screens the middle defender in the zone. O4 cuts off O5's screen to the block for the pass and lay-up (diagram C).

Zone-1 "X"

This play is similar to Carolina above but without the long skip pass, and younger teams would find this easier to run than Carolina. Sometimes the middle low defender will cheat up to the high post to guard O4 and the 2-3 zone now looks more like a 2-1-2. This play takes advantage of that. O1 dribbles to the right to engage the outside top defender. O5 sets a screen on the outside low defender while O2 slides down to the corner. O1 passes to O2.

basketball play Carolina basketball play Carolina basketball play Carolina

O5 allows the defender to slip outside (diagram B), and then O5 screens the middle defender in the zone. O4 cuts around O5's screen for the pass from O2 and the layup (diagram C).


Some years, we have a point guard who is an excellent outside shooter and we want to get some shots for him/her. "91"is part of our "90 Series" that we run against man-to-man defense. We can also run a simplified "91" against the 2-3 zone.

O4 and O5 move up to the top. O1 passes to either O4 or O5 (can run it right or left). The opposite post (in this case O4), sets a back-screen for O1. O1 flares to the wing. Meanwhile the ball-side wing (O2 in this case) moves inside to clear the wing for O1, and this also keeps the X4 defender down low.

basketball play 91 basketball play 91 basketball play 91

The pass goes over the top to O1 on the wing, and assuming O4 makes a good screen, O1 will almost always be wide open for the outside shot. This is because of a fault in the zone itself. Versus the zone, when O4 moves up top to screen, ordinarily no defender will move up with O4 and this results in no defender being there to switch on the back-screen. This ensures O1 is wide open.

After passing, O5 moves inside to rebound, as does O4. O3 rotates to the point.

"Corners 52"

We run this play out of a 4-out zone offense, our "Corners" offense. O1 passes to O2, while O5 slides up and screens X2. O3 slides down to the corner. O4 cuts underneath the zone to the ballside block. O2 dribble-penetrates the seam, looking for (1) the pull-up jumper, or (2) the pass to O3 in the corner (if X3 drops inside), or (3) the pass to O4 cutting underneath the zone (if X5 comes up to defend).

set play vs 2-3 zone set play vs 2-3 zone

"45" (or "54")

Sometimes our "Zone-2" offense works well against the 2-3 zone. And we can run "45" (to the right side) or "54" (to the left side) against the 2-3 zone. In "45", the pass goes to O2 in the right corner. O4 makes two screens.

The play starts with O4 screening the outside low defender X4 so that the pass can go to O2. After the pass is made, O4 lets X4 slip the screen and as X4 moves out to the corner O4 screens the middle-defender in the zone X5. This frees O5 for a cut to the ball-side low post and the lay-up.

set play vs 2-3 zone

In "54", it's all the same, except on the opposite side with the pass going into the left corner. O2 runs the baseline to the left corner for the pass. O5 sets the inside screen and O4 cuts to the ball-side low post for the pass and lay-up.


Submitted by Coach Ken Sartini, Arlington Heights, IL

Here is another play attacking the 2-3 zone defense. Having an athletic O3 who can jump and finish inside is key. See the diagrams below. O2 sets up on the left wing, v-cuts and gets the pass from O1. O5 and O4 set up below the defense.

basketball zone play basketball zone play

O5 back-screens the middle defender (X5), while O4 back-screens the weak-side low defender (X4). By crossing O4 and O5, we get better screening angles on both screens. O3 slides below the screens for the lob pass from O2, and possible dunk. Or if unable to dunk, O3 catches the pass, gathers and scores off the glass.


There is also a man-to-man version of this play. In diagram A, O1 passes to O3 and O1 moves outside to the left wing, with O3 dribbling toward the top. The initial pass to O4 curling around O2 is less likely to be open against the 2-3 zone (but could be open against a 1-2-2 zone). O4 mainly becomes a screener.

basketball play Miami basketball play Miami, vs zone defense basketball play Miami, vs zone defense

After cutting, O4 locates in the left short-corner area (diagram E). O3 passes to O2. O4 pin-screens the weakside low defender X3, and O2 skip passes to O1 who has dropped down toward the left corner. This causes the low outside defender to run out to defend O1. O4 will bump and delay the X3 defender just enough to make the skip pass to the corner open. Then O4 lets the X3 defender move out to defend, and now O4 screens the middle low defender. O5 cuts underneath for the pass from O1 and the power lay-up.


This play can be run either to right ("Iowa-2") or the left ("Iowa-3"). Once again, we take advantage of the zone over-shifting and we screen the backside of the zone... (more)

"21" and "31"

Run this simple play either right ("21") or left ("31")... (more)


These two plays exploit the outside weakness of the 2-3 zone... (more)


This simple play gets O2 a shot in the paint, and works well against teams that play the middle low defender (X3) fairly low in the paint... (more)


Starting in the 1-3-1 set, O4 will step out... the play ends with O4 getting the pass inside for the lay-up... (more)


Starting in the 1-3-1 set, O4 again steps out... the play ends with O2 getting an open 3-point shot... (more)


This play gets an open 3-point corner shot for O3, or an inside jumper for O5 on the slip... (more)


This play gets an open inside jump-shot for O3, or a corner 3-pointer for O1... (more)


This play is great if you have a good jump-shooting post player... (more)


This play is actually a side-to-side continuity with repeated screening of the low middle defender, looking for the lay-up... (more)

For even more good 2-3 zone plays... become a Premium Member or get the Deluxe CD or downloads to get the complete article and animation. The complete article also includes these special plays:
  • Iowa
  • 21 and 31
  • Indiana
  • UConn
  • UCLA and UCLA-22
  • Raptors
  • Hornets
  • Wolf
  • Pacers

For access to this complete article, and all the Coach's Clipboard's articles, plays, offense, defenses, etc and more, you can purchase any of these products:

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As today's players become bigger, stronger and more athletic, zone defenses are becoming more suffocating than ever before. Hand picked by the editors of Winning Hoops, the nation's No. 1 coaching publication since 1986, this DVD contains all the very best-of-the-best set plays, quick hitters and zone offenses designed to break down those zone defenses... (more info)

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Copyright © 2001 - 2015, James A. Gels, all rights reserved.

Copyright © James A. Gels, all rights reserved.
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