Zone Offense Skill Developmentby eBasketballCoach
The Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
With more and more teams shifting to zone defense, it's essential to install a simple zone offense that can create high percentage shots for your team. It's also essential to practice the specific skills that allow you to break down a zone defense - interior passing, finishing around the basket, and attacking closeouts when the opportunity presents itself.
Below are three drills to help you collapse the defense and create open shots for your team.
Drill #1: Mid Post Mikan Drill
The tried and tested best way of attacking each and every zone is by putting a player in the middle of it. The only problem with this is players rarely get any practice making that kind of contested catch in the high post and then making a quick decision. This next drill does a great job of getting post players comfortable working out of and finishing from the high post.
The player running through the drill line up in the middle of the paint on the dotted line. There will be three more players helping out - one just outside the paint at each elbow, each with a basketball, and another by the hoop, ready to rebound. You'll also have a coach line up at the top of the arc with a basketball, acting as the post entry passer.
To begin, the coach will throw an entry pass to the player in the paint, who will then catch it and secure it, then decisively make a move and attack the hoop, finishing strong at the rim. Once the coach has thrown the entry pass, one of the two extra passers will pass him another ball. The rebounder will collect the loose ball, and pass it to whichever of the two extra passers no longer has a ball. In the meantime, the post player will have sprinted right back up to the dotted line, ready to receive the next pass and do it again. You can either continue the drill until the player has hit a certain number of makes, or simply set a time - 30 seconds for example - until the players rotate and the next man comes in.
It's important that you make this as close to a game situation as possible - throw errant passes, high and low, so that players get used to making tough catches. And make sure players are making their post moves and finishes as if there is a real defender on their hip! Remember - practice how you want to play!
Drill #2: Stick and Move Drill
Learning to whip the ball with crisp passing in the halfcourt is absolutely essential to breaking down the zone. Hesitating to move the ball around the arc will allow time for the slight openings you've created in the zone to disappear. This next drill will teach players how to anticipate their teammates' movement, hitting the open man as soon as he's available.
You'll need four teams of three players, with two teams starting out on the court as offense and defense, and the other two off to the sideline. You'll also need a coach to act as an extra passer, and while you don't need to mark it explicitly, it's important the players know the court has been split in half right down the middle of the paint, and they are restricted to one side for the entirety of this drill.
To begin, the offense will make a pass to the coach, then using a combination of cuts and screens to get open. The offense is trying to score a bucket, while the defense is doing their best to steal the ball. The players are free to do whatever they like - they can pass back to the coach at an time, and as long as they aren't setting illegal screens or taking too long to get open, they can keep going. After every win - either the defense getting a steal/rebound or the offense scoring a hoop - the losing team gets off the court with the next team ready to sprint on and continue the drill. The drill ends once a team has accrued 10 wins, with the losers all doing pushups or running sprints.
It's important not to overcoach in this drill. Let the players solve the puzzle of exactly what they need to do to be successful. You should however keep an eye out, as you rotate through the teams, you'll notice that some players just seemed to have a natural chemistry together, and pairing them off in games can pay big dividends.
Drill #3: Attack the Closeout
Once the zone begins to shift back and forth, eventually, there will be a crack, and when you see that crack, you need to attack! In this drill, we are going to teach players how to draw the defender out, attack the closeout, and get a good shot under control.
To begin, the players will form a line out on the wing, with a coach or defender under the hoop with a basketball.
The coach will throw the player on the wing a chest pass and then sprint out of the paint, chopping down is feet at the end with his hands up, closing out hard on the ball. The offensive player must wait until the defender has begun to chop down, at which point he can attack the hoop and look to finish strong.
When you first start running this drill, work on predetermined moves - pump fake, to one dribble pull up inside for example. Then pump fake to one dribble pull up baseline. Then you can have players take it all the way to the hoop. You can closeout short, leaving them open for the three. There are tons of options, but they should all be quick and decisive - no more than two dribbles at any given time. Once your players are comfortable reading the closeout and reacting with about 3-5 different moves, you can open it up to interpretation. Closeout differently every time, and allow the players to read your closeout and make the correct decision on how to attack it.
Once the drill is at this point, you can sub out the coach, and put a line of players at the baseline to act as defenders. The same rules will apply, but you can make it into a contest - the first player to score 7 points on offense wins, with the rest of the players running sprints.
If you're looking for new plays to improve your half court offense, check out Complete Basketball Playbook. It's packed with 35 fully diagrammed plays for man to man offense, zone offense, inbounds plays and more.
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