23 Zone - The Guards

Updated: Jun 8

In this post, we are going to take a look at the Responsibilities and Steal Opportunities for the Guards in our 23 Zone.


The Guards are sort of like the engine of your 23 Zone. They are tasked with some of the most critical elements of the defense including; guarding the ball, responding to perimeter swings, and preventing the pass to the middle. With that in mind, we want to strategically place two good perimeter defenders in these positions. This is not a place to "hide" players as we need these defenders to anticipate well, guard the basketball effectively, and will be able to box out players crashing the offensive glass. If we can get these players to be aggressive there are four great steal opportunities in the 23 Zone for guards to take advantage of as well.


The three most common ways to break down a 23 Zone are through dribble penetration, perimeter swings, and touching the ball to the middle of the floor. The Guards will play a critical role in trying to prevent all three of those things from occurring. Because of this, it is critical that these two people are more connected than any other two players on the floor. Throughout the possession, they will constantly be readjusting themselves based on the movements of the other. Good guard tandems should not just be responding to the movement of the basketball but anticipating when it will go next.


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Responsibilities of the Guards -

Remaining connected and keeping the basketball out of the middle are the two core responsibilities of the Guards. They are constantly guarding the two most dangerous people on the floor; the man with the ball, and the man in the middle. As the basketball is being swung they should be shifting the responsibility for those people between the two of them. The movements of the Guards should be constant readjustments to the positioning of their partner.


Guard Responsibilities -

Ball is on Top:

When the basketball is at the top of the key both guards should be within arms reach of one another.


  • "Have Active Hands".


Perhaps the most important ingredient here is to have active hands to deflect passes being attempted to the middle man.


Ball is on Wing -

When the ball is on the Wing, the "Ball & Middle" Rotation begins. If one man is guarding the ball then the other guard should be defending the middle.


  • "Anticipate Middle Entry" - Guards should anticipate this Middle Entry Pass as it can be a great opportunity for steals throughout the game.


Swing to the Top -

When the ball is swung from wing to the top the Guards begin the process of alternating roles once again. The defender on the Middle Man now guards the ball, and the player guarding the ball now guards the middle. This potentially leaves us open to passes back to the same side wing, but Wing Players have a role in defending that as well.


"Guard Boxes" on Drives -

One of the responsibilities we will get to later in the post is the idea of getting to the "Guard Box" if the ball gets inside the defense. In order to maximize our Guards' ability to steal the inside-out pass and defend the three-point line, we have to ask our Center to be able to step up and guard the ball if it enters the paint.


"Guard Box" - this is an area that surrounds the elbow on each side of the free throw line. This is the area guards should defend if the ball gets inside the defense. From here they need to anticipate where the next pass is going.



On the Ball Defense -

One common misconception about zone defense is that we are sitting back and not pressuring the basketball. We see guarding the basketball as one of the core responsibilities for the Guards. If the ball is above the free throw line extended at least one of the guards is responsible for being on the ball. There are a few teaching points that we would use when guarding the ball:

  • Shade to the Sideline/Baseline

  • Ball on the Wing: Top Foot Above Offensive Player

  • Arm's Length Away

  • Active Hands to Impair Vision