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Zone Offense Concepts

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

In this post, we took a look at how we attack Zone Defenses using our 'Gaps' and 'Ball Screen' Concepts.

I think it is safe to say that the majority of coaches' practice plans revolve around the build-up to a team's man-to-man offense, with their zone offensive scheme pushed to the back burner. This is a trap that I generally try to avoid. Given our two-week preseason and the likelihood that we will see zone defense early in the season, I think it becomes essential that we work on our zone offensive concepts right away. Two seasons ago (2018-19) we only zone defense on approximately 15% of our possessions. This past season (2019-20) that number jumped back up to about 35% of our total possessions. The vast majority of our zone possessions came against either 23 or 32 Zones, with the occasional 131 and Box & 1 sprinkled in.

The main thing I attempt to do with my zone offense is to keep it simple. In my opinion, having a few simple concepts that your players can use to read the defense will be more beneficial than implementing a bunch of Zone-Specific set plays. There are two main zone concepts that we are going to discuss in this post. One of them is our Gaps approach, which centers on Spacing, Ball Movement, and on occasion Drive & Space Reactions. The other is Head Tap, which is a high ball screen designed to bring two defenders to the basketball creating a small advantage on the first pass. We will also discuss a few options we have used in the past to incorporate off-ball screening as a means to pin "wing defenders" in certain zones.

The main zone offense concept that we are going to use is simply called 'Gaps'. This is a fairly common concept that will use great spacing, ball movement, and subtle adjustments to create advantages. We are going to position ourselves in the gaps of the zone defense and then attack those gaps with passing or dribble penetration.

Gaps Concept -


The first layer that we are going to teach in zone offense is gap alignment. We would like our offensive players to always align themselves in the gaps of a zone defense. We are trying to occupy the attention of two defenders at once with our spacing.

Given that the 23 Zone is the most common zone that we see I drew the diagram to reflect the gaps in that particular defense.

  • Point

  • Two Wings

  • Middle & Short Corner

Once our players are comfortable with our gap spacing versus an even fronted zone we would show our players how those gaps change when we are facing an odd fronted zone (131, 32). The concept of Gap Spacing is really simple but is perhaps the most critical for creating good shots versus zone defenses.

"Teaching Points" -

  • Get into the "Gaps" of whatever Zone Defense is Presented

  • Use Ball Speed & Spacing to Create Advantages

  • Use the Threat of High Low Action

  • Make Two Players Guard One

"Dribble Drive Reaction" -

The second layer to teaching zone offense is the reaction to dribble penetration. Outside of moving the basketball with great spacing & ball movement, the best way to breakdown a zone defense is to penetrate those gaps with the dribble.

Dribble penetration is almost always going to come from the perimeter. So we need to teach not only our perimeter players how to react but our inside players as well. In general, we want all players to move away from the drive and into a scoring window.

"Teaching Points" -

  • Inside Players - Circle Away From the Ball

  • Inside Players - Seal Off Defenders from Helping Down

  • Perimeter Players - Move into a Window

  • Perimeter Players - Get Defensive Balance

The use of the ball screen is something that can be called or something that happens organically. Our signal for this during the game would be to simply tap our heads. That motion from the ball handler signals that we are moving from gaps into the spread ball screen. With the ball screen concept, the positioning of players in the gaps of the defense stays consistent but the role of the 5-Man now moves towards screening one of the top defenders.

Ball Screen Zone Offense

"Inside Ball Screen" -

The majority of screens that are set versus zone defenses will be of this variety. The Inside Ball Screen will be set with your back to the middle of the court. After setting the ball screen we would like the screener to 'short roll' to the middle of the defense.

The goal of the ball screen is simply to draw two defenders to the basketball. From there it is up to the players off the basketball to use great spacing and passing to create a good shot.

"Outside Ball Screen" -

This version of the ball screen will be set with your backside to a sideline. Often time this ball screen will draw the wing defenders to the basketball, creating opportunities for the wing and baseline players.

"Teaching Points" -

  • Basketball - Eyes on the Help Defenders

  • Screener - The goal is to screen the 'back pocket' of the defender

  • Screener - We want to force the defender over the screen

  • Screener - If the defender goes under the screen, set the screen again

  • Basketball - Make Two Guard One

  • Off Ball Players - Constantly Readjust your Gap Spacing