2.4.4 Proving an opponent is playing zone defence
FIBA recommends that zone defence is not allowed until players reach the age of 15. Zone defence certainly is an important aspect of basketball and young players need to be instructed in how to play zone defence.
However, to ensure the development of good offensive and defensive fundamentals, young players should first be instructed in the principles of “man to man” defence.
Zone defence is a form of team defence where each player becomes responsible for defending both an area of the court, and any opponent who may be in that area. When five players work together in a zone it can become a very formidable defence.
Zone defences are primarily designed to protect the area near the basket. This essentially means that the offensive team will be forced to take lower percentage, perimeter shots”. There are a number of common zone defence alignments, such as:
In a zone defence one player may be responsible for guarding a number of players, or may not have anyone in their area at all. For example, the following defensive assignments would probably apply, if the defence were in zone:
- x1 would guard 1 or 2 if they receive the ball
- x3 would guard 3 if they receive the ball
- x2 would guard 4 or 5 if they receive the ball
- x4 and x5 have no particular defensive responsibility
Where a “no zone defence” rule is applied, the onus is with the offensive team to pass the ball and move so that it is demonstrated that the defence are playing zone. The benefit of any doubt is given to the defence as the rule is not to penalize:
- Players that make a mistake in “man to man” (for example lose sight of their opponent incorrectly “rotate”);
- Players that are tired or lazy in playing “man to man”.
The rule is also only concerned with playing man to man principles in the quarter court (effectively the three point line). Teams can play any defence they want on the full court. Just because a player or a number of players run back to their defensive key does not make it a zone defence.
Teams may trap in the quarter court and may stay in a “zone” alignment for one pass, after which all players must resume man to man positions. For example, on the trap, 2 players are on the ball and the remaining 3 players may rotate to protect the basket. As 3 players are now guarding 4, they need to “zone” for a short time.
The Xs and Os of Proving a Zone Defence
Moving a Split Line Defender
A basic principle of man to man defence is that the closer the player you are guarding is to the ball, the closer to them you need to be. Conversely, the further away they are from the ball, the further away you can be.
Below are some examples of situations, where it might look like the defence is playing zone, but the offence has not yet done enough to “prove” zone.
When 3 has the ball, x5 can adopt a “split line” position in the middle of the key. If the ball is passed to 4, x5 can maintain this split line position.
If the ball stays on one side and 5 stays still, x5 is adhering to man-to-man principles even though they are just staying in the middle of the key.
Similarly, moving the ball from one side of the court to another can be effective to establish that it is a zone defence.
However, if 5 also cuts from one side to another, x5 can maintain a “split line” position in the middle of the key although x5 should make some movement in reaction to the cut (e.g. bump the cutter).
To prove a defender is playing zone defence, specific movement from the offence is required. Here are some ways to do it:
Move to the perimeter – ballside
If the offensive player cuts to a post position, it may still be difficult to determine what defence x5 is playing as many teams guard a post player from behind.
By moving to the perimeter, x5 must leave the key – they do not have to be in a denial position, but they must be outside the key.
Trail High in Transition
Quite commonly, a team’s centre (x5) will run to the basket once their team has lost possession. Coaches will often say that this player is playing zone defence, but that is not necessarily the case.
Particularly, if the player they are guarding also runs straight down the court into a post position, then x5 can stay in the key!