The following very basic offensive plays are provided to help a young team with floor spacing and floor balance. Floor spacing is the key to many of these drills. We first give a basic motion offense, and then some variations, to run against a man-to-man defense. After the motion offenses, we then give basic offensive principles to run against zone defenses.
A Motion Offense is mainly used to counter man-to-man defense. In youth basketball, motion offenses are difficult offenses to teach. There are many skills needed to properly execute a motion offense, including setting screens, ball handling, moving without the ball, triple threat position, posting up, and cutting, to name a few. The only positive thing about having to run a motion offense with younger players is that it is even harder to play good man-to-man defense at a young age.
Box Set: Motion
1. Player 5 posting up down on ball-side block.
2. Player 4 coming off of low screen.
3. Player 3 cutting to the free-throw line.
- Players 2, 3, 4, and 5 are in the “box” offensive set (diagram 1).
- Note that these player numbers correspond to the offensive positions, where Player 1 is the point guard, Player 2 is the shooting guard, Player 3 is the small forward, Player 4 is the power forward, and Player 5 is the center.
- Note that the wing players (shooting guard and small forward) start down low in the box offense and the forwards (power forward and center) start up top in the box offense.
- Player 1 (point guard) yells “MOTION” or “GO” to start the play (player 1 should keep dribble alive until making a pass).
- Players 4 and 5, who are standing outside the lane area at the free-throw line extended (the so called 'elbows'), will screen down for players 2 and 3 (diagram 2).
- Before the screens occur, players 2 and 3 will take two to three steps toward the lane area (to set up their defenders) and then make hard V-cuts to their respective wing areas (diagram 2).
- Player 1 will pass the basketball to player 2 or 3 (assume player 2 in this example) who will square up to the basket (diagram 3).
- Player 5, post player on the ball-side of the court, will post up for two seconds (diagram 3).
- After two seconds, player 5 will screen away for opposite post player - player 4 (diagram 3).
- As player 5 turns to screen away for the opposite post player, player 3 will cut toward the free-throw line and player 1 will “fill” his or her spot at the wing (diagram 3).
- If a pass cannot be made to player 4 coming off the low screen or to player 3 on the cut to the lane area, player 3 will move to the top of the key area to receive a pass from player 2 (diagram 4).
- If the pass is made to player 3 at the top of the key area, team will be in the “box” offensive set again (diagram 5).
Box Set: Double Down
1. Player 3 coming off of low screen.
2. Player 2 coming off the double screen.
- Players 2, 3, 4, and 5 are in the “box” offensive set, as above.
- Player 1 (point guard) yells “DOUBLE” or “GO” to start the play (player 1 should keep dribble alive until making a pass).
- Player 1 dribbles to right-side of the basket and can go to right or left (diagram 1).
- As player 1 dribbles to the wing area (attack zone), player 2 will screen away for player 3 (diagram 1).
- Player 3 cuts to the ball-side block area hoping to receive a pass from player 1 (diagrams 1 and 2).
- As player 3 cuts to the ball-side block area, players 4 and 5 will set a double screen in the middle of the lane for player 2 (diagram 2).
- Player 1 looks for player 2 as they curl around the screen for an open jump-shot (diagram 3).
Fundamentals of a Zone Offense
1. Dribble Penetration: Draw 2 defenders using the dribble by driving into the gaps of the zone. In other words, make 2 defenders guard one offensive player. This means that one of your teammates will be open! If the defense can guard 2 of our players at the same time, then we are not being active enough on offense and/or not using proper pacing.
2. Play Behind The Zone: This adds another dimension to the offense you are running. A player that plays behind the defense can easily look for openings in the defense, get open for a shot, and go to the backboard for the rebound. This minor technique will keep the defense busy and constantly looking back at players behind them. When a defense is not looking at the ball, you’ve got the edge!
3. Screen The Zone: When screens are used properly in a zone offense, it alters the defenders ability to move to their area of responsibility. Screening helps get good defenders off of your best shooter so they can get open for a good look at the basket. As a rule, have the player that is setting a screen turn and look for the ball after a screen, they are usually wide open (pick-and-roll).
4. Interfering With The Defense: When players are running their patterns and/or making cuts they should always try to “get in the way” of defenders anytime they can. This also adds in keeping the defenders out of their area of responsibility.
5. Post Play: The main rule for post players against a zone defense is to never post up on a spot on the floor, but rather to “seal” the defense and post up a defender. The player posting up on defender is directly in front of the defender and ready to accept the ball (the defender is sealed off).
6. Pass Fakes: Pass Fakes are very effective ways to make a defense move out of sequence. When the defenders are reacting to pass fakes, this creates openings in the defense.
7. Always Be Active: Don’t stand still. Always be active. Players should move to gaps in the defense. Don’t make it easy for defenders to guard an offensive player. Make sure you are in a good position to receive a pass. Offensive players should help create a good passing lane. Movement without the ball is very important. Players should try to turn defenders away from the ball.
8. Patience: Make the defense work hard. Don’t rush the play unless necessary. Coaches should tell players that the team is looking for the first available “open shot,” and that the player who is “open” should take the shot. Understand that not all open shots will go in, and for younger players shooting percentages may not be high. Coaches should help the players understand that even if the player misses the shot, as long as it was an open shot, there is no bad open shot.
9. Passing: Passing can make or break a teams Zone Offense. The main problem with the younger players is that they make soft passes to their teammates. Players must be taught that all passes must be thrown hard and have a little “zip” on them. Coaches should explain how a soft pass allows the defense the opportunity to steal the ball, which causes turnovers. When a player throws a soft pass and the defense steals the pass, it is called an “unforced turnover.” This means that the defense did not cause the turnover, and they didn’t have to work very hard for it either.
10. Offensive Rebounding: Consistently going to the backboard, boxing out, and getting the offensive rebound is one of the most important elements to use against a zone defense. “Crash the boards” is a term widely used by coaches. Coaches should always take the time to explain a term to their players (especially the younger players). Players need to understand that an offensive rebound usually puts a player in position for an easy shot (since most offensive rebounds are under or closer to the basket.
A Simple Numbering System
Coaches will find it will be much easier to teach a zone offense if they incorporate a simple numbering system. This will help the younger players remember where to stand, and to understand the different positions. The number system below is used frequently, although it does not matter what numbering system you use, so long as you use one.
1. Point Guard: Typically the best ball handler.
2. Shooting Guard: Typically, your best shooter.
3. Small Forward/Guard: Typically a player who drives well to the basket.
4. Forward: Typically, a quick player who loves to hustle.
5. Center: Typically your best rebounder, regardless of height.
Offense Against a 2-3 Zone Defense
The 2-3 (or 2-1-2) zone defense is the most commonly used zone defense. It is designed to stop the inside game. The 2-1-2 zone is the same as the 2-3, except that the middle low defender is positioned a little higher in the paint, so the terms can be used interchangeably. Good outside shooting make a 2-3 zone practically useless. However, a good offensive team will still want to get the ball inside, especially late in the game, or when your shooters are having an off day.
Most teams attack zones with a general zone offense, as describe in general above. Typically, most teams simply need to be patient and execute well, make the zone shift, and work the ball inside. However, at times, teams will find it useful to run a set zone play to get someone open for a good shot, whether an inside shot or a 3-pointer. In teaching a basic offense against a 2-3 zone, coaches are encouraged to first teach the basics of zone offense and then adding a few simple plays as the season progresses.
As discussed previously, when faced with an even front defense, one wants to attack the defense with an odd front offense. In this case, we will use a 1-3-1 offensive scheme.
1. O5 will run the baseline from short corner to short corner and the offense will try to pass the ball to O5 from the wing (O2 or O3), usually after reversing the ball once. Note that we do not want O5 to post up on the low block, as this spot is typically well-defended by the three low zone defenders. In addition, if the ball is passed into the high post O4, O5 should try to 'duck' underneath the zone, seal the defender, and receive the quick pass from O4 for the lay-up, as shown in diagram A.
2. In diagram A, the wings O2 and O3 are set out a little farther than usual from the three-point arc so that the X1 and X2 defenders are not in their passing lane from O1. After receiving the pass, O2 or O3 can dribble in, get the defender to commit and then pass or shoot. If the ball goes into the short corner, O2 and O3 should both slide down to the corners. Good skip passes between O2 and O3 catch the zone over-shifted, as shown in diagram B, but the offense must make sure the skip pass is open as some teams will aggressively try to steal this pass. A counter for that is a fake skip to the wing, and then a lob pass to O5 on the weakside block.
3. O4 moves with the ball. When the ball is at the point, O4 is at the free-throw line. When the ball is on the wing, instead of posting at the elbow or at the low block, which are usually defended in this zone, O4 will set up a little lower than the elbow, actually in the gap between the high and low defenders, as shown in diagram B. Most coaches do not like O4 putting the ball on the floor with a dribble as this usually plays into the defenses collapsing defenders. O4 should receive the ball, pivot and face the hoop and either shoot or pass without holding the ball too long. When the ball is in the short corner (O5), O4 cuts to the ball-side low block for the pass from O5 and the power lay-up, as shown in diagram C.
4. The offense can get the ball to O5 by making a pass from O2 or O3, or occasionally from O4. Oftentimes, it is easier to make the wing-to-O5 pass after reversing the ball once from side to side, as this causes the zone to shift (e.g. O1 passes to O3, O3 skip passes to O2 and O2 then passes to O5). O5 may be able to make a quick inside pass to O4 cutting for the lay-up once the X4 defender commits to guarding O5. Another option for O5 is to pass to O3 in the opposite corner. In addition, when O5 gets the ball in the short corner, O2 can slide further down into the ball-side corner and usually will be wide open for a 3-point shot if O5 passes back out.
5. The weak-side wing always cuts to the corner when O5 gets the ball, as shown in diagram B. When O4 has the ball, as shown in diagram C, the weak-side wing can either slide into the gap between the high and low defenders looking for the medium range jumper, or if they are a good three-point shooter, look for the skip pass out to the three-point arc. The weak-side wing must be an offensive rebounder on the back-side.
6. Outside shooters have a tendency to take the first open show. So that we continue to try to get the ball inside, many coaches employ the 'one post-touch' rule. That is, before taking an outside shot, the ball has to go inside to O4 or O5 for at least one touch. The exception to this rule is outside shooters can shoot in transition, off the break, if there is a 'kick-out' pass for the 3-point shot. But if the shot off the break is not there and we set up in our zone offense, then the 'post-touch' rule applies.
7. Whenever perimeter players have a chance to dribble-penetrate the gaps in the zone, they should usually be thinking about a pull-up jumper in the gap between the low and outside defenders. A drive all the way to the hoop is usually not possible because of the three big low defenders.
Looking at Diagram C, one can see that once O4 gets the ball, there are several offensive 'triangles', or passing options where you gain a 3 against 2 advantage on the defense. Quick passing will get you a good shot.
Another related offense against the 2-3 zone. This offensive scheme gives your offense a slightly different look. Instead of starting with a high post, the attack comes from underneath the zone, from the opposite low post. This means that the offense must start with a wing entry, as shown in the diagrams below.
The offense is initiated by O1 passing to the wing, as shown in diagram A below. If the wing pass is being denied, O1 dribbles to the wing, with O2 making a shallow cut out to the point, as shown in diagram B. As the ball arrives on the wing, the ball-side low post (O4) cuts to the short corner yelling 'ball, ball, ball' in hopes of drawing the low post defender out with him.
Meanwhile, the opposite low post (O5) makes a cut from underneath the zone to the ball-side lane looking for the pass from the wing.
The wing passes to either O5 along the lane or O4 in the short corner, as shown in diagram C. O5 has the option of shooting, driving to the hoop (if the X5 defender has moved out), or passing to either O4 or reversing it to O3, who should be wide open on the opposite side. If the pass from the wing goes to the short corner (O4), then O5 cuts to the low block looking for the pass from O4. Note that O2 and O1 have slid down a little toward the corner in case O4 must pass back out.
Hi-Lo Option. Please refer to diagram F. Again using the 3-out, 2-in set, O1 makes the pass to the wing, and this triggers the ball-side post player (O4) to flash to the gap near the ball-side elbow. After receiving the pass, O4 pivots and looks inside or makes a shot fake, and passes to O5 who maneuvers inside the opposite post defender for the pass and shot.
If the pass to the wing is being denied, then do the simple dribble entry and rotate as seen in diagram G. O1 dribbles to the wing. O2 sliding to the corner will help to occupy the O4 defender, forcing the O5 defender to move up on O4 as the pass is delivered to the elbow. O5 works to get that inside position again for the pass and shot.
Skip pass and weak side attack. This is another way of attacking a 2-3 zone using either the 1-3-1 or the 3-out, 2-in set, especially if O4 is being denied and fronted. Please refer to diagram H. Note that the 2-3 zone defense has shifted when the ball is on the right wing.
Many teams defend the skip pass by having the opposite low post (X3) rotate out to the wing. X3 will then drop back down once the outside defenders catch-up in their rotation. The offense can take advantage of that strategy by keeping its low post on the weak-side (instead of moving to the ball-side short corner). Then make the skip pass to O3, and as X3 rotates out, make the quick pass inside to O5. O4 screens the middle (X5) defender so that he cannot rotate in time to defend O5.