The philosophy of zone defence is that every player is responsible for an area of the court rather than a particular opponent. Players take up positions on the court in various formations and each moves according to the movement of the ball.
The zone defence is easy to teach which is probably why many junior teams prefer the zone. However I cannot overemphasise the importance of learning the fundamentals of man to man defence. A zone defence tends to weaken individual responsibility. Defensive stance tends to become more erect and it is rare an aggressive active, hustling attitude is maintained.
It is disappointing to see young teams score, or lose possession of the ball and run back to set up a tight, passive defence that blocks the key and waits for the opponents to take a perimeter shot. These tactics often work, particularly against poor offensive teams, but they teach nothing about defence.
Few championships have been won by teams that depend exclusively on zone defence. Jim Boheim the long standing coach of Syracuse University may well be one of the exceptions. While he has won 12 Big East Conference League or Tournament titles, Boheim has won just one national championship and even he uses a man to man defence at least for some periods of a game.
Some of the positive attributes of zone defence are..
- Effective against teams that depend on cuts and screens to create shots close to the basket
- Easier to develop fast break offences as players can be set in their most favoured positions.
- Rebounding positions are assured, although individual blocking out assignments may be more difficult.
- Easier to protect players in foul trouble..
- Effective when opponents depend heavily on a star player.
- Effective as a “surprise” against teams that tend to be over cautious.
- Helps to change game tempo, either to slow down the tempo by playing a retreated compact defence, or to speed up by using extended defence and double teaming tactics.
The keys to a zone defence are
- To protect areas of the court while shifting with the ball movement
- All players working together with the common aim of preventing the ball from reaching certain areas
- Establishing the zone quickly, otherwise fast breaking opponents will penetrate the zone before it is set.
- Being aware who the most dangerous opponents might be and what their preferred scoring options are. Denying these options may allow other opponents better chances, but it is the risk zone defences are prepared to take.
* No player should guard an empty area. If no one in a player’s area he should move to the adjacent area and be prepared to help, otherwise the offence will be able to penetrate.