Zone Offense: Alignment

By Randy Sherman

February 09, 2019: Syracuse senior guard Frank Howard (23) on defense during the first half of play. The Syracuse Orange defeated the Boston College Eagles 67-56 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. Alan Schwartz/CSM(Credit Image: © Alan Schwartz/CSM via ZUMA Wire)

Alignment may be the key piece of zone offense. Here’s some tips for picking the right alignment versus various zone defenses. 

When attacking zone defenses, the first step is to settle upon an offensive alignment. And starting from a good alignment may be all the “offense” you need versus a zone. 

The traditional zone alignments are traditional for a reason. Through years of trial and error, coaches have discovered these spots give zone defenses trouble by simply “getting where they’re not” and fitting into the gaps in zones. What follows are some basic zone alignments and a few concepts for selecting them. 

  • Odd/Even principle – When facing an odd front zone, consider an even front offensive alignment. When facing an even front zone, consider an odd front alignment. Filling the gaps will get you here naturally
  • Fill the gaps – Place the basket-facing players in the natural gaps of the zone. You will arrive in the odd/even principle, but players are taught to see the gaps and can self-select the proper alignment without a “call” from the coach
  • “Microadjust” – As the ball begins to move and the defense responds, make slight adjustments to stay in the gap. A step or two to the right or left may make a big difference!
  • Dial down the player movement – Once players are in a good alignment, stay there! Value moving the ball with pace over moving and cutting players

Even Front

In the diagram below, we see a traditional Hi-Lo alignment versus a 2-3 Zone. The defense has an even front, therefore the offense takes an odd front with the three basket-facing players in the gaps of the zone.

Rather than using landmarks such as “even with the front of the rim” or “free throw line extended” to dictate to players where to be in your zone alignment, teach athletes to fill the gaps by forming the point of a triangle with two pieces in the zone. Players will arrive at roughly the same place but they position themselves in relation to the defenders and microadjust as the ball moves to stay at the point of the triangle. 

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Penetrating with the pass helps collapse the zone defense. In the Hi-Lo alignment there is a player finding space in the interior of the defense and a player working behind the zone.

The player working behind the zone may move short corner-to-short corner or even stretch to the deep corners beyond the three point line. In the diagram below, two players are behind the zone and one of them may flash into the soft spot while the basket-facing players fit into their gaps. 

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For the most part, the basket-facing players stay in their gaps. All too often, zone offenses will stop the ball and wait for a player who has just passed to cut and then be replaced by another player before moving the ball again. You just stopped the ball to move a player where you already had one!

When the ball stops moving, the defense catches up. Keep the players in the gaps and give the ball energy and pace to create an advantage for the offense. Move the ball faster than the defense can respond.

Odd Fronts

Many of the same principles apply to odd front zones like the 1-2-2 and 1-3-1. By filling gaps and staying in triangles against the zone you align in a four-out look with the basket-facing perimeter players. The interior player finds soft spots and makes dives to the block with the exterior players stay spaced and give the ball energy via ball movement. The “Dice” alignment gets its name by looking like the “five” on a dice. 

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Versus odd fronts, encourage players to “play diagonally” by making diagonal skip passes from top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top. The interior player can dive off the high post to the blocks when the offense skips diagonally and often beat whomever is assigned to cover the block to that spot. And again, once you are in the alignment, only micro adjust with the basket facing players. Keep them where they are and pop the ball to create an advantage for the shot or closeouts to attack. 

Your zone offense alignment is your foundation for the offensive possession, and like any structure, it needs a sound foundation to be successful. With good players in good spots in good alignments, zone offense can be as simple as getting where they’re not, moving the ball and making shots. 

Continue the conversation:

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Randy Sherman
Randy Sherman is the owner and founder of Radius Athletics - a basketball coaching consulting firm - where he consults with basketball coaches at all levels on coaching philosophy, practice planning, Xs & Os and teaching a conceptual style of basketball. While a head basketball coach at the the interscholastic level, Sherman's teams won 197 games in nine seasons.
Randy Sherman

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February 09, 2019: Syracuse senior guard Frank Howard (23) on defense during the first half of play. The Syracuse Orange defeated the Boston College Eagles 67-56 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. Alan Schwartz/CSM(Credit Image: © Alan Schwartz/CSM via ZUMA Wire)
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One Comment;

  1. Coach Pollins said:

    Thank you for the information regarding more movement around zone defenses.

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