How to Beat the Basketball Zone Defense

The 2-3 zone is an effective defense, but teams can break it down with these offensive strategies.

The 2-3 zone defense, common in basketball, makes it very difficult for an offense to enter the paint, score a layup or get a rebound. However, like all zone defenses it does have weaknesses.

RELATED: How to Master the 2-1-2 Zone Defense in Basketball

The 2-3 Zone Defense

The 2-3 zone defense (see figure below) makes it difficult to get the ball into the paint. Defensive players 1 and 2 make it difficult to enter or score from the top of the key. Defensive players 3, 4 and 5 make it difficult to score in the low post, and their presence also makes it difficult for an offensive team to get rebounds. But, like all zone defenses, this one has weaknesses.

2-3 Zone Defense

Exploit the gaps

The next figure shows an offensive setup that exploits the weaknesses of the 2-3 defense. The point guard (player 1) brings the ball down. Players 2 and 3 spread out to the wings. Player 4 moves down to the low post. Player 5 splits the two defenders at the free-throw line.

For this type of offense, player 1 is the ball handler who is also able to see the court and make good decisions with the ball. Players 2 and 3 need to be your best shooters. Player 4 should be an aggressive player who is a good rebounder. Player 5 should be your biggest player.

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The positions of offensive players 2, 3 and 5 are designed to keep the top two defensive players from putting too much pressure on offensive player 1. Their presence allows for passes to the wings, or for player 5 to get into the paint with the ball.

Offense Attack of 2-3 Zone Defense

How to beat the 2-3 Zone

The next figure shows a typical scenario. The ball is passed to player 2, and two of the defensive players move to trap him. Defensive players 1 and 5 shift over to prevent penetration, and defensive player 4 moves over to react to any ball movement to the weak side.

On the surface, this is a pretty solid defensive position. But it leaves offensive player 3 completely uncovered. The offense has several options:

  • Player 2 can attempt a long pass over the defense to player 3. Player 3 can attempt a shot from the wing before the defense can shift.
  • Player 2 can attempt a long pass over the defense to player 3, who can pass the ball to player 4 for a shot from the low post before the defense can shift.
  • Players 1 and 5 can move close to player 2, get the pass, and one can attempt to move in for a layup or a jump shot.Typical Scenario

The final figure below shows another response to the defense. Offensive player 2 moves over to take a pass from player 1. Offensive players 5 and 4 also shift to the strong side. Player 5 can take the pass from 2 and quickly pass to player 4 who has some options:

  • Player 4 can get into the paint between defensive players 1 and 5 and attempt the shot or the layup.
  • Player 4 can move into the paint and pass to player 3, who has moved over and is set for a shot from the high post.
Another Response to 2-3 Zone

To successfully attack the 2-3 defense, a team needs to be prepared to do a number of things. First, they need to set up to exploit the gaps in the defense. Second, they need to exploit a lack of defenders on the weak side. Third, they should be patient and wait for mistakes, missed assignments, and mismatches. Fourth, they need to be prepared to shoot. Scoring from the paint will be difficult but shots from outside the key are possible.

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