How to be effective in a Zone Defense

Written By: Lamar Hull @ Google+

Simple Youth Basketball helps you with tips and techniques to creating an effective zone defense

Before we discuss what a zone defense is and when and why you might want to use the zone defense, let’s discuss my opinion on defense in general.


Defense is almost a dying art on the basketball court. It seems the higher level of play you achieve the less teams emphasize defense. That is why the few coaches at the professional level that do play defense oriented ball are a commodity. I believe it is important to develop a complete skill set especially in youth players just learning the game. Therefore, initially you should probably avoid a zone defense and teach individual guarding skills to allow a player to more fully develop their entire game. As you advance into high school and college ball it will become more necessary to be able to utilize a zone defense properly on various occasions. At times, if you play or coach at the professional level you will have no choice but to employ a zone defense.

When to use Zone

If the opponent has better players than you have it may be the zone is your best chance to defend them. The zone defense will assign an area to each defensive player rather than a man. In order for the zone defense to work properly each defensive player must hustle at all times to beat their opponents to the other end of the floor. If your opponent is a run-and-gun type team, the zone defense can slow the pace of the game slightly helping limit the number of overall shots taken in a game. If you have a bigger, slower team the zone defense allows you to put your “Bigs” around the basket while your “Smalls” stay out on the perimeter. This makes it harder for your opponents to get quality shots and your team to hopefully get more rebounds, unless you allow your opponents to beat you on the dribble and penetrate your “Bigs”. In that case you are in for a long night. A classic example of when to use a zone defense can probably be best demonstrated when a team like the Dallas Mavericks are playing the Miami Heat. Here you have the “Heat” with multiple superstars and an older, more mature, OK (aging) “Maverick” team that is going to struggle to stay with the much faster, younger players of the “Heat”. This would be a case for an ideal situation to use the zone defense. Unfortunately, in this scenario Lebron James has found his perimeter jump shot and Ray Allen invented it. Nevertheless, probably your best answer to slow the game down to a pace your team is more comfortable with.

Zoned Out

zone defense

2-3 Zone Defense

It is true that the zone defense may not be as flashy as a man-to-man defense and slows the pace of the game, preventing some of the one-on-one slam dunks that you may see from Kobe or Lebron. But if it gives your team the best chance to win at the end of the day in professional or youth sports then that’s what counts. Zone defenses are effective if your team is small and the other team has big players that are pretty dominant. If you play a zone, you have to hope the offensive team is not a great shooting team.

Zone Defensive Plays

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