Attacking the 3-2 Zone

Contributed by Brett Ayers. Email the author at

I think I have some ideas on what types of habits you should instill in your kids when having attacking a zone, some zone rules, per se.

I think when attacking the 3-2 zone, which is a perimeter oriented zone looking to take away your wing play, there are a couple of things that you should be looking to do.

The first thing you want to do is move the zone in order to flatten it out and compact it back into the key where it does not want to be. This zone, for it to be effective, it has to keep you extended on offense and away from places you want to get with the ball offensively. One thing to always keep in mind, no matter what type of zone you are playing against in the half court, this one fact will always be true: if you reverse the ball from one corner to another then back again, every zone will be in what is a 2-3 set if you look at it facing the basket.

Facing a 3-2, there are a couple of ways to flatten and compact this zone. The first way is if you have a very sure handed point guard who can handle the ball up top against modest to very good pressure, you can run a 1-4 low. Put two shooters in the corners and your two big guys on the block. You immediately get a flattening affect as the wings will have to come down to help cover the guys in the corner while the two guys inside defensively will have to cover the posts. What you then get, essentially, is a one on one game between their point man and yours. If you have a good point who can beat him every time then you let him dribble into the zone drawing either the wing or the post man opening up all kinds of lanes for passes and opportunities for fouls on their interior people.

You will get some teams who will adjust to this by trapping. If you see this, you stay in the 1-4, but whomever's man is doing the trapping, you run the post on that side up to the high post. With this you have an outlet to the high post or the corner will be open. If they adjust and cut those two options off, you can run the opposite wing out high and create a two guard front, invite the trap and then split it and reverse the ball to the opposite guard who can then attack the zone. Sort of like a bedpost set offensively.

Now, if you do not have the kind of point guard who can do this, here is another continuity type of set you can run. You then run 1-4 high with this rotation giving you these options.

You start out with your 1 man with the ball. You put your two or three on whichever side they shoot best. You put your 4 man on one elbow of the key and your 5 man on the other elbow. Which side does not really matter unless you have a lefty, then you want him on the left side if you are looking at the hoop.

Here is the continuity and options on this offense. You have your point guard dribble the ball either way, does not matter, but the key is for him to pinch that seam that exists between the top man and wing man on the zone. No matter what you run against the zone, pinching the seams with the dribble is an essential part of attacking the zone and getting other guys open. The 1 man pinches the seam, kicking it out to the 2 or 3, whichever is out on the wing. As he does this, the 4 or 5, which ever it is that is on the elbow opposite of the side the ball has been entered on, runs a cut to the short post on ball side. So, if you are looking at the basket and the 1 man dribbles the ball to his right, pinching the seam then kicking the ball off to the 2 man who is positioned free throw line extended right outside the three point line, your man on the left elbow then runs a cut through the zone to the short corner on that right side.

Short corner is a position about four to six feet off the block perpendicular and about four feet off the baseline. A great place to get the ball for a short shot, or better yet, to then have a man dive down from the high post on that side for the pass.

As the ball is in the wing player's hands now, he can either pass it down to the guy who has cut to the short post and as the 1 man gives the ball off, he then runs a wide arcing cut back around, sort of back peddling, looking at the ball the whole time, and while he does this, the wing player who was on the opposite side on the same parallel as the man with the ball, then steps in, finding that top man on the 3-2 zone on the weak side, and sets a back pick on him while the point arcs around reading himself to shoot the three ball if the wing player on the right side skips him the ball. Skip passes, along with controlled dribble penetration, are the first two habits you want to get your players in when attacking the zone. Setting back picks on the weak side of the zone is another great thing for kids to get into the habit of doing.

If the wing player on the right side with the ball passes it down to the short post, the guy on the elbow ball side who has not moved would then dive down the lane looking for the short post to either deliver a bounce pass or a little lob to him for a 3 to 5 footer. The key is for this man is to find the gap created by the ball reversal and to come down the lane under control, not flying all over the place like he thinks he is Batman. Getting the ball inside on any zone is essential. Beating zones does not mean jacking up 22 footers all game long.

If nothing is there with all of these options, you then have the short post reverse the ball back out to the wing and the point guard then comes back up and over to get the ball for reversal. He then dribbles the ball across, altering his pace with the ball so he can pinch the seam of the point, and the wing guy on the other side and you get the same cuts with the guy on the right elbow now cutting to the short post on the left side. The motion is consistent back and forth. If you get into a situation where they try to deny the ball back from the short post to the wing, you simply have the short post dribble the wing through. As he dribbles the ball out, the wing shallow cuts through, replacing the short post.