Zone Offense: Hook and Look (Part II)

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Zone Offense

I mentioned in my first post on zone offense that we are typically 4 out 1 in. You might ask, “Are you 4 out 1 in against even front zones?”  My response, “Sure, if we want to be.”  We don’t let the zone dictate our alignment.  We let our lineup and the abilities of our players dictate how we start.

First let’s look at this strictly from the standpoint of the initial set. There are a few reasons teams play zone defenses.  One of the most common reasons is that they don’t think they can defend the offense playing man to man.  While lining up in the gaps is certainly an effective strategy against zone defenses, matching up with them forces them to play man to man.  It’s probably not something they want to do. Running an even alignment against an even front zone or an odd alignment versus an odd front zone puts teams in a situation that they were trying to get out of to start with.  Yes, it may help them define who they have to guard, but it also means that they have to guard those players. Now two people can’t guard one person as easily.

Second, let’s consider what happens after one pass in a 4 out alignment.  After one pass, there will always be 2 people in gaps of the zone and 3 people on the perimeter. Even in a 5 out alignment, the same is true after 2 passes.  So the perimeter players may be in gaps or they might not be.  They may be isolated in 1 on 1 match-ups against zone defenders.  The constant stream of cutters into the lane and out of the lane forces the zone to adjust in ways that it may not want to.  It forces zone defenders to constantly make decisions about their responsibilities.

Since there is no pattern, they can never count on a certain cutter coming to a certain spot at a certain time.  Yet the movements are so simple for offensive players to understand that it’s fairly simple for offenses to operate.

The ability for these cutters to be effective is critical to the success of the offense.  Yes, of course, when they catch the ball, they need to be able to make a good decision.  Whether this is a shot, drive, pass to the other cutter/post or kick out, these players must be able to handle the ball in traffic.  However, they can also be very effective without the ball. They can draw attention from multiple defenders.  They can set screens.  They are rebounders. They must be ready to react to dribble penetration.

These cutters force the zone to contract.  If the zone doesn’t recognize them, they will give up shots in and around the lane.  If the zone pays too much attention to them, the offense will get open jumpers.

Of course, you have to be able to make shots. As a coach, I can help you get the shot.  I can even help you work on your shooting. However, when it comes game time, I can’t make the shots.  Players have to make plays no matter what zone offense you run.

I happen to think this zone offense is pretty easy to teach and tough to guard when you’re already teaching the same concepts against man to man defenses.

Zone Offense in the R&R

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Zone Offense

Zone offense in the R&R is one of the greatest reasons to play using this style.  The ability to use the same concepts against both man to man and zone defenses saves lots of time and gives players less to remember.  Many people ask me what we run against zones defenses.  We do the same thing against zones that we do against man to man defenses with one adjustment. Coach Torbett calls it “hook and look.”

Let’s quickly define “hook and look” and how it is applied.  The phrase basically means that every cutter must cut into one of the six posting spots and “post up” looking for the ball. Against zones, they are not required to finish their cut to the basket.  The length of time that the cutter stays in that spot depends on the alignment that the team is using.  If the team is in a 5 out alignment, the cutter looks for the ball from the next 3 receivers and then finishes the cut if they don’t receive the ball.  In other words the cutter waits for 2 passes.  If the team is in a 4 out 1 in alignment, the cutter looks for the ball from 2 receivers and then finishes the cut if they don’t receive the ball. In other words the cutter waits for 1 pass. If a team is in a 3 out 2 in alignment, there are already two players in post spots and so no specific adjustment is necessary.

There’s a very specific reason I mention the number of receivers that the cutter should look at before finishing their cut.  It helps with the timing of the offense.  If we only talk about the number of passes, the tempo of the offense can be too fast.  Especially when teams are used to executing the faster tempo of the man to man offense, they can often rush the offense against zones.  The likely result is that open cutters are missed.  Either the person with the ball doesn’t see them or the cutter doesn’t take the extra split second to realize that they are open.

This adjustment creates a constant stream of players entering and exiting the middle of any zone. The zone can is always adjusting to the player movement and ball movement that this concept creates.  However, the zone offense must operate at a different pace in order to be successful. It cannot operate at the same pace as the man to man offense. It must slow down so that the zone must adjust to the cutters.  If the offense moves too fast, the zone must only keep up with the ball and doesn’t have to worry about the cutters as much.

Against zones, coaches may also want to adjust the location of their post players. We are typically in a 4 out 1 in alignment with our post player starting in one of the short corners.  From there, she can post up at any time.  She is also encouraged to set pin screens on the weak side of the zone.

I will expound on this more with diagrams and video clips.  I welcome any questions or comments that you might have. Here is one clip of us running the zone offense.

Pin Screen: Points of Emphasis

This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series Next Best Actions

Pin Screens are unique to the screening family. The points of emphasis are the same as for any other screen. However, they must be executed in a different way because of the uniqueness of the pin screen.

Waiting for the Screen
While there is not a “cutter” on a pin screen, we will still refer to the person that the screen is being set for as the cutter.  Most of the time, these cutters are players who are 2 or more passes away from the ball.  In other words, they are on the weak side of the floor. In order to set up a pin screen, they must be patient when filling up to the next spot.
Remember: Only spots 1 pass away must be filled.
Spots that are more than 1 pass away do not have to be filled immediately.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with filling all the open spots, waiting to fill a spot provides an easy opportunity to set a pin screen.  It keeps the defender stationary and in a help side position.  It also helps make it easier on the screener to find the defender. Ball handlers must also learn to wait for this screen to be set as well.
 While a ball handler should never pass up an opportunity to attack, they should give a pin screen the chance to develop if they see a teammate going to set one.

Sprinting to the Screen
It’s important that the screener sprint to the screen.  The R&R is a fast paced offense.  There’s not a lot of standing around.  If the screener doesn’t sprint to the screen, the opportunity for the screen to be effective may be lost.  This also forces the defense to work harder and can make the screen more difficult to guard. Jogging to the screen will likely result in poor spacing and offensive confusion. It also minimizes the amount of time that the ball handler has to hold the ball to wait for an action to occur.

As with other screens, it is important to communicate that the screen is being set. With back screens (and most screens), the communication is primarily for the cutter and secondarily for the ball handler.  With a pin screen, these priorities are reversed.  With a pin screen, the cutter has very little work to do. A pin screen could be set for them, without them knowing, and it could still be effective.  Likewise, since they are away from the ball, they are likely to see the pin screen being set for them in their line of vision to the ball.

As a result, the communication in the pin screen situation is primarily for the ball handler. The ball handler is likely evaluating their options on the ball side of the court first. This is what they should do. However, a pin screen attacks the weak side of the defense.  A screeners’ communication that a pin screen is being set helps draw the attention from the ball handler to the weak side of the floor. This doesn’t mean that the offensive player will be open or that the pass should be thrown, but merely, that the screen is being set. It is still up to the ball handler to make a good decision.

Screening Angle
The screening angle for a pin screen is pretty straightforward.  The screen should be set on the defender to keep them in help side position for as long as possible.  In most cases, the backside of the screener will face the sideline, although if the ball is at the top, the screener’s angle may be more toward the baseline or the corner.

Using the Screen
This screen is probably the easiest screen to use for a cutter.  All they have to do is line up with the screener and the ball. In some situations, even this isn’t necessary.  It’s possible that the screener has done a great job of setting the screen and the offensive player doesn’t have to move at all.

Shaping Up
While a back screen can open opportunities for a player to get an open outside shot, the pin screen can create opportunities to get the ball inside. Primarily this occurs when the skip pass is made and the screener opens up to the ball.  As the defense chases out to closeout on the pass, the screener almost always has an advantage to post position on any defender.  It is just a matter of them finding a body and owning that position.  Post position can also be achieved before the pass is made if the weak side defender tries to anticipate the screen.  The screener can seal this defender out of the lane and look for the ball.


Pass, Cut, & Fill: Defensive Fundamentals

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

The pass, cut & fill layer provides coaches the opportunity to teach players how to defend offenses when a pass is made.  Following the rules of the Read & React creates significant off ball movement anytime the ball moves. This simultaneous movement of the ball and off ball players provides a teaching environment for any defensive strategy.  It provides a laboratory to create situations to test defensive skills and concepts. With the incorporation of the other foundational layers, coaches can teach and evaluate almost any perimeter defensive concept that does not involve a screening action.

1 pass away
What does this position look like for your defense philosophy? How do you teach it? On the line?  Off the line? How far? Up the line? Hug the player?  Always see ball or always see man?  Of course you always want to see both, but sometimes you have to choose.  Open stance?  Closed stance?

2 pass away
What does this position look like for your defense philosophy? How do you teach it? 1 foot in the lane?  2 feet in the lane?  Mid-line?  Does it depend on where the ball is?  Does it depend on the type of player you’re guarding?  Does it depend on how you defend the post player?  Does it depend on your defensive rotations?

They are one of the most important defensive concepts and skills for teams and players to master. The ability to closeout to a player in proper position is critical for defensive success. The Attack Dribble layer is a great opportunity to drill on ball closeouts.  Off ball closeouts are just important.  It is critical to always be in control of the body and be able react quickly offensive movement.  A closeout that is not aggressive enough to a position 1 pass away could lead to an open driving lane.  A closeout that is too aggressive to a position 1 pass away could lead to an easy back door cut.

Transitioning from one defensive position to another
This is related to closeouts in a way, but it’s also more than that. How do you want your players to get from on ball to 1 pass away?  What about from 1 pass away to on ball?  What about from on ball to 2 passes away or from 1 pass away to 2 passes away? Where do they go?  How do they get there?

Dealing with cutters
How do you want your players to deal with cutters? How do you defend the backdoor cut?  Do you allow face cuts?

Defensive Rotations
Defenses are inevitably going to break down. Whether on ball or off ball, somebody is going to make a mistake somewhere along the way. Defining who helps, when they help, and how they help each other completes the defensive picture for the most basic offensive actions. If your team can’t defend basic actions, they are going to have a more difficult time guarding more complicated ones.  

Pass, Cut, & Fill: Offensive Fundamentals

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Passing Actions

The offensive fundamentals in the Pass, Cut, & Fill layer are extensive. There are Passing fundamentals, Cutting fundamentals, and Filling Fundamentals. We’ll look at each subcategory.

Passing Fundamentals

  • Passing with the correct hand
    One of the more underrated fundamentals of the game is passing with the proper hand.  Some turnovers are a result of players not being able to pass with their non-dominant hand. The ability to pass with both hands makes the passer harder to defend.  Whether these are push passes, bounce passes, or lob passes, the ability to make all three of these passes with both hands is extremely valuable.
  • Fakes
    Fakes can be made with the ball or with different body parts. However, they are extremely useful in getting the defense out of position for a split second to create a passing lane. Fakes can be used to get the on ball defender out of position, but they can also force the off ball defender to commit briefly to one player and create an opening for another one.
  • Push pass
    It’s the simplest pass in the game yet many players throw this pass from their ear as opposed to their torso.  How many players actually push the ball through a passing window as opposed to throwing it and hoping it gets where it needs to go?
  • Overhead pass
    This pass is critical to being able to make an effective skip pass.  Many younger players struggle with this pass. It must be taught and practiced in order for players to be able to make this pass crisply and on target.
  • Footwork
    Stepping into a pass will provide an extra crispness and better accuracy. Yet many players pass the ball standing up and without stepping into it. Passing from a low position will prove much more effective in pressure situations.
  • Bounce Pass
    In some situations this may be the only pass that will get to a cutter. Sometimes this pass may need to be made with one hand. It is a slower pass which means players have to learn to anticipate and throw this pass earlier in order to fight it into a tight window.
  • Lob Pass
    The lob pass must be thrown differently from other passes. It must be thrown with touch over the defender and into the cutter’s hands.  This is a very useful pass in hitting a cutter late in a cut.
  • Meeting the pass
    Players must assume that the pass isn’t going to make it to them.  They must go to the ball.  They must meet the pass. This reduces the chance that a defender can step in the passing lane and deflect or intercept the pass.  This may draw an offensive player “off their spot.”  However, it’s more important that the pass be caught than a play be on their spot.
  • Catching the pass
    Going after the ball with two hands is a more safe and secure way of making sure players retain possession of the ball.  While players may have to make one handed catches, it’s always better to secure it with two hands when possible.
  • Providing a target
    When a receiver shows a passer a target, it gives the passer confidence that the receiver is ready to catch any pass that comes to them.  A receiver without a target should not be thrown the ball.  A receiver with a target gives the passer something to throw to and is ready to do something with the ball on the catch.
  • Recognizing the open cutter
    The first passer becomes the cutter and the first option as the next receiver. The second passer must be able to recognize if the cutter is open.  Many times the passer must anticipate that the cutter will be open before they actually are.  Sometimes the passer must be patient and give cutter time to get open in order to get the cutter the ball.  

Cutting & Filling Fundamentals

  • Take what the defense gives
    Many defenses are going to try to take away cuts in certain ways.  Sometimes they will jump to the ball and prevent any face cuts.  Sometimes they will jam a cutter. Whatever choice the defense makes, they are choosing to give up something else. They can’t take away everything. The offensive player must learn to how to take advantage of what the defense gives up.
  • Work for face cuts
    Cutters should try to get face cuts as much as possible.  This gives them the best chance to receive the ball on their cut. Coaches can choose to teach players to set up their cuts or to make speed cuts and try to beat the defense to the spot. Either method can be effective.  However, face cuts provide the best way for beating defenses.  They also provide the opportunity for the offensive player to post up their defender.
  • See the ball through out the cut
    Many players give up on the cut too early.  They think if they don’t receive the pass immediately, that they could never be open. Defenders may work hard to take away the initial pass, but then relax later in the cut. Cutters who see the ball through out the cut may be an option late in the cut.  More importantly, they are ready to react to other actions if they always see the ball.
  • Sprint the cut
    Every cut must be a sprint.  Jogging through the cut kills the rhythm and timing of the offensive movement. Jogging through a cut clogs up the lane.  It also makes teams easier to guard.
  • Cut to the rim
    Cutters must cut to the rim.  They must not shorten their cut or change the direction of their cut.  They should sprint on a straight line to the rim.
  • Filling out
    If the cutter choose to fill out, they should do so as quickly as possible. This helps other cutters decide where to go when they finish their cut. It also helps clarify roles on baseline drives.  

Posting Up (3 player combinations w/ Read Line)

This entry is part 14 of 14 in the series 3 player Combinations

Here are some 3 player combinations that show someone posting up after a Read Line cut. Notice that in all of these diagrams the ball handler could have filled the open spot with a dribble.  This would have been the same as a Dribble-At, which was diagrammed in an earlier post.   As a result, I wanted to show something a little different.  A fourth perimeter player on the court would open up a lot more possibilities for the ball handler.  Those diagrams are coming next.  These will also be shown from a 4 out alignment, which will look a little different from the diagrams that I’ve been showing.

Again you’re probably going to notice a lot of obvious screening opportunities.  Keep in mind there are only 3 players on the court.  When the fourth and fifth players are added, there will be even more opportunities.  At this point if players want to start taking advantage of these “obvious” opportunities, that’s great.

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Posting Up (3 player combinations)

This entry is part 13 of 14 in the series 3 player Combinations

Below are 9 different 3 player combinations that have a player posting up after executing an action for one action. There are more on the way.  The next set of combinations will have Read Line cuts included.  You’ll notice that all of these posting opportunities are in the mid post.  I will also draw up some high post and stretch options.

You’ll notice in some of these diagrams that there are some obvious screening opportunities. When the post is shown in some of the other locations, we’re going to run across even more good screening opportunities.We’re getting so close to setting screens.

After the next couple sets of 3 player diagrams, we’ll look at some 4 player and 5 player scenarios with a permanent post player.  If you’re playing 5 out, posting up is pretty straightforward.  The cutter doesn’t have very many decisions to make.  They can post up anywhere they want.  In a 4 out 1 in alignment, they have to be cognizant of where this permanent post player is located.

Of  course the rules that you establish for your permanent post player will affect the decisions of your “temporary” post players. We’re going to start looking at that this week.  I hope this stuff is helpful.  If I need to provide more explanation for a specific diagram let me know.


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