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.

Promoting Unselfishness in the R&R

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series FAQs

Coaches say they like to call plays to make sure certain players get certain shots.  Or more generally, they want to get certain players the ball in certain situations or areas on the floor. Yes, ideally, that’s why coaches call plays.

If coaches call a play to get a player a certain shot, team can defend these calls through some decent scouting and preparation. If they want to get the ball in a certain players hands, that player still has to make a good decision when they get it which is no different than what happens in the R&R.

I’ve said multiple times throughout this blog that any defense can take away one or two things if they want to badly enough.  The question is how much do they have to sacrifice in order to take that thing away.

I can stick two players on your best player to keep that player from touching the ball.  But that means I’m going to leave someone else open.  So I can take away one thing, but I’m going to give up something else.  We saw that in the 2013 NBA Finals.  The Spurs were giving Lebron and D-Wade any open jumper they wanted in order to keep them from getting to the rim.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

To me, promoting unselfishness is the same in this style of offense as it is in any other style.  You have to define players roles.  They have to understand their strengths and weaknesses.  My experience is that most players are very aware of their abilities.  If you ask your players who your best shooter is, I bet most of them would agree on one or two players.  Ask them who they would prefer to take the last shot.  I bet many of them would agree on one or two people.

I think there are two keys to promoting unselfishness.

1.  Role Definition
2.  Demanding team play

We’ve never had a problem with a player being selfish.  Maybe that’s more of the nature of coaching women.  Maybe it’s the type of players we recruit.  Maybe it’s how they have been coached.  We have never said that 1 certain player needs to get more shots than another. We might emphasize getting the ball inside more, but that’s nothing new for any team.  Our better players take a majority of our shots.  If someone is taking bad shots, it’s a quick substitution and we move on.  They get the message.

Playing this style makes it harder for defenses to take away a certain player.  They never know where they are going to be or how they are going to get there.  If a defense wants to focus on a certain player, other players are going to have opportunities.  The question is can they take advantage?

Don’t You Need Good 1 on 1 Players?

This entry is part 1 of 7 in the series FAQs

As with most offenses, I think it helps to have good 1 on 1 players, but I don’t think it is necessary with this style of offense. I know I talk a lot about attacking off the dribble. I do this for two different reasons.  The first reason is from a teaching perspective. The second reason is from an emphasis perspective. I believe teaching basketball in a progressive manner begins with what players do with the ball and how you guard the ball.  A lot of our offensive and defensive teaching is based around dribble penetration.  We want to be able to attack off the dribble as well as stop dribble penetration.  Since we want it to be a big part of our offense, we emphasize it a lot as well.  As a result, the blog probably makes things sound like you can’t run this offense unless you have good 1 on 1 players.  That’s not true at all.  I would run it with any team and any collection of players, because I believe it can be easily adjusted to maximize the talents of whatever players you have.  I believe that your personnel may change what you emphasize but not what you teach.

Let me explain.  I believe it’s always important to be able to attack defenses off the dribble.  Defenses who can guard the ball without help have a greater chance at being successful. They are less prone to fouls.  They can worry more about defending screens and cutters and less about helping and rotating to stop dribble penetration. Good offensive teams are be able to create pressure on defenses by use of dribble penetration.

While I think it’s important to teach the skills and concepts surrounding dribble penetration first, I don’t believe it’s something that every team should emphasize.  I think it’s important to emphasize taking advantage when these opportunities exist, but you may emphasize different ways of creating those opportunities. There a number of ways that offensive teams can create dribble penetration opportunities.  Your team will determine what you emphasize.

  1. Making a 1 on 1 move
  2. The Draft Drive
  3. Creating long or difficult closeouts
  4. Ball Screens/Dribble Handoffs
  5. Creating mismatches that make 1 on 1 easier

Let’s say your team isn’t athletic enough or skilled enough to create off the dribble.  You probably can’t change their athleticism much, but you can improve their skill.  I would say that  skills limit players’ abilities more often than their athleticism.  However, teaching skills does take time, and so let’s assume that creating off the dribble is not something you want to emphasize with your team.

The Draft Drive is a great way to help players attack off the dribble who might not be great 1 on 1 players.  The Draft Drive creates a larger driving lane.  The 1 on 1 move doesn’t have to be as sharp or as precise.  Moreover, ball handlers should know that they will always have receivers available if they can’t score.  This larger driving lane and the confidence that their teammates will be available may give some players the confidence they need to be aggressive when they would normally be passive.  This is still a bit of a 1 on 1 situation, so let’s pretend this doesn’t work well for you either.

In order to guard a player 1 on 1, a defender must be able to go from off the ball to on the ball without getting beat.  Many players can guard the ball once they are guarding the ball.  They just have trouble on the closeout.  If your players aren’t great 1 on 1 players, then creating long or difficult closeouts for the other team can put them in situations where attacking off the dribble is much easier because the defense is at a disadvantage.  The constant movement of the offense towards the rim tends to keep defenses from extending.  They tend to gravitate to the paint.  This can create long closeouts or can delay defenders in getting to the ball through the use of a variety of screening actions, which is upcoming in the blog.

There are a number of off ball screening actions, but the Pick and Roll or On Ball Screen is also a tool in the toolbox.  Ball screens can be incorporated in a variety of ways.  It’s really up to you based on your philosophy and your personnel. Dribble Handoffs can also be used as a way to get ball handlers going towards the rim off the dribble. Both of these can create opportunities for dribble penetration

Screening actions may generate mismatches as a result of teams switching.  If your team’s best guard can’t take the other team’s post player 1 on 1 and at least draw some sort of help side defense, then you are probably in for a long night.

I like to look at it like this. In order to be a decent perimeter offensive player, you have to be able to either dribble or shoot.  If you can’t do either one, then you become pretty easy to guard.  If you can do one of the two, then defenses have to at least respect one of the two skills which should help you be more effective at the other one.

2 offensive players (Attack Dribble, Attack Dribble)

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series 2 player combinations

The following diagrams show how two players can combine two attack dribble actions back to back in 4 different ways.  In short, it shows the 4 possible combinations of players using the attack dribble to their right and to their left.

A number of different skills can be taught as a part of this building block.  Ball handling, 1 on 1 moves, passing, post slides, circle movement, shooting, finishing, pivoting, and spacing are all possibilities on the offensive side of the ball.  Of course if you put defense on the court, there are many other possibilities as well.

Keep in mind there are a number of other combinations as well with different players at different spots, but these building blocks teach players how to be aggressive with the ball as well as show them their different options when they are aggressive.  Placing defenders on the court forces them to learn how to defend a ball handler who wants to use their attack dribble.  It’s important in these situations to make the defenders be aggressive so they can learn how to keep a ball handler in front of them.

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4 offensive players (Attack Dribble, Dribble-At, Attack Dribble)

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series 4 player Combinations

4 offensive players (Attack Dribble, Dribble-At, Attack Dribble)

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If the initial attacker were to reverse pivot and pitch it back to the safety, these diagrams could look much different.  I have added those to the to draw list.

Attack Dribble: Post Slides Implementation Plan (Part)

This entry is part 17 of 24 in the series Dribbling Actions

A.  2 players 1 action

In this building block, players will already be located in the post area. This building block should not be limited to post players.  Perimeter players should see this as an opportunity to work on their midrange game as well as finishing moves. Players will probably pick up on this action quickly in this breakdown.  It is in the combination of the layers where players need extra repetition.  However, they must understand the basic movement before they are ready for the combination of movements.

There are a couple combinations that coaches may decide not to drill and replace with  different actions.  One action is if a player is in the high post and the ball handler decides to attack in the direction of the high post player.  Following post slides, this player would move towards the short corner.  However, the coach may decide to have this player Circle Move, use the high post player as a pick and roll opportunity, or make this a Dribble-At action, all of which will be described later.  If any of these are the coach’s desired approach, they will be covered in an upcoming section and should not be drilled at this time. Coaches could teach that this would be a poor time to drive and discourage it from occurring completely.

B. 2 offensive players 2 actions

Locate 2 players on the perimeter in any two spots.  The attacker executes any attacking action.  After they pass, the receiver now becomes the attacker and must execute another attacking action.  The cutter must react appropriately to this action in order to satisfy post slides.



C. 2 offensive players 1 defender 1 action

This building block can be used in a way similar to the Circle Movement building block. Coaches may want to use it to train the ball handler on how to deliver the pass.

However, when it comes to defending post slides specifically, coaches may decide this is something to skip and avoid all together. I would have to think carefully before I used this drill to train defense. I know that if we have to help with our post players in the lane, we’re really in trouble. We never want it to get to that point. Should we train it anyway?  In a situation where time is limited, I would choose to skip this block and work on keeping the ball out of the lane.

C. 2 offensive players 2 defender 1 action

If we aren’t going to spend much time with 1 defender, I’m not inclined to spend time with 2.  Next….

D. 3 offensive players 2 or 3 actions

The next logical offensive progression is to add another offensive player to the court.  The drill runs exactly the same as the last drill with each player following the rules that have been drilled previously.  This now gives the second attacker an option after they make their attack. A third action can be added in this drill as well, but in this case the second attacker should pass to the perimeter player instead of the player who executed the post slide. This should create a scenario for two players to react to an attack dribble from the post.

E.  3 offensive players 1, 2 or 3 defenders

Again, if coaches want to take this opportunity to go back to the Attack Dribble Building Blocks and work on any of the offensive or defensive parts of this layer, that is fine. However, I haven’t found much value yet in drilling defensive reactions to a post reacting to the dribble.

F.  4 offensive players 2 actions

This is getting pretty boring.  All of these breakdowns start with Circle Movement building blocks. It’s all the same stuff.  Do I really need to go on? At this point, players have been taught how to react to dribble penetration anywhere on the court. It’s only a matter of it becoming habitual.

As much as I love it when our players attack the basket, I’m getting tired of talking about it. We’re so close to doing some pretty cool stuff.  Maybe I’ll come back to this at some point but for now, I think you all get it by now and I want to take this in another direction.

If you want more about basic post slides let me know.