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How to Make In-Game Adjustments Against the 2-3 Zone

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During the course of a game there are many things that often separate a more experienced coach from someone just beginning his coaching career. Perhaps one of the more discrete (at least to the everyday fan) characteristics is one's ability or inability to make in-game adjustments. 

When I first began my coaching career I was often lost and besieged with everything that takes place during the course of a game. I would often be so overwhelmed that I would tend to make important adjustments too late or worse sometimes not at all. 

However as I coached more and more games I began to recognize things a lot faster. But I soon realized that recognizing what is taking place is only half the battle. The real trick is learning how to adjust your offense based on what the opposing team's defense is doing. 

Today I am going to share with you three things you should look for when facing a 2-3 zone as well as how to adjust your offense based on these three things. 

What Type Of Zone Are They Playing? 

The first and easiest thing to recognize is the overall "attitude" of the zone. Is the zone is trying to pressure (often trapping) your players; is it extending and playing the passing lanes or are all five players sagging in trying to clog up the paint? 

If the zone is pressuring: 

Most likely when zones are pressuring they are trying to either A) trap the ball-handler or B) force the ball handler to put his/her head down as he dribbles the basketball. 

Solution: If the zone is trying to trap, keep the ball out of the short corner and off the baseline. This is a prime trapping spot because the sideline/baseline can act as another defender in the trap. Also it might be a good idea to practice driving with your head up against pressure (you could add a kick out to the opposite wing to emphasize to the ball handler keeping their eyes up) in the practices immediately leading up to the game. If the zone is extending: 

When a zone is extended it can create uncertainly in the minds of the offensive players. Is that player really open? Can I safely pass the ball to that player? Should I not pass and instead just shoot the ball myself? 

Solution: If the zone is extended there are two things your offense can do to exploit the defense. 1) Pass the ball to the high post! When the ball is entered to the high post it will force the defense to collapse around the ball. If the defense does not collapse then your player should have an open 12-15 foot jump shot. 2) Attack the gaps. Instruct your guards to penetrate the gaps between the defenders. This will again force the defense to collapse which should result in a wide open drive and kick situation. 

If the zone is sagging: 

If the defense is sagging generally they are doing so because your interior game is much deadlier then your perimeter game. 

Solution: This is the perfect time to run set plays or "quick hitters." When it comes to defenders, It is human instinct to not want to give up a wide open three point shot. Hopefully by reversing the basketball to an open shooter (after a ball reversal or two) it will trick the defense into extending more than they are used too. When this happens either penetrate the gaps or jam the ball inside to get a high percentage shot. 

Who covers the high post? 

Realistically one of two players will be responsible for covering the high post. First, one of the top guards could be designated to defend this area. Second, the middle defender in the zone could be assigned this responsibility. 

If the guard covers it: 

Then they will not be in good position to A) prevent quick ball reversals and B) dribble penetration. 

Solution: Instruct your perimeter players to reverse the ball quickly and penetrate the gaps. 

If the post covers it: 

Then typically the bottom forwards are instructed to collapse to the blocks and protect the paint. 

Solution: If the bottom forwards do collapse to the blocks then the corners will be wide open. Have your shooters slide down. If they do not collapse and stay on the perimeter then a hi-low will be wide open. 

Do They Bump Off Dribble-Ups From The Corner? 

A lot of offenses, both man to man and zone, try and overload one side of the floor (having three or four players on one half of the court) in order to put the defense at a disadvantage.

A tactic that has been used for years is to have a player on the wing, at the high post, on the block and in the corner all on the same side. When the ball-handler dribbles up from the corner (the bottom forward will undoubtedly be matched up) this should open up multiple scoring opportunities. 

If the bottom forward stays on the ball handler: 

Then have the offensive player on the block step to the short corner and receive a pass (this will drag the middle man in the zone out of the paint). As the middle man comes out to the short corner the high post will dive to the strong side block. 

If the top guard bumps the bottom forward: 

Then the remaining top defender is forced cover both the high post and your other shooter. Either way you will get an open look at the basket. 

The 2-3 zone defense is the most widely used zone defense in the game and so once you are able to comfortably and quickly make proper in game adjustments you should be able to give numerous opposing coaches and players defensive fits!

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