Inside/Outside Zone Offense

rebound short team

In building my Zone Offense, I wanted to consider two basic principles:

  1. A focus on getting the ball inside the Zone for high percentage shots.  
  2. The use of a very good shooter to help create openings for inside attempts.

With that in mind, I came up with my Inside/Outside Zone Offense.  I found it to be very useful anytime I had a good low post player (5) with size.  The Offense starts at the finish of a Primary Fast Break that is about to flow into the Secondary Break (Early Offense).  If the ball is pitched ahead, up the sideline or crossed to the other sideline, we are immediately ready to go into the Zone Attack.  (See Diagram #1 below)  The ball can go from the wing to the high post, (or back to the point guard and then to the high post), and from there the (4) looks for the low post (5) as in the Man to Man Secondary (Early Offense).  When the ball swings to the high post, the wing (2) who originally had the ball, moves to the baseline and floats through to the opposite corner area.  (Diagram #2 below)

This sets up an overload on that side of the court with (2) in the corner, (3) on the wing, (5) at the low post area, and (4) working an open area from just inside the free throw line up to the top of the key area.  The point guard, (1) fills the wing area on the weak side.  If there is no opening for the baseline shooter, or no pass available to (5), the ball is swung back around the top of the key until it gets to (1) on the weak side.  (Diagram #3 below)  When the floater (in this case 2) passes back to the wing (3) or is covered in the corner and can’t get a pass in the first place, he (2) immediately floats back through on the baseline to the opposite corner.  He should then be open on that side due to the quick reversal and new overload.

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Three players have the responsibility of looking to get two players open, the (5) and the floater (2).  The floater should also glance at the (5) before shooting, because that is the number one goal, to feed the inside post player.  But when the floater is open and has a good look, we want his shot from the corner.   Wings are expected to look for the low post (5), the floater, and the high post (4) who works the area from the free throw line to the top of key.  When (4) gets the ball, either at the high post or top of the key, his first look is to the (5).  He can also drive, shoot or look to the baseline for the floater moving from side to side.  The (4) is important because he is the swing man at the top of the key.  If he has size, it will be helpful in seeing over the zone defenders.  He should be a decent 3-point shooter,  be able to drive and split the zone, and be a good passer from his middle position.  A versatile player with some size is best at the (4) position and he needs to be a relentless offensive rebounder too.

When a pass by any offensive player is made to the (5), the (4) cuts to the opposite side of the basket to potentially receive a pass or to get a rebound if (5) shoots. (Diagram #4 above)  The best position to offensive rebound is from the free throw line area, so a player in that area can read the shot taken and move to the desired rebounding spot with the least resistance.  Usually, the best place for the (4) to go for an offensive rebound is to the opposite side of the basket from where a shot is taken.  This is the “70% Rule” which suggests about 70% of all missed shots bounce to the opposite side.  Of those taken in front, 70% come back towards the shooter.

Rather than having a little point guard at the top running my Zone Offense, I found it much better to have a bigger player there and hopefully my “best all around player” there.  As I mentioned earlier, he can see over defenders easier and decide if the low post player (5) is open, and he can more easily get the pass up top to the (5).  The (4) at the top is in a great rebounding spot and can also work in tandem with the (5) for pass and cut situations from one to the other.  By moving the point guard (1) to the wing, it opens up the middle for  two bigger players to work together in a more open environment.  It also places the (1) on a wing where he will get opportunities to shoot if he is indeed a good shooter.  As an example, when the defense over-commits to the ball-side, a skip pass can lead to an open shot for the wing. (Diagram #5 below)

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When the point guard (1) is forced to bring the ball up on the dribble, he will initiate the offense by dribbling to a wing player and forcing him to the baseline. This “dribble at” action gets the High/Low Offense going almost as quickly as a pass ahead.  (See Diagram #6 above)  A smart move is to dribble at the best or hottest shooting wing at the time and get him to the baseline as the floater.  When the floater is not immediately open in the corner, he should start his cut through to the opposite side without delay.  It is his job to work back and forth on the baseline to get himself open.

If you have several good outside shooters, the offense (any offense) works even better.  Unfortunately, quite often, a high school coach might only have one really good outside shooter.  This was often the case for me, so this offense helped give us a reasonable attack against any opponent who attempted to zone us.

Some points of emphasis for success in Zone Offense:

  1. Avoid bounce passes to the post players.  Fake low and go high.
  2. Fake a pass, make a pass.  Get the zone to first move opposite your pass.
  3. The (5) should hide behind the Zone before popping into the low post area.
  4. When the ball is on the wing, (4) must seek holes in the middle of the zone and draw attention or get passes.
  5. The floater needs to move to the corner and square up for a shot.
  6. If the floater is covered in a corner, he should cut through to the opposite side.
  7. Floaters can sometimes get passes and shots at the short corner too.
  8. Wing players should use the “gap dribble” to occupy two defenders when no passing lanes are immediately open.
  9. The (3) needs to always crash the offensive boards along with (4) and (5).
  10. The (1) and (2) always rotate back on any shot attempt by their team to serve as the safeties on defense.
  11. My general rule is “Swing it twice”, looking hard for the (5) and floater before settling for the outside shot.  Exception, good shooter on the baseline.

I do supplement this zone offense with some Zone Specials mentioned in an another blog post (Zone Specials for Inside Shots).  If a team is totally a zone defensive team, I save the Specials for later in the game and mix them into the attack.  If a team is in trouble playing Man to Man and goes to a Zone out of desperation, I call for a “Special” right away.  Two successful inside scores with Specials quite often ends the Zone and we end up never even using the High/Low Zone Attack.

Yes, it is true this offense works best with at least one tall player and preferably two or more.  I often had taller players on my teams, so the Inside/Outside Zone Attack worked well for me.  I believe in using the talent I have available, so since I had Bigs, I usually worked to get the ball inside to take advantage of their height.  I always like getting higher percentage inside shots and I also like the potential for getting opponents into foul trouble.  The inside attack and the Inside/Outside Zone Offense accomplished these goals for me.


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