Book Excerpt -- Own the Zone
Posted Mar 23 2008 2:47PM
Don Casey, former coach of the New Jersey Nets and L.A. Clippers, has often contributed to NBA.com's "Coach's Corner" series. He recently completed a book, Own the Zone: Executing and Attacking Zone Defenses and is currently working on zone concepts with Team USA. Presented below is an excerpt from Casey's book.
The Evolution of the Zone Defense and Zone Press
Throughout the history of basketball, most defenses were created out of necessity. The constant improvement of individual skills and team offenses forced coaches to experiment with different defensive alignments and strategies. Even the rules favored the offensive team so it has been a continuous battle for coaches to try and keep the offense from getting too far ahead.
IN THE BEGINNING
THE FIRST ZONE DEFENSE
At halftime Cam Henderson, coach of the Bristol team, designed a strategy that became the first zone defense. “I told the boys there was no point running after those boys from Grafton, when they got the ball,” said Henderson. “We’d just stand still. I went out there and showed them how to line up. There were three boys out front and two back. It worked out just fine on that wet court.”
CAM HENDERSON: THE ARCHITECT OF THE ZONE DEFENSE
The original zone used by Henderson was a 3-2, but he soon discovered that it did not provide the necessary rebounding to support his fast break offense. Cam’s solution was to drop one of the front defenders back, creating a 2-3 alignment. Henderson positioned the team’s best dribbler on the front line and assigned him to be the middleman on the fast break. The other front line defender filled the outside lane on the right side. It was essential that this player was proficient at making right-handed lay-ups. Henderson required that lay-ups were executed with the body between the shooting hand and the basket. A player from the back line filled the outside left lane.
Henderson preferred this player to be left-handed. The middleman was instructed to dribble down the center of the floor and if unguarded, shoot the ball. If defended, the ball handler looked to his teammate filling the right lane. If this player was defended, the ball was passed to the player filling the left lane.
Henderson demanded that the players filling the outside lanes sprint to the basket. In the early gymnasiums, the baskets were mounted on the walls at the end of the court and most facilities did not even have pads attached to the walls. The safest thing for a player to do was to slow down so that he did not run into the wall. But with the determination that Henderson required of his teams, this option was not acceptable. Henderson’s players pursued the basket without regard to their own personal safety, which often resulted in a two-on-one or a three-on-two situation.
There were many unforgettable games during Henderson’s illustrious career. One of them occurred in 1938 when Marshall upset Long Island University and snapped the Blackbirds 40-game winning streak. Another took place in 1947 when Henderson led Marshall to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national championship with his zone defense and fast-break offense.
THE ZONE DEFENSE IN PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL
In 1949 the BAA merged with the National Basketball League (NBL) and formed the NBA. The NBA continued with the ban on zone defenses until 2001. Jerry Colangelo, one of the most innovative and influential owners in NBA history, believed the approval of the zone defense by the NBA was one of the most significant moves since the implementation of the 24-second shot clock in 1954. “This is a bold move on the part of the NBA to allow something to take place that for years we’ve been hiding from.” Colangelo said. “We feel confident this will enhance the game.”
The NBA rules regarding the zone defense are different than the ones used in college and high school basketball. In the NBA, a defensive 3-second rule prohibits a defensive player from remaining in the lane for more than three seconds without closely guarding an offensive player.
Many basketball experts believe that the addition of the zone defense in the NBA has allowed coaches more flexibility and augmented their tactical opportunities. Hall of Famer Joe Dumars, president of basketball operations for the Detroit Pistons, believes the zone defense has a definite place in the NBA and that more and more teams will begin utilizing the zone in the future. Prior to the 2007 season, head coach Flip Saunders predicted that the Pistons would use a zone defense at least 10 to 15 percent of the time.