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Basketball Zone Defense:
The 1-3-1 Zone



Playing any basketball zone defense generally bothers me. They make the game slow, which I don't like. It's too easy for players to get lulled into distraction, which I don't like. And I think they tend to be too easy on the offensive players - they do not apply enough pressure - which I don't like. Very few aspects of zone fit into my overall basketball strategy.


But a few aspects do fit, and I will use them on occasion. Zone becomes useful to me mainly when I put on a press.

In particular, I am partial to a half court press, and the one I use most often is modeled on the 1-3-1 zone. So I teach my players 1-3-1 zone so they understand the concepts before I push it out to be a half-court press.



Basketball Zone Defense: The 1-3-1 Zone
Basic Set up

  • Players begin in position as shown in the diagram - one point guard, two wings, one high post, one low post

  • Match your players to the positions - point guard at the point; smaller, faster players at the wings

  • The two post positions are played by your center and power forward - I like to put my power forward in the low position, since this position requires a little more quickness than the top position
basketball zone defense - 131A



Basketball Zone Defense: The 1-3-1 Zone
Basic Movement

As in any zone defense, where the defensive players move to is largely dictated by where the offensive players move. However, in general, defensive players would follow this movement:

  • When the ball is tossed to the wing, defensive players generally move in the direction of that side, following the ball

  • One movement to especially note is the movement of the weak side wing (#2) - his job is to guard any movement on that side, as that is a key area for offense to cut into the key, across the top or down low near the basket - the weak side wing needs to be very vigilant and stop any cuts before they happen; he also needs to communicate to his teammates what is happening behind them
basketball zone defense - 131B


Basketball Zone Defense: The 1-3-1 Zone
Coverage Responsibilities with the Ball at the Wing

  • With the ball on the wing, a defensive player needs to pick up the ball carrier. Depending on how high the ball carrier is playing, the defensive player will either be the point guard (#1) or the strong side wing (#3). Usually #1, since #3 needs to hold the corner

  • the high post (#4) protects the strong side top of the key - quite often fronting a high post player or stepping in to stop a cut coming across the top of the key

  • #5 closes off the basket on the strong side, watching for anyone cutting down the lane or through the lane diagonally to ball side

  • as already stated, the weak side wing protects the key from any offensive player cutting through from the weak side
basketball zone defense - 131C


Basketball Zone Defense: The 1-3-1 Zone
Movement with Pass to the Corner

With the ball passed to the corner, the ball side wing (#3) needs to step out and pick up the ball carrier.

  • If the ball carrier is a shooter, #3 stays tight on him

  • If the ball carrier likes to drive, #3 needs to worry most about the drive along the baseline - he needs to direct the drive into the middle, where he has help

  • Everyone else moves in a few steps, gravitating toward the ball
basketball zone defense - 131D


Basketball Zone Defense: The 1-3-1 Zone
Coverage Responsibilities with the Ball at the Corner

With the ball in the corner, most of the key should be covered

  • The point guard (#1) stops any penetration by the strong side wing - e.g., if the wing and corner man are trying to run a give and go - and cuts off any easy pass out (his main responsibility is closer in - if necessary, he accepts a pass along the outside in favor of playing tighter defense nearer the key)

  • the high post (#4) protects the strong side top of the key

  • #5 closes off the basket on the strong side, quite often fronting a big man who has dropped into his position when the ball was rotated into the corner

  • and the weak side wing still protects the key from any offensive player cutting through from the weak side
basketball zone defense - 131E

That's the basics of the 1-3-1 basketball zone defense. All zones are not equal - the 2-3 zone, for example, is mainly used to pack the key and force the outside shot, while limiting opportunities for offensive rebounds. The 1-3-1 zone, however, allows the defense to spread out more, to attack the shooters and overweight one side of the court.

If zone is the way you want to go, choose the zone according to your opponent. If you are playing a big team, a 2-3 zone would likely work better for you; if your opponent shoots well, but is not terribly big, then a 1-3-1 zone would likely be the better choice.



Find more Basketball Zone Defenses here


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