So, how to beat a 1-3-1 zone defense in basketball? As a former basketball coach, I'll share with you some of the strategies that my teams used to beat a 1-3-1.
- The best way to beat any zone defense is to play an up-tempo style of offense that can beat any defense down the floor before it can get set up. Push the ball in transition for easy buckets and to catch the other team while they are backpedaling.
- Exercise patience and have good spacing in your offensive set. My teams would have a two-man front against the one-man front of the zone (hence the 1-3-1 name), where we would run our best shooter from corner-to-corner, depending on where the ball was. This would free them up to knock down open 3's with regularity.
- Have a high post presence that will play to your offensive strengths. Dumping the ball into the post can create easy opportunities against any defense, but against a 1-3-1 it is especially vital. Post players that can knock down 15-foot jumpers and can catch and face the basket are especially valuable against a 1-3-1, because passing the ball into the post forces defensive rotations that creates broader gaps in the defense that you can exploit.
- Make crisp, smart passes and limit your dribbling. Passing the ball around makes the defense react and is much faster than trying to dibble into the teeth of the zone. Much harder for a defense to defend quick passes, than being set up and ready for dribble penetration where there will likely be much more help-side defense ready to rotate over.
- Work the short corner. Our standard offensive set involved two players at the top of the formation, one player at the high post, our best shooter getting to the corner on ball-side, and another player working the short corner on ball side. Short corner is an area midway between the lane and the three-point line, and working the ball to this area can help create various defensive breakdowns and also lead to easy points.
- Don't take a shot after making just one pass, unless of course you have an open layup. You can always get a 3-point attempt at the top of your set by passing between the two offensive players. This is just cheating your team. Make the defense work and make an effort to get the ball into the post. You would be amazed at how much this breaks down the zone.
My favorite memory of playing against a 1-3-1 zone involved one of my AAU teams in a local tournament. We were trailing by 13 points at halftime and just not playing well against the other team's zone. Once we got the proper personnel on the floor, we stormed back in the third quarter to take a two-point lead heading into the fourth. Our best shooter, who is now a standout point guard in the NBA, knocked down four 3's from the corner during the quarter. The last came right at the buzzer to give us the lead for good. We went on to win the game by eight points.
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