The 1-3-1 half-court defense is a unique defensive set that is not much used on the higher basketball levels because its only real weakness is the corner 3 point shot which is the most likable NBA or Euroleague shot of the game.
On any other level, or if your scouting says that the opponents do not have a good corner/any other shooters, it means that you can play this kind of defense against any team.
Strong Sides of a 1-3-1 Half Court Defense
- Rare - Almost nobody is preparing this kind of defensive set, and almost nobody knows it in detail so there is no certain way of attacking it effectively beside the corner 2p/3p shot. And we all know that it is a bit strange to shoot only those kinds of shots so teams will tend to be versatile and that decision is going to lead them into bad decision making and bad positioning.
- Good against the drive penetration - If you take a look at the spacing and where the players are standing, well, on the first look you are going to ask yourself how to get to the basket? Yes, the geometry of this zone is designed in a manner that there is no driving lane toward the rim.
- Good against the cutters - If you take a look at the zone, you are going to notice that there at least two players inside the low post area at all times, which only means that the cutters will have a hard time finding space to get close to the basket.
- Good for transition offense - This zone demands that the front player is positioned high, and that way he is close to the center. If there is a turnover, your guys can send a touch down pass every time and know that that guy is going to be closest to the basket.
- It saves energy - Only a guy that is under the basket is going to run, and the first guy to some extent. The other 3 are just covering space around them without much movement. So, if you have big guys that are not fast, this is the defensive set for you.
Weak Sides of a 1-3-1 Half Court Defense
- Rebounding - Because of the positioning and because its a zone and you do not have strict rules who to box out, and because the two players closest to the basket are in line and not on the sides of the paint, the rebounding can be a problem.
- Corner shots - No matter how fast is the last guy on the zone, he is not going to be able to cover all the shots, and if he manages to cover one side, if the offense has good ability to pass the ball quickly to the other side, there will be some open corner shots for them.
- Size does matter - this is not the zone for the "small ball" teams. Although everybody can play it, because it lacks on rebounding, you really need big players.
- Takes time to learn - Or should I say it takes time for players to get used to playing it together as a group. This defense is going to get effective only when players learn the tendencies on one another so they know where to position themselves according to what the other teammates are doing.
- High Post - This area can be problematic if the coach does not make some easy rules who is supposed to guard this spot on the court. If this area is "gray", then there will be mistakes.
- Everybody crashes the boards - It is simple, all except the first player in the zone are obligated to go for the rebound. This is one of the biggest flaws of the defensive set and only by fighting for every ball is going to neutralize it.
- Contain the ball - In this defense, the goal is not to set traps high for the ball. Rather, the goal is to make good positions that the ball is trapped deep so the bass can be cut when the player realizes he can't get a good shot.
- Move on the air time of the pass and not when the opponent receives the ball.
- Provoke bad shots - This is the cat and mouse game. What you really want is to give the player with the ball some space so he is not fully alert all the time. Maybe, if he feels confident, he will take some two dribble shots and miss, or he will try an over the zone pass. Another thing that you want to do if you spot only one good shooter on the other side. You want to press him with that last player on one side, extend your defense a bit, and force the ball to go to the other side and leave the non-shooter all alone, so he will be obligated to take a shoot and eventually miss.
Roles and Responsibilities
Starting Positions and the Field of Responsibility
1. Chaser - Chaser is the architect of the 1-3-1 zone. He is reading the offense and he is deciding where the ball is going to go. This player needs to be athletic, big, to have good anticipation and the mind to read the offense.
The main role of this player is to influence the ball handler to go to one side of the action and to try and not to allow the ball to go over the point guard position again.
He should be positioned high in the passing lane, facing the ball and parallel with the sideline.
When the ball is passed in the corner, Chaser should be positioned in the elbow area.
Blocks the path to the middle and the other side of the court by stepping high on the passing lane in stance parallel to the side line.
Covers the area around the elbow and if there is a lob pass to the other wing he can try and cut the pass.
2. Wings - Wings are responsible for guarding the ball when it's on the sides, for trapping the ball in the corners and for watching the back of the defense when the ball is on the strong side and they are on the weak side of the set. Wings must contribute to rebounding because if they do not take a serious approach to it, opponents are going to have a lot of easy put-backs. Weak side wings are often going to fight 2 players on the rebound because the defense is just constructed to work that way. These players do not need to be fast, but you want them to be big and strong so they can fight for the ball constantly.
3. Center -The center player is a Plumber of the zone. He is fixing leaks and taking care of the post player to some degree. He is the main communicator of the team so he must be our best defensive player. It is perfect if this player is tall because then he can control the defensive rebounds much better. This player needs to position himself between the ball and the rim at all times. If the defense is played good, everybody is going to direct the ball handler at the player that is in the center.
A good center player is going to let the ball handler dribble to a certain depth inside the paint and then he is going to get aggressive. Usually, the ball handler is going to be so deep that the only option that he is going to have is the highly contested shot or a risky pass.
4. Warrior - The name says it all. This guy is for a serious fight. He needs to sprint from side to side, he needs to cover low post players and on top of it, all this guy is responsible for getting defensive rebounds.
Because of the nature of the position, it is hard to determine who is the right choice. What you need is a tall and fast guy at the same time, and we all know that these people are hard to find or develop.
I always go on this position with my Small Forwards if I do not know who top pick.
Goals of a 1-3-1 Half Court Zone Defense
1. Prevent Drives to the Basket and Provoke Bad Shots - This is a typical situation where the defenders are not attacking the ball handler but instead, they are denying him good options. In this particular situation, I want the ball handler to take a shot after dribbling the ball for a few seconds. I mean, look, he can make 2 or 3 of those shots, but the rest of the players are just going to stand and look how the guy is taking a shot after shot. That way, you are diminishing the rhythm of the opposing team.
The second thing that I want from the ball handler to do is to take a few dribbles toward our center player. This way, all the passing lanes are going to be closed and the only option is a highly contested shot.
2. Ball in the corner - We both want and do not want the ball to go to the corner. We do not want a good shooter to shoot a three uncontested, but if we managed to disrupt the shot then our job is done. In this defensive setup, when the ball goes to the corner it is hard for the offense to make a good action after it because the passing options are bad.
3. Coverage of the ball movement from on side to the other - The important part is how the help defender on the wing (no. 5 in this situation) is going to react. Here on the diagram we have a situation where we know who the good shooter is. So, if the good shooter is in the corner then our defender should take 2 steps toward the bad shooter and sprint toward the good shooter in the corner. This way, we are leaving bad shooter to make decision if he is going to take a shot or not.
4. High Post Coverage - This is a bit of a gray area because every player is close to the high post. I like that my center player is guarding the high post and in a manner that he is always in front of him. This way he is both protecting the drive and guarding a high post.
A 1-3-1 half-court zone defense is one of those special defensive sets that almost nobody thinks about so almost nobody is prepared for it. You can play it all game long if you have a problem to stop dribble penetrations or you can play it a few times in a game where you want to disrupt your opponents. It is easy to play if we think about the conditioning of your team, and it is hard to play in terms that your players need some time to get used to it.
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