We’re back in the lab dissecting a new area of Dwane Casey’s Detroit Pistons offense. This time, we are covering a hot topic among fans — offense against zone defense. Playing against a zone was always harder for me as a player AND is the same as a coach. As a player, it is so hard to fight the urge of simply “shooting them out of it.” As a coach, there is little you can do to force a change in your players’ mentality. There is an art to finding the gaps and creases in the zone to attack off the dribble or with off ball movement and you have to find just the right time to make your move. When you, or your players, “figure it out” it really can be a thing of beauty and become very deflating for your opponent.
As many fans will tell you, Coach Casey and the Pistons have had their fair share of struggles against zone, and I will highlight plenty of those but I also found some good as I went through the film. By no means am I saying it is perfect, but there are some very good possessions, actions and things to build on.
Let’s start with the good. As I watch film, the action that continues to show up is the Pistons creating a weakside 2-on-1 with the bottom “wing” of the 2-3 zone with a player on the wing and in the corner. As you can imagine, if you have the right personnel, this puts that defender in a tough spot and can usually end up with an open 3 OR as I highlight in one of the clips a backdoor cut for a bucket at the rim.
I also show a counter to this action that definitely fooled the Bucks and ended up gaining the same advantage. Finally, I want to highlight players attacking the zone without a predetermined action or set. We always tell our players to “beat the zone down the floor” so you can attack it before it is really locked in, and this is something I highlight but also would like to see the Pistons do more.
As we transition into the more negative portion of the breakdown and look at what needs to improve, I cannot tell you specifically who the fault lies. Specifically, in the first few clips of the breakdown there seems to be players unable to get in the right spots or execute the actions the way they are designed. I will leave it up to you on whether to blame the players for not knowing the play or the coaches for not “coaching them up” to know exactly what they should do. I will also highlight a few plays where I do believe the players have been put, or put themselves, in the right spot to be successful but simply do not end up executing to take advantage of the opportunity.
I do not think teams playing zone against the Pistons is something that is going to go away anytime soon, especially when they do have stretches of finding some rhythm offensively against a man. As with the other breakdowns, what will be interesting to watch is if the players look to be more ready and prepared for those possessions and then are able to finish them off with a bucket. AND as much as “shoot them out of it” is not a strategy against a zone, it sure wouldn’t hurt for those 3-pointers to start falling as well.