Sunday, May 6, 2007

Implications of Zone Defense and its Effects on the Legacy of the Game

Zone defense is the alternative to man-to-man defense, where players guard an allotted area rather than an individual player. The NBA outlawed zone defense on January 11, 1947. It stayed this way until the 2001-2002 regular season, where the NBA legalized zone for the first time in 54 years.


What was the main reason zone defense was legalized?

The NBA will never admit to it publically, but zone defense was primarily legalized to contain Shaquille O'neal. Shaquille simply could not be guarded by one man, it was just not possible. It's a lopsided mismatch regardless of whoever is guarding him. Add Kobe Bryant to that team and it is plain to see that the league would be dominated for a long time to come. Therefor, in order to even out the playing field, the league legalized zone defense.


The media generally regards Michael Jordan as the greatest player to ever play the game. His legacy and career achievement are continuously being compared to today's generation of athletes. These comparisons are unfair however, because Jordan never had to deal with the complexities of zone defense. Jordan had the luxury of always going against one opponent on isolation plays. Today's great players like Kobe Bryant can be doubled without the ball and have to deal with swarms of defenders all around them. Therefor, the legalization of zone defense helped to secure Michael Jordan's legacy as the greatest player of all time.


The art of man-to-man defense has all but disappeared thanks to a barrage of new restrictive rules that reward the offensive player. One of these rules is the hand-checking rule. Essentially this curtails that the defensive player cannot use his hands against the defender.

Now how does hand-checking compare against zone?

While its true that the hand-checking rule did raise scoring and increase overall offensive output from 93.4 ppg to 97.2 ppg, it still does not affect the game as much as zone defense does.

The people who say zone defense is a weak defense do not know how to play it correctly. The Detroit Pistons play zone to perfection. If the opposition has one weak player, zone is the perfect way to force that player to create his own shot and take the ball out of the best players hands. If you want an example of this just watch how the 2007 Warriors played Dirk Nowitzki in the post-season.

As a scorer ask yourself this:

Would I rather have to deal with double and triple teams on the catch, or just deal with arm-bars on the drive?

Sure defense was more physical in the 80's, however the stars back then did not have to deal with the multitude of individual attention that players get today.

Zone may be weak against a team with five strong players, but it is great against dominant individuals .

Just look how much defensive attention Kobe Bryant gets, and what he has to deal with : Teams force other players to make shots.
Double-teamed 35 feet from the basket.



Anonymous said...


kobe was double teamed cuz they knew he was going to take the last shot

Dan said...

to say the only reason that zone defense was legalized was because of Shaquille O'neal is a bit much. He may have been a miniscual part of the reason. But the main reason they reinstituted zone was because the NBA was trying to speed the game up. Stern felt like all the defensive violation calls were slowing down the game. So, he legalized zone defense and now this takes away 2-3 referee timeouts per game.

Anonymous said...

Kobe will never be as good as Jordan! And u forgot to mention that Kobe plays in the hand-check era! Todays basketball is softer than in the late eighties and early ninties

Anonymous said...

LMAO @ dude bringing up Jordan in this article as if Kobe was ever comparable to Jordan even pre-handchecking. Put down the pipe, there.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that the zone was instituted to decrease Shaq's dominance, however. There were also other reasons, of course.

I've always said that a major reason was to make the game more like Euro ball, for two reasons: one, we were getting waxed in int'l competition, so it was to help our players acclimate themselves to Euro rules a bit; two, I knew Stern would eventually try to branch out into Europe, and this was a way to achieve parity in the rules to make the transition easier for all involved. We can see these realities approaching in some of Stern's recent comments in the media.

Anonymous said...

No offense dude...but this is one of the most bias, and frankly, ludicrous articles I've ever read.

You'd make a decent lawyer in that you probably actually believe what you wrote, and spun every negative into a positive, but besides argument 6 (which doesn't actually make him better or worse), your arguments aren't good at all.

I love how you say that Jordan "with out a doubt" had a better supporting cast than Kobe, and then point out that you're talking about two years only. That is laughable. I can find you two years Jordan had a bad team too...what's your point? That was the worst part of this.

Anonymous said...

A little bias and do you support the lakers by any chance?

Yilak said...

finally somebody who is on the right track. this is precisely why Kobe is more skilled than MJ. these days people catch insults for even suggesting that their god Michael Jordan is nolo contendre the greatest. teams leave players wide open just to make kobe give up the ball. it's such a ridiculous comparison when watching MJ dismantle teams getting 1on1 when there wasn't one person on his level athletically. sure they send a double once he has caught the ball but how is that even an issue with a player like MJ who dunks from 10 feet out easily and is faster than anyone on the court? it's ridiculous to compare a MJ era double vs. a modern era double.

shaveeca said...

Yea you said it, Jordan is pretty much a god to a lot of people and just questioning his greatness is a sin in Jordanism. The fact is, if you wanna break it down to who is the greatest, with our science today, we can't know for sure. Can we match them up in their prime, one on one? Can we put Kobe in Mike's place in the Bulls mid to late 90's? How would Jordan do vs zone D? I honestly don't know but its fun to discuss.

ClipCoug said...

Jordan did play against a zone...a true one at UNC and shot over 50% in his 3 years there.

Also, he shot 42% and averaged about 21-22 PPG at the age of 39 and 40 against the NBA's version of Zone D. Imagine if that were a prime Jordan.

Point is here, Jordan has exceled in pretty much any defense you can think of. Kobe stuggles against physical teams such as the 04 Pistons and 08 Celts, now take that back into the Bad-Boy Pistons and mid-80's Celtics days...and he'd stuggle. He would probably have similar success to Jordan in the 90's.

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