Basketball Formations

Basketball Formations

A formation in basketball describes the way players on a basketball team position themselves on the court. There are many types of formations that the offense and defense can use. Below, we will examine the different types of formations in basketball, including offensive and defensive formations, and how to choose which formations to use when you play basketball.

Formation Types

There are lots of formation types in basketball. All formations stem from a few basic principles:

  • Player movement and spacing (offense)
  • Getting open on the court with cuts and screens (offense)
  • Giving the ball to your best players (offense)
  • Playing fast or slow based on the tempo of the opponent and game (offense)
  • Forcing turnovers with steals, blocks, and traps (defense)
  • Focusing on a specific area of the court, such as the half-court, full-court, corners, or three-point line (offense or defense)

When discussing the alignment of players on the court, numbers are often used for quick recognition (2-3 zone defense, 1-4 high offense, 1-3-1 press, etc.). In this format, the numbers tell how many players are in each location on the court: the first number usually indicates how many players are at the top of a formation (farthest from the basket), and so on. For example, in a 2-3 zone defense, two defenders will be positioned near the top of the key, while the remaining three guard the areas between them and the baseline.

Guards are typically farther from the basket in any given formation because they are shorter players. The taller forwards and centers are better-equipped to be near the basket.

Offensive Formation Types

Basketball Motion Offense

Teams use different offensive formations to get better opportunities to score the basketball. Most teams will use multiple offensive formations in a single game, and will adjust based on what the opposing defense is doing.

Here is a list of offensive formations:

Defensive Formation Types

basketball zone defense

Defensive formations are used by the team playing defense to counter attacks by the offense or to force the offense to make mistakes. Defensive players will position themselves in different formations based on coaching philosophies, opposing formations, and their team’s strengths and weaknesses.

Here is a list of defensive formations:

Choosing a Formation in Basketball

Deciding which formation to use can be difficult. Coaches use these steps to determine which offensive and defensive formations they should use:

  1. Decide if the formation is for when your team is on offense or defense.
  2. Know which formation(s) your opponent uses. If there is game footage available, you can study ahead of time. If not, you can always change your formation during the game.
  3. What is your team good at? If you have a great post player, you may want to run a set offense. If your team has good shooters, then maybe a motion offense is better.
  4. Design set plays, so your team can rely on pre-planned plays in desperate situations.
  5. Have your team practice the formations and run drills.

Basketball Formation Terms

Here are some terms you can explore that are related to basketball formations:


What is a formation in basketball?

In basketball, a formation is the way that players are positioned on the court. There are formations for both offense and defense. Each formation has its own strengths and weaknesses. Zone defenses are good for limiting player fouls but may be weak against good three point shooting teams. Teams often use different formations to counter the strategy or formation their opponent is using.

What is the best formation in basketball?

Every formation in basketball has its own advantages and disadvantages, so there isn’t one formation that is considered the “best.” For example, set offenses aim to attack specific weaknesses of the opposing team, making them best if you can study film and prepare plays to use against an opponent. Zone defenses are best used when a team is defensively outmatched against individual offensive players, so players aren’t beaten in one-on-one matchups. Press defenses are best for forcing turnovers and putting pressure on the other team.