A point zone in basketball is a combo defense system that is similar to a zone setup. Each defensive player has a specific job once the ball goes to a different area of the floor. When used correctly, the point zone is very difficult to score against.
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The point zone was developed and popularized by the legendary Coach Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina. It has been re-developed and reused throughout the years, but many of the core principles remain the same. Finally, although the point zone can be very effective, its complicated rules make it difficult to learn, and is therefore less popular than other zone defenses-such as the 2-3 or 1-3-1 zones.
The basic principles of the point zone defense are that each defensive guard is partnered with a forward. The point guard is partnered with the power forward, and the shooting guard is partnered with the small forward. These two sets of partners must remain perpendicular at all times, creating an "X" between the four defenders.
The "point" refers to whichever player is guarding the ball. When the ball goes to one of the wing areas, the closest player will guard them man-to-man, while the rest of the defense adjusts. The partner of the point should be positioned in the paint, while the other set of partners adjust to maintain perpendicularity.
The center should always be at the intersection of these two partnership lines. This ensures that the center will always be in between the ball and the basket, ready to provide help defense and rebounding at any given moment.
The point zone looks like a 2-3 zone before the ball arrives in the frontcourt. The defensive formation will adapt to the offense's initial setup. Usually, an offensive possession will begin with one player bringing the ball up and the rest getting into a formation. If this occurs, the defense will rotate into what looks like a 1-3-1 and start playing the point zone.
PRO TIP: If, for whatever reason, the offense has both guards at the top of their formation (known as a "two-guard front"), the defense will just play a 2-3 zone.
In a point zone defense, the entire defense rotates whenever the ball moves. The player closest to the new ball handler is the new "point." Their partner must rotate into the paint, while the other two defenders are now the wings. The wings must rotate to maintain the perpendicular shape of the defense, while the center also rotates slightly to stay between the ball and the hoop.
If the ball goes to the corner, the defensive shape deviates slightly. The power forward is responsible for being the point when the ball is in either corner. Because the ball handler should be forced toward the baseline, there is no need to waste a defender on the other side.
The point zone also presents a unique problem for offenses because it is tough to identify and exploit on the fly. Unlike the 2-3 zone, which has a clear flaw (in its ability to defend the middle of the floor), the point zone has no glaring weaknesses.
The first is in matchups. While the point zone ensures a player is always defending the ball, the offense can position their players to dictate which players get the ball in which positions and exploit a weak defensive player by matching them up accordingly.
The point zone can also struggle with rebounding. Because the center is always in between the ball and the basket, they have to be able to turn around and box out the instant a shot goes up. The point zone may also rely on guards to box out and get rebounds on the weak side, which can be problematic.