1-3-1 Zone Defense Full Coaching Guide Updated 2022


The 1-3-1 Zone Defense in basketball is a unique defense that is run in many different levels.

Position players are between the player and the basket. In contrast, this type of defense forces the offense to throw lob passes over the defense.


  1. Offense Must Adapt
  2. Causes Confusion
  3. Great For Transition Offense


  1. Corners and High Post
  2. Lots of Energy
  3. Takes time to learn


The 1 3 1 zone defense could be a very productive defense especially when used properly. Here are the three biggest reasons to use a 1-3-1 zone. 

  1. Personnel of YOUR team

When your team is made up of a lot of long and athletic players, this type of zone is extremely beneficial for your team. The length and athleticism will cause havoc for the offense, and it will lead into a lot of turnovers. Turnovers will result in easy fast break points for your team. 

  1. Personnel of OPPOSING team

Sometime the best reason to do something isn’t because your team is good at it, but because the other team is bad at it.

A 1-3-1 defense is a defense that not a lot of teams run; therefore, not a lot of teams see a 1-3-1 throughout the season. Because of their lack of practice time against this type of zone it will lead to sloppines on offense and confusion. 

This zone is also good against teams that have smaller guards who are good drivers. It makes it hard for smaller guards to see around the length of the forwards in a 1-3-1 zone. It is also harder to drive against a 1-3-1 defense because of the positioning.

This zone will lead to the other team taking more 3 point shots, but usually contested 3 point shots. 

  1. Keep a team out of their comfort zone

Being able to play multiple defense is a problem for many offenses as long as the defenses are capable.

If your team is able to play primarily man but able to switch it up for short stints during the game and play zone it will keep the offense guessing. It will keep them from getting constant momentum, and getting comfortable with running the same plays the whole game. 

A defense that can keep the offense guessing is a defense that is built to last. Many teams attempt to do this by having a proficient man to man defense.



Choose the players accordingly to their capabilities

3. Player with the best anticipation skills 

5. Biggest and best rebounder

1 Quickest player- needs to get sideline to sideline as fast as possible

2&4. Long and Tall 

Chaser - Top of the Zone

Force the basketball to one side of the floor. Must be able to influence the dribbler to one side of the court.

Sets the tone, and brings energy!

  1. Great anticipation skills

This is the greatest talent of the guy at the top of the zone. He needs to be able to anticipate when the pass is going to switch sides of the court and try to get steals. He also has to be able to read when the ball handler will pick up the ball.

  1. Athletic Ability

This is important because they are essentially the one playing the most defense. They need to be long and athletic to try and impact the passes that go over their hand.

  1. Endurance. Covering a lot of area

Between this person and the PG, they will do a substantial amount of running compared to the others. This position will need to make a lot of quick short movements.


 Stay between the basketball and the rim at all times.

Keep the ball out of either post. High Post/ Low post.

  1. Bigger player/Best Rebounder

The number one job of this position is to stop all middle penetration before they can get inside the 3; however, its most important job is to be an animal on the glass. This zone is a hard zone to rebound out of when players get out of position. The center will always be in the area of the basket though and has the responsibility of getting a lot of rebounds.

  1. Stop Dribble penetration

Number one job. The top and the wing are trying to force everything into the middle, it is this position´s job to make sure that the offensive player doesn’t get by him. A somewhat easy job, but if not done properly will ruin the zone. 

Warrior - Underneath the basket

Cover both baseline corners. Sprinting from side to side.

Eyes and voice of the defense. Direct the defense.

  1. Great communicator

This player needs to be the quarterback of the defense. He needs to tell all the players where they need to go and when they need to go. He is capable of seeing everything, and needs to adjust the defense to what he sees. 

  1. Quickest and Smartest Player

This player has a LOT of ground to cover. He needs to be able to go from corner to corner fast as possible. It is important for this person to be quick so that the other team doesn’t get easy shots from the corner. 


Contesting outside shots and stopping dribble penetration. Fight for weak side block position

  1. Long And/Or Athletic

Obviously best if they are both long and athletic. But it is important that they are one or the other. They will need to be able to block the vision of the ball handler from seeing the openings on the floor. This can come from good pressure, or just being so long that players can’t see over them. 

  1. Good perimeter defenders

These  players need to be able to contain the ball handler. They have to force everything towards the middle. If the ball handler is able to beat them to the sideline then it defeats the benefits of the zone and your team will need to get out of it. 

  1. Anticipate to deflect lobbing passes and trap. Dfelect or Steal

These players should have good anticipation skills. They will need to have good timing to try and steal passes that go above them or try to go around them. They will also need to know when it is best to trap the other team. 

How does a 1-3-1 Zone Defense Works

In this set up, the offense will usually place their players in a 2-1-2 formation.

2 players on top, one on the high post and 2 in the corners

The top  of the zone Influence the ball to one side of the court, preferably the ball handler off hand. The chaser influences the ball handler to one side. It can also be used as a full court press into 1-3-1 zone defense.

The chaser has to be in the passing lane, making the ball stay on just one side. The only reverse pass would be a high lob pass. It is important that the chaser can see the ball and the opposite guard at the same time, so he can be in the passing line.

When the ball gets to the corner it is important for “the chaser” to then take away the pass back (if you’re trapping the corners), or to cover the high post/top of the key (if you are not trapping the corners). 

Our center should deny the pass to the high post, the center has to full front the high post there. If there isn’t a player on the high post the center still needs to be there. The center needs to stop and contain any possible penetration between the chaser and the wings. 

When the ball gets to the corner, the center needs to cover the block in case of any cutters or post ups. The center will need to be in a denial position if your team decides to trap the corner. 

Our warrior, who is typically the point guard, needs to play on the ball side block. The warrior will be in this position because it is their job to close out to any pass that goes to the corner. When the ball goes to the corner, the warrior needs to play that man 1 on 1, containing any possible drives.

When the ball gets reversed really quick, this position will need to bust their butt to get from one corner all the way to the other corner.

It might happens that a team tries to post up the warrior, the center will typically come down and traps the ball in the post to make it difficult on the post player. Guard has anything baseline, and the big has anything in the middle.

The wings jobs are easy. Force everything at the top towards the middle of the floor. They should also try and make every pass a lob pass over top of them, attempting to steal anything that they can steal. 

If they are on the ball side and the ball goes from the top, over their head, to the corner this position has two different option: 

  1. Trap the corner. Corners are good places to trap, but if you do it all the time a team may get used to it and figure out a good solution that could put your defense at risk.
  2. Play the same way they played if the ball was at the top. Play help side defense, play between the ball and their closest teammate, and try to force passes over their head or bounce passes.

If the ball is on the opposite side of the court from the wing they have different responsibilities. While the ball is at the top (near half court) they need to cover the weak side block area. They need to do this to make sure there are no lob passes towards the rim, and that no one gets behind them.

If the ball goes to the opposite corner the responsibilities become to play a safety. See where the openings are on the floor and make sure no one flashes into these areas for an easy catch and score.

If the team is able to get a skip from the corner to the opposite wing, and the wing defender can’t steal it, their responsibility is to make sure the extra reversal pass is slowed down by jumping into the passing lane. Forcing that player back towards the middle of the zone and all the help. 

If the offensive team is able to get the ball in the post, and a double team comes from the center. The strong side wing needs to deny any direct pass back out to the wing/corner. And the weak side wing needs to take away and pass towards a cutter, and close buckets near the hoop. 

Defensive rotations when the ball is reversed with a guard to guard pass.

If the offense is able to lob the pass over the top of our chaser. The chaser must turn and sprint with high hands making the reversal pass difficult, making the ball stay on that side. The wing needs to be in the passing lane to the corner.

The center must be between the ball and the basket, denying every entry pass. Every player should move with the ball in the air.

What makes this 1-3-1 unique is how we play the passing lanes. 


If there is a dribble penetration from the wing, the chaser and the wing will squeeze. Trying to deny the penetration, the center will also be ready to contain. By stunting and playing the passing lanes the team will be able to get steals. It is important that the offense hesitates by having high intensity.

When the ball goes to the corner. Pass from the wing, Our warrior plays face up, containing the penetration. The center will drop and the Chaser will be the one that takes the high post.

The warrior must force every dribble penetration to the middle where there is plenty of help.

Opponents will move their opposite guard to the high post. The chaser will be the one that takes that player and stands between both player.

Swing Pass Rotations

The 1-3-1 can be vulnerable to skip passes.

For example, from the corner to the opposite wing pass.

When the ball is passed and in the air, the most important rotation is that the weak side wing player sprints to a position where he gives time for the other players to recover, he should play the passing lane to the corner.

The chaser will move up and the center will take the High post again and the weak side wing will drop down the weak side low post.

It is important to practice this rotation until it becomes automatic.

When there is a pass from corner to corner.

The concept is the same, the weak side wing has to give the defense time by playing 2 players, trying to force the ball handler in the corner to drive baesline. He will give the Warrior time to recover.

The center will do the same, and he will cover the low post. The chaser will  be the one that plays defense on the high post.


The center is the main player for this spot on the floor.

The free throw line is a dangerous spot. From here they can see the floor and find open spaces. We want the ball to get out of there as soon as possible. It is important to pressure the ball so he can not find easy passes. 

The wing players have to make the passes to the corners difficult.

The only pass that we want is the pass out to one of the guards


If we are running our 1-3-1 well, the ball should not get there often. If the ball gets there from the corner, the center will drop down and take that player and play one on one. When the ball is entered from a different place, and the PG is already there the center will come down and double the post.


In this blog post we cover how to run 1-3-1 zone defense, position responsibilities and basic cover rotations, this is a great defense to run for any youth and high school team. It may be a hard defense to learn at first, but once familiarized with your team it can become extremely useful.

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