Why aren't zone defenses seen more often in the NBA?
The league made the zone legal this season for the first time in 55 years, in part to get rid of the despised (and rarely understood) illegal-defense rule and in part to open up the game by encouraging teams to 1) quickly push the ball upcourt and 2) take more outside shots. The impact of the rule change, however, has been barely perceptible. The league's per-game scoring average, three-point shooting frequency and three-point percentage are nearly identical to last season's numbers. That's because the zone isn't effective enough to rely on as a base defense. "The zone has hardly changed the game at all," says Kings coach Rick Adelman. "Good teams can bust zones. With our team, we pass and shoot too well for the zone to be effective."
That explains why the zone is far more common in the NCAA, where players are less talented. Still, some NBA teams have had success using the zone as a novelty defense to throw offenses out of sync; Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders has said that selective use of the zone helped his team get off to its best start ever. But as T-Wolves forward Wally Szczerbiak says, "Coaches weren't prepared on how to beat the zone at the start of the season. Now they are, and offenses are getting aggressive."
In other words, don't expect to see the zone more often in the coming weeks. Says Lakers assistant Frank Hamblen, "The longer we go, the less zone will be played."