Zone defense has its strengths and can derail an attack if applied correctly. It allows you to block access to the circle, limit drives, cut passing lanes… It’s less physically demanding than individual defense.
During his injury streak, the Heat opted for a 2-3 zone defense on 18.4% of his defensive sequences. The figure may seem insignificant, but it is a record. No team has used a zone defense like this in nearly 15 years, according to SynergySports statistics, as reported by the Miami Herald.
Unheard of in the NBA
The league record, held by Miami, was 1,053 defensive possessions in zone defense in the 2018/19 season. If he keeps up this rhythm, the Heat 2022/23 version could have 1,366 by the end of the campaign! For Max Strus, the method works well so far.
“That’s working. We’ve been able to get stops with that, being active, forcing the opponent to take hard shots. It’s a good thing. We have guys that boast great defense, whether it’s man-to-man or in zone. We will try to stop, whatever the means. It worked well for us, we will continue that”.
In figures, Max Strus is not always wrong. In Wednesday night’s meeting with Toronto, the Heat limited Toronto to an average of 0.73 points on their 11 possessions in zone defense. On the season, Miami is allowing just 0.81 points per possession in zone defense.
Even on the 3-point shot, which should be a weakness of the zone defense, opponents are not successful against the Heat’s 2-3: 24.5% success against the zone, 40.6% against an individual defense.
“It works well because it’s unusual in this league”added Gabe Vincent. “Not many will do it, just for what it means. Everyone has this pride in defending their player. It’s not frowned upon, but it doesn’t really happen. It’s different. Our opponents have a hard time navigating because our zone is not a conventional zone. It’s changed a little bit, a little bit differently, and it’s evolved since I’ve been here. It brings a different challenge, which you don’t see every night.
Generally inadequate defense
The problem is that this relative trademark is not enough in zone defense. The overall record of the Floridians is not good, and Miami also lost to Toronto despite its good streak in the area, and is currently in the 18th place in the ranking of the best defense in the league.
For Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s start will indeed be on defense, but more on attitudes than possible game systems used, zone or individual.
“The talent is very high, the quality of the pass, the variety of attacks… Whatever the system, you have to commit to a lot of effort, do the difficult things, the important things, all the little thing that makes it possible to build a stable and reliable defense of a high level. We’re not there yet, but we’re making progress. We must continue to work and improve, whether in man-to-man or zone.graduate technician.