It was 10 years ago that the NBA started allowing a modified zone defense to be played in the NBA. It’s not a pure zone — you can’t park Dwight Howard in the paint, there’s a defensive three seconds — but more and more teams are using some form of match zones. The Mavericks may have been the heaviest users in the league last season.
Over at the Sun Sentinel, Ira Winderman suggests the league would be better if it did away with the zone.
While this might come off as a somewhat parochial quibble, isn’t the entire point of NBA play to feature the star players, to provide the best possible canvas for the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and other perimeter scorers to thrive with their athleticism? While zone defenses can mask individual defensive deficiencies, the NBA is as much an entertainment product as an athletic endeavor. As it is, the NBA still bans true 2-3 or 2-1-2 zones because the player in the middle of such alignments can go no more than 3 seconds without actively defending another player. In other words, the NBA still does not allow true zone defense. In that vein, returning to a truer man-on-man approach could enhance the game and open up scoring, creating a more visually appealing product.
I disagree with my man Ira, and that last sentence is the key — a lack of zones did not create a more visually appealing product.
What the rules then led to is a lot of isolation basketball, something we saw too much of through the 1990s. Because if you had to cover the Thunder man-to-man, and I were Scott Brooks, I’d run Druant and Russell Westbrook isolations all day long? It’s not pretty, but as a coach my job is to win. How you going to stop those two? Teams tried by figuring out ways to play a zone while looking man-to-man, but it just all was not fluid or fun to watch.
I like the added bit of a chess match a zone provides. I like what it does to the game. I don’t want a pure zone because watching Andrew Bynum camp out in the lane for 24 seconds is not fun either, but don’t do away with it all together.