Earlier we touched on Dean Demopoulos and the “Black Zone” the Blazers run, but we didn’t really explain what that constitutes. Luckily for us, Ben Golliver at BlazersEdge had an interview with Nate McMillan last year that broke down a lot of what the zone defense is all about:
Blazersedge: You’ve been playing some match-up zone recently on defense. What prompted you to go in that direction this year?
That’s a part of the package. We have a zone package that we play. It’s not just one zone. We’ve got really four zones. We’ve got a “2”, “2 Black”, “3” and “3 Black”.
The “Blacks” are matchups and the “2s” and “3s” are straight zones.
Depending on what a team has out on the floor as far as players, whether they have shooters, we are able to cover the perimeter [with our 3]. If they have bigs as well as shooters we go to our 2, which can cover the perimeter as well as the paint.
Blazersedge: What triggers the switch into the zone? If your opponent comes out shooting cold or is it a personnel thing?
It could be a lineup, it could be that they are hot and we are trying to disrupt them, get them out of a rhythm.
Last night we tried to go to it because Chicago started to get a rhythm offensively. We wanted to change their attack and get them standing and not moving. I think they were able to score once or twice off of it.
We use it for a number of different reasons. It’s just part of our defensive package. We go to it when they go to certain lineups or if we’re trying to break a rhythm.
Blazersedge: What brings you out of the zone? They shoot over the top of it or… ?
It depends. It depends. Sometimes they are shooting over the top of it but we’re keeping them on the perimeter. It all depends on the game and their lineup and how they are scoring. If they are scoring over the top of the zone with a hand in their face, we sometimes stay in it.
Blazersedge: There’s a lot made about how difficult it is to rebound defensively when you’re in the zone defense, because the bigs have to go actively find a body to box out. Is that a reality in the NBA or is that a misnomer?
Yeah, you look at all of that.
In the NBA, you can’t play your traditional zone because you can’t keep a middle man because of the illegal defense. It’s some zone-like rules but it’s not your traditional zone.
Blazersedge: In general, would you say your players prefer to play zone or man-to-man?
It’s just part of our package. We’ve explained why we use it [to the players]. We use it different times and against different teams and we try to take advantage or disrupt or catch a team, surprise a team with falling back into a zone.
John Chaney’s Temple teams were notorious for running a highly aggressive (and highly successful) matchup zone. What Dean Demopoulos has done is take that matchup zone and translate it to the NBA. Because of the shooting range and general proficiency of most NBA players, zone defenses aren’t as effective in the pros as they are in college. But as a change of pace defense, as McMillan describes above, zones can really throw an offense off its course.
If you’re worried about the younger players being overwhelmed by learning zone defenses, don’t be. The principles taught in Demopoulos’ matchup zone should help benefit the team in regular man-to-man defense as well. Aggressive on ball play, verbal communication, the bumping of cutters, and the ability to recognize when you’re more than one pass away from the ballhandler are principles that can work in every type of defense. Guys who played for Temple (particularly my favorite player as a kid, Eddie Jones) were always regarded as tough, gritty, and extremely physical defenders. And they were. But they were also incredibly smart, and that had a lot to do with Demopoulos.
Was Vinny Del Negro the best X’s and O’s guy available in the coaching market? No. But if he can put together a staff filled with gurus like Dean Demopoulos, it will go a long way in covering for some of those shortcomings.