The NBA rule permitting zone defenses is in its third year, but
the debate about its flaws and merits remains lively, with many
league insiders blaming the zones for the decline in scoring by
more than a point per game since last season at this time. "These
zones are forcing the least-talented shooters to take more
shots," complains one G.M.
Others argue that the problem isn't the myriad new defenses but
the unsophisticated offenses. "Coaches were slow to embrace the
zone defense," says Blazers G.M. John Nash, "but they've been
even slower in their development of a zone offense."
Bucks coach Terry Porter is trying to teach his young Bucks the
hard way how to attack the zone, by scrimmaging five-man units
against zones of six defenders. Beating a zone requires player
movement, ball reversal and drives to the basket that force the
defense to collapse, leaving opponents to knock down open jump
shots from the perimeter. Unfortunately, many of those shooters
aren't very good at it. "There's a bigger need for shooters than
there was a few years ago," Nash says. "But the coaches haven't
been willing to abandon the defensive-oriented athletes in favor
of the offensive-minded players that you need against zones."
That's because many teams view the zones as a temporary
experiment; they don't want to revamp their rosters only to find
that the league has changed the rule again. But that's not going
to happen, says deputy commissioner Russ Granik, who blames the
reduced scoring on the numerous personnel and coaching changes
before this season. "We're seeing more ball movement and more
cutting," Granik says. "We're always ready to reevaluate anything
that can help the game, but you can't be changing such an
important rule every few years."
"In the long run it's going to be a good thing for basketball in
our country," says Mavericks director of player personnel Donnie
Nelson, "because if we're encouraging our guys to shoot and pass,
then our young kids watching NBA basketball will grow up wanting
to do the same things."