Amoeba Defense

The Amoeba Defense is somewhat of a gambling zone defense that can be quite effective at disrupting your opponent and creating numerous fast break opportunities. The amoeba defense was made especially famous by Coach Jerry Tarkanian and his great UNLV teams of the 80’s and 90’s.

Amoeba Defense
1) The configuration of the amoeba defense is shown in Diagrams 1-2. X5, the best rebounder, sets up on the left block (as you face the basket). Since most teams are right oriented and more shots are taken from the right side, more missed shots will come to X5’s side.

The diagrams show the defensive coverage on a ball being passed from the point to the wing.


Amoeba Defense
2) As you can see, the coverage remains the same when the ball is passed from point to the right wing (as in diag. 1) and point to left wing (diag. 2).


Amoeba Defense
3) The difference appears when the ball is passed to the left or right corner. When the ball is passed to the left corner (as shown), the wing (X3) closes out on the ball and X2 drops back to cover the vacant area. This keeps the X5 always near the basket.


Amoeba Defense
4) When the ball is passed to right corner (shown), the post (X4) closes out on the ball while the wing (X3) drops to front the offensive post.

This is confusing to the offense since they have difficulty knowing where the defender is coming from, difficulty knowing whom to screen (if they do so) and difficulty coping with a defense that isn’t as symmetrical in its coverage as other defenses are.

Most zone offenses are symmetrical. Whatever they do to one side, they do to the other.

Obviously, the wings (X2 and X3) have to work harder than anyone else. X5 only gives support when the ball is away from him and fronts the post when the ball is on his side.

X4 gives support when the ball is away. He plays the ball aggressively when it’s in the corner and guards the post when the ball is anywhere else.

The point guard (X1) gives support when the ball is away, guards it aggressively when it’s on his wing, and keeps it out of the high post when it’s anywere else.


Amoeba Defense
5) Where X2 and X3 become interchangable is when the ball is shifted from the corner to the point. (Diagrams 5 and 6)

Note in this diagram, when the ball is passed from the left corner to the top, X2 rotates to guard the ball. X3 will rotate up to guard the left wing/baseline.


Amoeba Defense
6) This diagram also demonstrates how X2 and X3 are interchangable.

When the ball is in the right corner and passed back to the wing/top, X2 rotates to cover the ball and X3 rotates from the low post to the opposite wing.


Amoeba Defense
7) Diagrams 7 and 8 show the shift of the defense when the ball is passed from point to wing to corner. This example demonstrates it on the left side of the court.


Amoeba Defense
8) Diagram 8 shows the shift when the ball is passed from point to wing to corner on the right side of the court.


Amoeba Defense
9) If the player at the point of the zone (X2 or X3) doesn’t drop quickly enough and the ball gets into the low post on the right side, the point and X5 should be able to double the ball, with the opposite wing (X2) dropping in front of the opposite low post and X1 zoning off the middle.


Amoeba Defense
10) If the ball goes into the high or mid-post, the closest defender should guard the ball and all other defenders should play the next pass, as the ball will usually be passed inside in order to collapse the defense and pass out to the open man.


Amoeba Defense
11) Additional Points to consider:

An obvious problem with the amoeba is that your wings must front the low post when the ball is in the right corner. Since X4 is aggressively guarding the ball, you should (if possible) have a bigger man guarding the ball, making it more difficult to lob the ball into the post.

The major difficulty is requiring your wings to play the right low block area, the paint, the left-wing, and the left corner. This will take greater effort, well-conditioned players (with good anticipation) and more substitutes.

Diagrams 9 and 10 addressed what to do when the ball does get inside. But the main rule to teach here is “never let the ball get inside” – whatever it takes.

As with other defenses, problems will arise. If, for example, you play two small guards, your X2 man is short, and your team isn’t deep at the wing positions, the amoeba won’t be a good defense for you.

If you normally play three bigger people at one time, the amoeba will be a better defense for your team.

To sum it up, the amoeba gives you a defense with a different look and will be extremely effective if the players buy into it and commit themselves to making it work.

Related Products:

The Modified Amoeba Defense: Jerry Tarkanian     Jerry Tarkanian: Amoeba Zone Defense
Available at the Hoops U. Store: The Modified Amoeba Defense & Amoeba Zone Defense!

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