Much has been said in recent weeks about the Triangle Offense. With the return of Phil Jackson to basketball (as head of Basketball Operations) the championship-starved Knicks faithful can’t seem to stop talking about the offense, what it will do for Carmelo Anthony, and how long it will take the team to learn it, master it, and win championships.
Since everyone seems to be doing a primer on the Triangle (including Spike Lee in a moderately humorous ‘documentary’), I might as well jump in the fray.
First off, the Triangle focuses on offensive players reacting to the defense in real time – not doing something and forcing the defense to react. While many basketball principles still apply (spacing is key, fundamentals are the basis, etc…) this key difference means that for players, instead of focusing on marks you need to hit every time, or specifics of a play, you learn the system, it’s basic tenets, and then you work within them to create the best options for the team.
At a very high level, the ball is brought up the floor and passed into the wing.
From here, a triangle is set up on that side (the triangle side) with a player in the corner and a player in the post.
On the opposite side of the floor (the weak side), a two-man game is set up, creating strong and weak sides of the floor.
Let’s stop there. From this point, lots of normal basketball things happen – or basketball techniques used in soccer ways. Players screen for each other, cut through the middle, move into space, etc. The key is, though, that they react to the way that the defense is playing them. There are specific “sets”, but each is chosen on the fly in response to the defense.
In this way, it makes it unique – and requires a certain type of player to really make it work. That doesn’t mean “smart” as much as observant. Role players are required and excel in this system. Ron Artest succeeded in this offense, Rix Fox did, Steve Kerr did, and Bill Cartwright did.
So why is it unrealistic to think that this year’s Knicks team can master the Triangle. Just because J.R. Smith tends towards Rhianna and weed rather then free-throws doesn’t mean he can’t keep his head up and his mind open.
But let’s talk specifics. After all, Phil Jackson came to the Bulls in 89-90 and won 55 games. That would be huge for the Knicks after a 37 win season a year ago. He came to LA and won the title in his first year. Are these things realistic in New York?
Each of those teams had a strong leader (Jordan, Shaq, in this case Carmelo) and a strong second fiddle (Pippen, Kobe, …..). Wait, is that J.R. Smith? Amare? Shumpert?
Each of those teams also had strong wing players who could move without the ball and shoot well. This team, we’re honestly not sure yet. Acy, Hardaway Jr, and others haven’t been around long enough for us to know yet, and players like Amare are unproven in their current state.
Like many pundits, I don’t expect the Knicks to make the playoffs in the east this year. They will, however, be fun to watch knowing that they’re operating within a new framework (the Triangle), and the individuals can be more firmly judged on that.