Do Brooklyn Nets Have Right Pieces to Make Phil Jackson's Triangle Offense Work?
Jackson has expressed interest in coaching the Nets, according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, but it will take some give from owner Mikhail Prokhorov:
Jackson would want to explore all aspects of the job -- from roster to personnel decisions to philosophical compatibility -- with the team's decision-makers…Coaching in New York is "a situation that would intrigue him," the person familiar with Jackson's thinking said. "He has a lot of history with that place."
A boatload of money and a future front-office position won’t hurt either.
In Prokhorov’s unending quest to make a global scene, outdo the New York Knicks and bring a championship or two to Brooklyn, all of the above (and everything Jackson wanted from the Lakers) will be laid at his feet.
But Jackson’s fickleness is well known. He is unlikely to agree to anything less than a team that can run the triangle into annual contention and with the potential to win it all (and probably more than once).
The Nets don’t have players the caliber of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, and Brook Lopez is no Shaquille O’Neal. But they do have a starting core that should be able to run Jackson's triangle effectively enough in time.
First, though, what exactly is the triangle offense, and how does Phil Jackson use it? Take a look at this walkthrough:
For a longer (six minutes and 33 seconds), more comprehensive breakdown of the basic triangle offense, including opponents’ responses to triangle play, review this video: "Triangle Offense vs. 3-2 vs. 1-2-2 Zone Defense."
The triangle offense is a complex scheme that requires four skills of all players on the court: mobility, good hands, adept passing and accurate shooting.
Specific players in the triangle offense need to employ screens, fast cuts, and high- and low-post play.
Where do the starters for the Nets fit in?
Deron Williams, Point Guard
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Deron Williams will have no problem running the triangle offense. He has a high basketball IQ and is an above-average ball distributor.
His assists are down this year—worst since his rookie season—but the triangle would remedy this.
Williams is not the speediest guard around, but he’s quick enough to pass and make it to the corner for a shot if open. And Williams, of course, can score and draw defenders.
Phil Jackson has run the triangle with B.J. Armstrong, Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher at the point, so Williams is more than capable.
In the triangle offense, though, the ball will often be out of the point guard’s hands once the play develops. This might not sit well with Williams, who has complained publicly about two coaches’ offensive systems failing to properly use him.
Jackson can rein in Williams’ temperament.
Joe Johnson, Shooting Guard
Shooting guard is a more important position in the triangle offense. Joe Johnson would be following in the footsteps of Jordan and Bryant, so there’s simply no comparison to be made here.
The veteran’s best offensive days appear behind him, and he is having an off season in terms of production and accuracy, but the triangle would recharge Johnson’s play. It would boost his scoring back up to 20 points per game, and it would boost his accuracy to match (or surpass) his lifetime shooting percentage of 44.3.
Each improvement would be a result of the space the triangle offense creates for Johnson’s shots.
Jackson could utilize Williams to pick up some of the backcourt scoring slack (which would suit the point guard fine) and, as Sporting News suggests, “rid the Nets offense of isolation plays for Joe Johnson.”
Johnson also accounts for 20 percent of the Nets’ assists, so he can move the ball around plenty to make the triangle work.
Gerald Wallace, Power Forward
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Gerald Wallace has been starting at power forward since Avery Johnson relegated Kris Humphries to the bench in early December.
Wallace’s versatility would be an asset to the triangle offense—he can rebound, assist, move all around the court and score 15 per game on 47-50 percent shooting at his best.
Wallace is not afraid to throw a physical screen down low, either, an essential component of triangle play. His highest percentage shot (58 percent) also comes off the low post and two-on-ones under the basket.
He can hit from the corner as well, which is also helpful in the triangle offense.
Keith Bogans, Small Forward
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With Humphries not cutting it and Wallace moving up to the 4, Keith Bogans has meekly stepped in at small forward.
Bogans presents an offensive problem to the triangle: He has no offense.
But Bogans can hit from three (40 percent), and if he swings along the baseline to either corner, his chances are closer to 50 percent, which makes him a triangle specialist of sorts.
Wallace is probably better at small forward in this scheme, though, because his offense covers more of the court inside the arc.
This would open the door for Humphries to start at power forward again. He can handle both the high and low posts, he isn’t too bad from the elbow, and his offensive rebounding would keep the ball moving around.
Brook Lopez, Center
While Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries can contribute in the low post, it is Brook Lopez who would be the Nets' dominant post player. He has a fan in Jackson, who favors Lopez over Dwight Howard at center.
ESPN reported Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal are in agreement on Howard:
[Howard has a] more limited offensive game than traditional back-to-the-basket centers Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez. “Brook and Andrew are guys who have good touches. They're good scoring players and they have good offensive games,” Jackson said.
Lopez can throw a mean screen, is a good ball-handler and can pass. He’s pretty mobile for a big man and most importantly is close to 60 percent from anywhere in the key.
Howard Beck of The New York Times considers Lopez, along with Williams and Johnson, “natural fits in Jackson’s triangle offense.”
So, the Nets do have the pieces to make Phil Jackson’s triangle work. It would improve the team, maximize its offensive potential and maybe even help Brooklyn vie for a No. 3 seed.
But even with Phil Jackson, this team is still a player or two short of championship contention, triangle or no triangle.
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