NBA Rosters That Would Flourish with the Triangle Offense
Why wouldn't an NBA team consider running an offensive system built around five players operating as one? A system, mind you, that propelled two franchises to a combined 11 championships from 1991-2010?
That question still boggles the mind of the offense's most decorated taskmaster in basketball history.
Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson, with a big assist from Tex Winters, created a pair of dynasties on the strength of the triangle offense. The Chicago Bulls won six titles in a span of eight seasons under Jackson's direction, before the Zen Master took his talents to the Los Angeles Lakers and added five more rings to his championship collection between 2000 and 2010.
Jackson took to Twitter to defend his system's ability to translate to today's game:
Pundits say triangle is passé. Tired of hearing it used as excuse for players. System basketball takes dedicated coaching basic skills;— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) August 15, 2013
The isolation, pick-and-roll schemes that dominate the NBA landscape are the result of a league-wide laziness, in Jackson's opinion at least:
Footwork, passing, reading defense, and team work. The state of bball now is s/roll which is controlled by the dribbler is the easy way out.— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) August 15, 2013
He might sound a little like a curmudgeon here—when's the last time someone lauded the attitude and approach of a younger generation?—but his track record gives him free rein to criticize however he sees fit.
Besides, there's some validity to his statements.
Admittedly the triangle offense, with the mental and physical demands it forces on players, isn't for everyone. A wing who can slash, shoot and distribute, bigs who can share the ball and score on the low block and an unselfish point guard aren't luxuries in this offense—they're necessities.
Combine those with the right blend of instincts, intelligence, determination and talent, though, and it's a game plan that carries the promise of an abundance of riches.
Los Angeles Lakers
A steep learning curve is unavoidable when implementing a system with this many reads and this many layers. As former Laker Luke Walton told NBA.com's Joe Gabriele "Every time there's a pass, you have 20-some options."
Luckily the Lakers would have a leg up on their competition. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol won a combined seven NBA titles running the triangle under Jackson, so the proper reads and reactions are already embedded in their memory banks.
The rest of the roster would largely be forced into the classroom—Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar have both played for Jackson—but many of them could find the lesson plans to be to their liking.
The triangle creates numerous pick-and-react situations, so Steve Nash could bring more than just his corner three-ball to this system. The key to the triangle is creating optimal floor spacing, so his dribble penetrations would remain an asset.
Chris Kaman has both the interior scoring (62.9-percent shooting at the rim last season) and mid-range touch (52.1 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line) that this offense demands from its bigs. Nick Young (career 37.4 three-point percentage) and Jodie Meeks (36.7) can hold their defenders at bay, and both are comfortable attacking off the bounce.
There's a reason that Bryant, Gasol and the rest of the Lakers Nation have been pining for Jackson's return or at least that of his system. Sadly that day will probably never come, but it's still fun to imagine it, right?
San Antonio Spurs
If there's one team that doesn't need a face-lift, it's Gregg Popovich's San Antonio Spurs. Under Pop's leadership, the Spurs have captured four of the last 15 NBA titles.
But tackling the triangle offense for this team would not require wholesale changes in personnel or philosophy. The basic principles of spacing and ball movement have been staples of San Antonio's system for more than a decade.
There's a misguided belief that point guards are diminished, wasted even, in the triangle offense. The theory largely stems from the fact that the offense is initiated by the point man finding one of his wings, racing to the corner and then waiting for a look at the basket.
Tony Parker has earned second-team All-NBA honors in each of the last two seasons. Why would San Antonio risk letting that talent go to waste?
It's simple: The Spurs wouldn't have to. One of the beauties of the triangle is the fact that the pieces are all interchangeable. As long as there are three perimeter players and two post men on the floor, traditional position designations are meaningless.
If Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard or even Boris Diaw initiated the set, then Parker could be the one kick-starting the play from the wing.
His options there would be almost endless. He could look to feed the post, work the pick-and-roll game that he and Tim Duncan have perfected, find a shooter in the corner or at the top of the key or attack his man 1-on-1.
Plug Ginobili or Leonard in a wing position, and either of them have the capability to create out of any of those situations. The Spurs have willing passers in bigs Duncan and Diaw, post scorers in Duncan and Tiago Splitter, slashing threats in Parker, Ginobili and Leonard, and a limitless supply of perimeter snipers.
Popovich, like Jackson, has a proven system that needs no tweaking. But if he's looking for a change, the triangle could certainly treat this team well.
Brooklyn Nets first-year coach Jason Kidd has plenty on his to-do list for the upcoming season, none of which would cause as many headaches as gaining even a working knowledge of the triangle.
Given owner Mikhail Prokhorov's plan to literally win at all costs, though, this roster might fit the system too perfectly for Kidd to not at least consider it.
Deron Williams told The New York Times' Howard Beck that he's "a system player," which was his way of describing his lackluster performance during his first season-plus with the franchise. While Williams was referring to former Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan's motion system, he could find an even quicker path to the All-Star ranks in the triangle.
At 6'3", 210 pounds, he has the build to maintain effectiveness at the wing. Last season he played 14 percent of Brooklyn's minutes at the shooting guard spot, via 82 Games, and tallied an 18.5 player efficiency rating during his time there.
The freedom in this system would suit Williams' creative arsenal well. It would also position Brook Lopez for a return trip to the All-Star Game, as his interior scoring touch (68.6-percent shooting at the rim in 2012-13, via Basketball-Reference) demands heavy defensive attention.
As the defense collapses, the number of efficient scoring chances for Brooklyn's supporting cast would grow.
Kevin Garnett's a dead-eye shooter from anywhere inside the arc (50.4 percent last season, per Basketball-Reference) and a willing setup artist (career 3.9 assists per game). When cutting and passing can't generate an efficient look in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson remain two of the best shot creators in the game.
Throw in Brooklyn's new-look shooting arsenal, and it's at least possible that Prokhorov asks for the triangle to be part of his nine-figure investment in 2013-14.
The Future of the Triangle?
A Jackson return, which fiance and Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss recently wouldn't rule out, still remains the most likely path for the triangle's return to prominence.
Will the triangle make its way back to the NBA?
But it's not the only path.
With Jackson disciples Kurt Rambis (Lakers) and Brian Shaw (Denver Nuggets) alive and well on NBA sidelines, the chance to capture the glory of their former master might be too tempting to pass up.
Shaw doesn't have the roster for this offense, and Rambis will have to answer to Mike D'Antoni next season, but both coaches remember the good old days of triangle triumphs.
Days, as Jackson sees them, that shouldn't be banished to the history books just yet.
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