Can Triangle Offense Work for New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony?

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Can Triangle Offense Work for New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony?
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

After a long dance that eventually lured Phil Jackson to New York, there have been many rumblings concerning the future of Knicks head coach Mike Woodson and the type of coaching staff Jackson might hope to build for the future.

Due to his reliance on the triangle offense, early reports linked the potential coaching search to Jackson disciples who would willingly install and teach the principles of his most famous offensive tool. And with Jackson's insistence that Carmelo Anthony is a part of the Knicks' long-term plans, the question remains: Does Anthony even fit the triangle offense?

To answer that question, let's start with a basic understanding of the triangle's Xs and Os structure. Though the offensive philosophy demands spacing and fluid player and ball movement, there are certain cuts and passes that trigger particular aspects of the offense.

Richard Drew/Associated Press

The beauty of the system is that it doesn't require any style of player; post players, shooters and volume-scoring guards can all find their niche in this offense. To be perfectly honest, the offense doesn't really need a point guard. What's more is that it's a system, and not set of plays. There are basic rules and actions, with different plays evolving from there. 

This makes it really easy to run once players gain familiarity, allowing for an extremely smooth style of play with players easily getting in sync. Instead of having to sprint to different spots and remember different actions based on different play types, the triangle blossoms like a tree. One choice leads to two options, which leads to three more, and so on.

All in all, it's a bit too complex to cover without a lengthy demonstration. Check out these two videos by Coach Nick of BBallBreakdown to understand the basics. 

In terms of the Knicks, we'll cover two simple triangle actions that perfectly align with Anthony's style of play. 

The first is known as "pinch post," in which a player flashes to the elbow and operates from there. 

The first thing to know about the triangle is that it operates out of a two-guard front, initiated by the "moment of truth," when the 1, the lead guard (point guard), chooses where to pass. Based on defensive pressure both on and off the ball, the 1 will make the appropriate pass to initiate the next several actions. It is also incumbent upon the off-ball players to read the pressure and get open if necessary. 

The primary pass is from the 1 to the 3 on the wing. If that pass is denied, the 1 swings the ball across the two-guard front to the 2. This is known as a lag pass, but we'll just stick with the primary option for now and assume the ball gets to the 3.  

The 1 then cuts to the strong side corner, forming a triangle between 1, 3 and 5—from where the name of the offense originates.

Dylan Murphy

Playbook Key: 

Straight line = Cut

Squiggly Line = Dribble

Dotted Line = Pass

Circled Player = Player With Ball

Notice that the 5 is in the mid-post, and not buried on the block. This allows him to operate from either the mid-post, elbow or block, depending on the defense/player type. If Anthony were operating out of the 5 spot, he might want to catch on the elbow. 

This is all counter to most traditional offenses, which use a point guard at the top, two wing players on either side, and bigs located on some combination of the elbows and blocks.

After the 1 loads to the strong side corner, the 2 slides over to the top of the key, catching a pass from the 3. (The primary option is a pass to the 5 for a post-up, but the Knicks don't have a true low-post threat outside of Amar'e Stoudemire.) The 4—Anthony, in this example—then lifts from the block to the elbow and catches a pass from the 2.

As this action occurs, the 3 sets a wide pin down screen for the 1, who pops up top.

With Anthony now holding the ball at the elbow, the 2 cuts right around him and toward the basket. Maybe that's a dribble handoff, or maybe the 2 is open cutting backdoor to the hoop. If he gets none of these options, his designated cut is to the corner.

Okay, that was a lot. Here it is diagrammed:

Dylan Murphy

There's weak-side action with the pin down to occupy the help defense, as well as a lot of pre-movement and ball swinging to keep everything moving. One of the triangle's principles is to never hold the ball for more than two seconds, and all of this helps to accomplish that. 

At worst, we now have an elbow isolation for Anthony to go to work. While the Knicks already have a lot of that built into their offense, the difference here is that the rest of the team is moving, cutting and working off-ball.

Anthony could certainly hit the 1 popping up off the pin down. He has the 2 cutting right off him for a bunch of different pass types. All of this compromises the help defense, stopping the opposing team from loading up on the iso

Now let's take this play in a slightly different direction, adding a dribble handoff and moving Anthony to another spot on the floor. We'll also stick Tyson Chandler in the play at the 5, which he plays for the Knicks.

Again, the same initial action as 1 passes to 3, and 1 loads to strong side corner. Here we have our triangle again, this time with the 1, 3 and Melo. Though there are many options here, for our sake we'll say that the 3 swings it back to the 2 as before. Chandler then lifts, and the 3 hits Chandler. 

Dylan Murphy

It all should look the same thus far, just with Chandler in Anthony's spot and Anthony not involved in the play quite yet. But because we have Chandler with the ball at the elbow, we probably don't want him isolating. The 2 will do the same backdoor/corner fade action, but if nothing's there, Chandler will have to get rid of the ball.

Here's where the triangle adapts for this possibility: Instead of the 3 setting a wide pin down for the 1 as we saw with the previous play, the 1 slides in with the 3 to set a double screen for Anthony. Anthony curls around that screen and heads toward Chandler. The 3 can also duck-in, meaning he slides into a post position, looking for a quick layup with his defender pinned behind him.

Here's what it looks like, depicted in the left frame:

Dylan Murphy

Chandler now takes a dribble or two at Anthony and executes a dribble handoff. Remember that Anthony's defender is now trailing him due to the double screen, giving him an advantage heading into this second screen. The 5 then rolls to the rim, and the 1 and 3 space. See the right frame above.

Again, all of the same principles remain. All of the movement frees Anthony before he gets the ball. It also muddles up the rest of the defense, with so many choices available for the person with the basketball. 

But most of all, it gets Anthony going onto his right hand only 15 feet away from the rim. As opposed to starting in isolation from the baseline or top of the key, as he usually does, he's already moving without the ball in an extremely dangerous position.

Not to mention that he has the 5 at the rim, a dribble attack against an already compromised defender, or a kick to a corner three-pointer if the 2's defender over-helps.

Now let's take a look at the triangle in action with the Los Angeles Lakers. Here the Lakers run both options described above, first with the pinch post option and then the dribble handoff. Pau Gasol is in Chandler's place, and Kobe Bryant in Anthony's. 

The Lakers also add a lob option, in which Gasol cuts backdoor from the elbow just as a little wrinkle to start the play. Every once in a while, they might get that pass. 

Everyone has heard of the triangle offense, but really understanding its basics should give you an even greater appreciation of its beauty. In New York, Anthony is a prime candidate to be its centerpiece. He's great at operating from the elbow and mid-post areas, and much of his offensive game resembles that of Bryant and Michael Jordan, the offense's two most famous players. 

Whether or not the Knicks use the triangle at some point remains to be seen, but it could be a nice change of pace for a team that often suffers from stagnation and ball-watching.

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