Why Jose Calderon Is a Good Fit for New York Knicks Triangle Offense

Dylan MurphyFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2014

Dallas Mavericks' Jose Calderon (8), of Spain, celebrates after scoring a three-point basket in the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, Friday, May 2, 2014, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 113-111. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

With the acquisition of Jose Calderon, the New York Knicks gained a serious upgrade at point guard.

Not only is Calderon a much better ball-distributor than former Knicks point guard Raymond Felton, but he's a much better shooter as well. It's this versatility both as a shooter and ball-handler that will serve Calderon well in the triangle offense, which New York is expected to install under the direction of Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher.

Calderon's 44.9 three-point shooting percentage ranked near the top of the league all season last year, and he shot better than 50 percent from the corners, per NBA.com, which was among the league leaders as well.

For most point guards, corner three-point shooting is often de-emphasized in a typical offense. The 1 typically resides at the top of the key with the ball, swinging it to shooters in the corner or receiving it back for wing/top-of-the-key threes. His domain is more in the middle of the floor. 

But now that the Knicks seem poised to install the triangle, New York will feature an offense that typically sticks its point guards in the corners (see here for a more complete explanation of a potential Knicks/Carmelo Anthony triangle setup).

The triangle offense is said to neutralize the impact of point guards by using a two-guard front—the two lead guards, typically the point guard and shooting guard. The two mirror each other by standing elevated above the three-point line and aligned with the paint, then cut to the corners, which will actually be to Calderon's benefit.

In the simplest sense, this will maximize Calderon's corner three-point shooting. Though he's certainly a capable passer and more than qualified to run an offense, his single most dominant trait is his shooting. Especially if Anthony returns to the Knicks, Calderon won't have the ball in his hands as much to impact the game from a ball-handling perspective. 

But even without Melo, the basics of the triangle optimize Calderon's three-point shooting. Here's an example of the Lakers running a basic triangle action against the Dallas Mavericks back in 2010, Jackson's last year coaching the team. The play starts with Kobe Bryant swinging the ball to Metta World Peace, with Bryant following the direction of his pass and cutting to the corner:


This is where the triangle can sometimes diminish the role of the point guard: Notice how on this play Kobe initiates the offense. Because the triangle has predetermined cuts and movements, the idea is that any of the five players can fill any spot. Here, Bryant is technically the 1. 

Eventually Bryant reaches the corner, creating the literal triangle between himself, World Peace and Pau Gasol.


Let's imagine Calderon is in Bryant's spot: If this is Stoudemire, Melo or any other post threat, sticking Calderon in the corner does two things: First, it sucks away help on the post entry, making it an easier pass. Because Calderon (Bryant) is one pass away, his defender can't sink in too far. One quick swing and the defender is too late to recover as Calderon bangs a three.

Once the ball is entered into the post, the triangle typically dictates some sort of action between the guards: a clear-out, a pin-down screen, something.

But the same doubling principle pre-post-touch applies once the post player has the ball: Calderon's defender can't double the post without leaving a 50 percent corner three-point shooter open. Especially if this is Melo in Gasol's place, it becomes quite the sticky situation for the defense.

Now let's say the ball swings back to the other side of the floor, as it eventually will in this example. What if Calderon is in Steve Blake's spot? Now we have a two-man game on the other side of the floor off the elbow. Because of the screening action on the weak side, the help defense is occupied:


Isolated pick-and-rolls can be dangerous, but these "pinch post" actions can cause even more problems because of the added threat of an isolation closer to the rim. Does the big hand it off, as Bynum does here, or does he keep it and attack? If this is Melo (Bynum) off the elbow, does Calderon's (Blake's) man help? If he does, Melo can kick it to Calderon for an open three-pointer. 

This type of two-man action puts a ton of pressure on the defense, because it's just a matter of picking your poison. Only stellar defense will deny a good shot from being available. Here, the help defense is late as Gasol flashes to the rim—it has too far to rotate as it tries to handle the screening action on the weak side. Blake hits Gasol, Bynum heads backdoor and Gasol finds him for the dunk.

Ultimately it is players who are versatile who fit best in the triangle. While Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were great players independent of the triangle, their ability to play offense from anywhere on the floor allowed them to thrive in it. Pau Gasol could play from the high post and low post. Scottie Pippen was something of a basketball everyman. 

Even players like Steve Blake, Lamar Odom and Ron Harper were able to thrive because they could do multiple things on offense. There were certainly places for the specialists, whether it be three-point shooters like Steve Kerr or low-post players like Shaquille O'Neal. But the heart of the triangle as an offenses rests with versatility.

This is what Calderon brings as an offensive threat. He can function as the 1, 2 or 3. He can pass. He can score. He can stand in the corner and shoot threes. Whatever role he's forced to play on a given possession, he can do it very well.

This will help him succeed in the triangle and should aid the transition from Mike Woodson's isolation-style offense to one that counts on ball movement and intelligent basketball.