Can Carmelo Anthony Be the Triangle Offense's Next Great Star?

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Can Carmelo Anthony Be the Triangle Offense's Next Great Star?
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Every story has two sides to it. The narrative behind the New York Knicks' offense has three.

Phil Jackson came into New York last March looking to bring change to a team that ended up winning just 37 games. Coaching or not, Jackson was always going to leave his footprint on this team, a mark that includes his vaunted triangle offense, a scheme that could end up having an effect on Carmelo Anthony's future.

Anthony ran the solitary confinement offense last season: isolation all the time.

Melo isolated on a higher percentage of his plays than any other qualifier in the league last season, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). But now, he makes the move from isolation to isosceles.

It's triangle time in New York.

In its simplest terms, the triangle—or the "triple-post offense"—is an attack which pits a center in the post, a wing out on the perimeter and a guard in the corner, thus creating a triangular formation.

Because of that positioning, it requires a versatile wing who can handle a heavy offensive burden. And with a system change, the questions arise:

Can Anthony succeed within the triangle? Will he be able to fill the Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan role comfortably?

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

A guy who has averaged 25.3 points per game during his career is going to score no matter what. That's who Anthony is; it's what he does. But there are some reservations about Melo being able to change his game in Jackson's patented offense.

"He’s got to bring the whole package [to make the triangle work]," a longtime scout for an Atlantic Division team told ESPNNewYork's Ian Begley. "He’s gotta be a team player, he's got to cut harder and he's got to move the ball. He's going to have to do a lot of things that he isn’t known for doing." 

Melo does, however, have plenty of desirable traits to slot nicely into the triangle.

We know he can play in the low post and pinch post. We know he can score on the perimeter. We know he can act as one of the league's best bail-out guys late in the shot clock.

But will he be a willing off-ball participant? Will he act as a sufficient distributor within an offense that requires movement?

Phil Jackson spoke about just that back in July.

“If we’re still going to sit and rely on Carmelo to do everything and put that load on him, that’s not going to happen,” Jackson said of a Knicks team that isolated more than any other squad in the league last season, per Synergy. “Sometimes it means buying into the system and giving yourself into a process.” 

Jackson continued.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

“One of the things about the offensive system is you can’t try to score every time you catch the ball. You have to participate and you also have to have guys who are strong enough to know that there’s a whole offense to run.” 

The anti-Anthony skepticism is full of points we hear over and over again, questions burning through the minds of many Knickerbocker supporters. But the strange part is that we associate these Melo-centered uncertainties with the triangle, when in actuality, they're as specific to any other system as they are to Tex Winter's innovation.

Don't you want your star to sharpen his off-ball cuts, no matter the team's offensive style? Don't you always want him to learn to distribute properly? And haven't we been asking these questions about Melo—but just phrasing them differently—for the past 10 years?

At this point, Anthony is what he is, and as Begley explains, we do know he can provide certain valuable triangle skills:

Based on recent history, it would seem to be in the best interest of both the Knicks and Anthony to get him the ball in the post. 

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Anthony shot 49 percent in the post last season. He averaged 1.017 points per play while operating in the post, which put him in the 89th percentile when compared to the rest of the league. He also scored at least one point (including free throws) on 51 percent of his post possessions. Not bad. 

The success doesn't end there. It's not only Anthony who performs when he works out of the post. The Knicks as a team actually thrive during those sets.

The Knicks averaged 1.07 points per play on Anthony post-ups if you include passes he made out of those sets, per Synergy. That put him in the 90th percentile of that category.

How will Anthony do under Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson?

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So, maybe the whole "Melo can't distribute" narrative gets a bit too much momentum. He's no Rajon Rondo, but isn't it possible his natural facilitating skills are slightly masked by unconventional passing competence, showing up in the post as opposed to on the perimeter?

It's odd in some ways that we question whether Anthony can find success within the triangle, which has gained such unmitigated reverence purely because of its association with Jackson. In the end, the triangle is just a system. Adding any more sparkle to it is as obtuse as a triangle, itself.

Anthony's a star player. He's going to score, because stars score. That's not going to change in a new system. 

Did we question whether Chris Paul would fit into Doc Rivers' newly implemented motion offense in Los Angeles last season? Have we wondered how LeBron James will adapt after leaving an Erik Spoelstra attack that was formed completely around him?

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

No. We haven't. Because those inquiries would be silly. Because it would imply that truly great players can't fit into any given system. Because in the end, the triangle is just a scheme that throws a guard in the corner, a wing on the perimeter and a big in the post.

It might be more relevant to ponder the effects of the triangle on Jose Calderon, who's been so efficient throughout his career that it would be the world's biggest upset if he didn't buy toilet paper in bulk. Will hanging out in the corner and playing a more off-ball role possibly create a higher volume of catch-and-shoot opportunities for the 41 percent three-point shooter, enhancing his numbers from beyond the arc even more?

It's been 11 NBA years for Anthony. At this point, Melo is probably going to be Melo. Maybe a coach or a group of teammates can change that, but an offensive system alone probably won't.

In the end, any changes in Anthony's game next season will likely come down to how Derek Fisher and his staff deploy their best player. Mike Woodson relied on Melo creation all too much and ran his star into the ground, unnecessarily playing him the fourth-most minutes in the league. 

We've seen Olympic Melo move the ball decisively within an offense before. But for whatever reason, we haven't witnessed Olympic Melo during the NBA season. Because of that, the debate over Anthony's star status will rage on all it wants, but still, a dominant wing scorer is always going to have value in the triangle offense. 

 

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at RotoWire.com, WashingtonPost.com or on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Aug. 26 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. All Phil Jackson quotes obtained firsthand.

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