Maybe I’m just biased when it comes to the triangle offense. I practically grew up with it. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are my top two favorite players of all time. Phil Jackson is one of my favorite basketball coaches and minds. We ran segments of it in college and I scored plenty of points using it. It’s hard for me not to love the triangle.
While the entirety of the triangle offense is definitely tedious and complex, its core principles are strictly fundamental. The concepts emphasize the basic aspects of offensive basketball that I admire — spacing, cutting, passing, and timing.
So when I see Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek saying that players don’t enjoy running the triangle, and even Phil Jackson himself confessing that the triangle is now outdated for modern players, I can’t help but be a little offended about it.
Jackson talked about the dynamic as a guest on Shaq’s podcast:
“The triangle is a different story,” he said. “How do you teach a system that requires so many fundamental skills to players that really haven’t been taught some of that basic stuff with footwork and passing and all those rudiment type of skills that are learned, that have been, that have changed over a few years? It’s a different game.”
Seriously, what’s not to love about the triangle?
I understand why it’s not attractive today. It encourages slowing the game down and incorporating the post as a consistent option, which completely goes against the fast, perimeter-oriented, three-happy trend of today’s NBA. But you still have to play half court offense. Execution in the half court is still a thing in basketball. Plus, you can still push the tempo and use the triangle.
The truth is, teams naturally find themselves in triangles on the floor even if it’s unintended. In developing his “flow” offense for the Golden State Warriors, Steve Kerr incorporated principles of many different offensive styles and concepts, the triangle included. It was described as the “cousin” of the Warriors flow offense. Kerr described their style to Scott Osler of the San Francisco Chronicle as “more random” and “less uniform” than the triangle.
So why wouldn’t you want to at all embrace a system that puts you in a terrific position to make plays? The triangle emphasizes movement but simplifies and calculates it to your benefit. It gives you freedom in the sense that the spacing will give you room to operate and make a read based on who’s cutting and diving adjacent to you. Carmelo Anthony looked as good as I thought he would in the triangle because of his scoring ability in those angled mid-post areas on the court. He’s become more comfortable coordinating the triangle, too.
The triangle is for players who don’t mind thinking the game on a fundamental level, which frankly is what makes it outdated. That doesn’t take away from its functional properties as one of the best offensive frameworks ever created.
For someone who came up on Jordan and Kobe, I would argue that players should almost aspire to play in the offense that those two won championships with. It might go against the grain of how the game is progressing, and it’s definitely not for everyone, but I’ll always be able to recognize the timelessness and beauty of the triangle offense.