The triangle offense may be most commonly associated with Phil Jackson, who won 11 rings implementing it with the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. But the literal book—“The Triple Post Offense (Sideline Triangle)”—was written by Jackson assistant Fred “Tex” Winter, who started his coaching career as an assistant at Kansas State in 1947 and first served as an NBA assistant with the Rockets in 1971. Winter joined the Bulls staff in 1985, and his system would eventually help Michael Jordan win six championships in eight seasons.
The triangle is a simple enough offense, but one that hasn’t been used effectively often in the NBA. Most teams just don’t have the personnel in place to make it work. A big part of it is getting stars who are used to creating their own shots used to the idea of a more equal-opportunity system that is based more on where a shot is taken rather than who’s taking it. The advent of the three-point line, which was introduced to the NBA a full 30 years after Winter started coaching, changed things, but the basic dynamic remains the same. The first sentence in Winter’s book is this: “Set offensive patterns are designed primarily to create good scoring opportunities—the fundamental purpose of all offenses.” Makes sense.
So with Jackson installed as the Knicks president and Derek Fisher—who excelled in the system—as his coach, the expectation is that the triangle will experience a revival of sorts in New York. The question, of course, is whether the Knicks roster is capable. Reports came out today that Carmelo Anthony will likely opt out of his contract and, in so doing, chucks the deuces at learning the system. No other team has employed the triangle since PhilJax left L.A. but that’s not because it requires a big three to function properly. The second sentence of Winter’s book is this: “Methods used in accomplishing this prime objective vary widely, but an athletic axiom on which all coaches agree is ‘it is not the system, but the execution of the system, that counts.’” This isn’t necessarily about the best players, but who can run the system the best.
With all that said, we came up with a 10-man roster that we feel would excel in the triangle. Tragically, Fisher will not have, well, any of them, probably. But it would sure be fun to watch. Even for Tex.
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Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors G
Traditional point guards aren’t entirely necessary in the triangle, especially Jackson’s version of it, as everyone is expected to pass and bigger guards handle the ball and push the tempo. The point guard role is often played by a shooter—think Steve Kerr or Craig Hodges or even Derek Fisher—whose primary role is to space the floor, stretch the defense, and hit threes. There is no one better suited for this job than Steph Curry.1 of 10
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves F
A scoring threat from virtually anywhere on the floor, an excellent rebounder and the master of the full-court pass, Kevin Love is capable of both initiating and being the focal point of the offense. Jackson’s centers have been both complementary (Luc Longley) and dominant (Shaq)—Love could be both, effective in either the high or low post.2 of 10
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls C
It’s interesting—and terrifying—to think of how much MORE dominant the Jordan-era Bulls could have been with a center like Joakim Noah. A ferocious defender in the Doberman mold, Noah would also have been the team’s best passer. If Derrick Rose’s lost seasons have had any bright side, it’s been the development of Noah’s offensive versatility. His shot remains an aesthetic disaster, but it’s effective enough, and his other talents more than make up for it. He’d be a Rodman/Pippen hybrid and a matchup nightmare.3 of 10
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder G
Haha, just kidding.4 of 10
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs C
It’s hard to imagine any player better suited to Tex’s system (besides LeBron James) than Tim Duncan. Duncan has always been willing to put team first, and perfectly understands that the best shot is not always his shot and that the extra pass is often the one that matters most. “Hero ball” isn’t even in his vocabulary.5 of 10
Paul George, Indiana Pacers F
Like Tracy McGrady, Paul George is a big forward in the Pippen mold, a ballhandler who can score in so many different ways. Unlike McGrady, however, George has experienced deep playoff runs early, ensuring his focus remains on the ultimate prize rather than individual honors. George’s size (6’9” with a 6’11” wingspan), youth (he just turned 24) and versatility (21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals last season) makes him the triple-post dream.6 of 10
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat C
Chris Bosh has virtually re-invented his game since coming into the league with the Toronto Raptors in 2003. He started as a traditional back-to-the-basket power forward—albeit a skinny one—but has become something relatively new, a stretch 5. Bosh, already a decent mid-range shooter, attempted 218 threes this season after taking only 302 over the previous 10 combined. His selflessness, as evidenced by his willingness to go from the No. 1 option in Toronto to the No. 3 in Miami, makes him a perfect triangle fit.7 of 10
LeBron James, Miami Heat F
It’s no secret that Phil Jackson’s success with the triangle offense was in no small part due to his ability to get the best players of their respective generations (Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant) to buy into the system. LeBron James, the best of his, would have no such learning curve. James already looks to set up the best shot on the floor, even if it comes at the expense of his own attempts. Plus, the offense can run through him, making a traditional point guard less essential.8 of 10
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies F
Z-Bo may not be the most athletic player in the world—heck, he may not be the most athletic player in his own household—and he’s had a past reputation as a ballstopper on offense, but Memphis Z-Bo isn’t Portland Z-Bo, or even New York Z-Bo (thank God). A lefty with a deft touch around the basket, he’s an able if not totally willing passer (he had a career-high 200 assists last season) and a fantastic rebounder who excels at being in the right place at the right time. Just don’t let him shoot threes.9 of 10
Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors G/F
At 30, it’s entirely possible that Andre Iguodala is already on the downside of his career. He averaged a career-low 32.4 minutes per last season, and averaged single-digit scoring for the first time since his rookie season (when he was a 21-year old playing alongside Allen Iverson). But as a big, do-everything guard (he still averaged four-plus rebounds and assists last season) he’s a classic triangle player in the Jordan/Pippen mold. As someone who’s averaged nearly five assists a game for his career from the 2 and 3, he could also make the transition to point guard a la Ron Harper. His ferocious defense is a plus, too.10 of 10