Is the Triangle Offense Outdated?

With the NBA draft in the rearview mirror, it’s time for the New York Knicks to turn to the free agency market. The Knicks will have over $20 million to spend in free agency. They will most likely target players who can fit into the Triangle Offense. But is the Triangle Offense the best offense for the Knicks?

When basketball fans think of the Triangle Offense they think of a few things. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant come to mind. Phil Jackson and his 11 championships come to mind as well. But what is the Triangle Offense?

To put it lightly, the Triangle Offense is the complete opposite of everything the NBA is today.

The Triangle Offense stresses a few main points. Ball movement, high post passing, mid-range jumpers, and limited point guard use are all staples of the famous Triangle Offense.

While all NBA coaches are stressing ball movement to their players, the mid-range jump shot is considered the worst shot a basketball player can take.

Now, the Knicks do have one of the best mid-range shooters in the NBA in Carmelo Anthony, but there is a reason as to why people consider the mid-range jump shot to be the least efficient shot in basketball. It has the same reward as a layup, but at a farther distance. That is why teams are taking more three point shots than ever before. The extra point makes up for how far the shot is.

If you remember, the reason for the Knicks success back in 2012-2013 was the heavy reliance on the three point shot.

They hit a record 845 three pointers that season. That team was a representation of the modern NBA. That offense got the Knicks to the second round of the playoffs, a place they hadn’t been in over a decade.

The Knicks decided not to take a lot three pointers this season. They ranked 21st in three pointers attempted and 20th in three pointers made and that got them to the cellar of the Eastern Conference.

Jason Szenes / EPA
Jason Szenes / EPA

So while the Knicks were jacking up mid-range jump shots, the other 29 NBA teams were evolving into more efficient and effective offensive strategies. Getting to the basket, free throws, and three pointers are all staples of the modern NBA. Big men are stepping out beyond the three point line while point guards are penetrating the defenses and kicking out to open shooters.

Meanwhile, the Knicks ranked in the bottom half of the league in almost every offensive category. They ranked 29th in free throws attempted and made. They ranked 29th in field goals made and 28th in field goal percentage. The offense could have been better if the Knicks would fill a certain position.

Point guards have become the premier position in the NBA. Almost every team has an above average point guard. If you don’t, then your behind.

The Knicks have failed to realize this in large part because the Triangle Offense doesn’t utilize point guards like the NBA does now. Think back to all of the Phil Jackson coached teams. Players like Derek Fisher, Steve Kerr, and John Paxson come to mind. None of those men had the skill that today’s point guards have. They would simply spot up beyond the three point line and wait for the ball to come to them, while guys like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan would do the bulk of the ball handling.

But the modern NBA is different.

Point guards do everything now. They drive, score, pass, defend, rebound, shoot, and run the offense.

So while most NBA teams have elite point guards, the Knicks have failed to acquire one. Knicks point guards are usually men who are in their mid-thirties, with limited speed and quickness. This leads to the Knicks constantly getting torched by opposing point guards because the Knicks point guards are simply used as spot up shooters and nothing more. This has also led to a rather stagnant offense from the Knicks. They ranked 19th in assists per game las season. That is not the ranking you need in order to win a championship.

The Triangle Offense is a great offensive system, just not for today’s NBA style. Look at what Steve Kerr did in Golden State. He was smart enough to realize that the Triangle Offense doesn’t work in the NBA right now. So instead, he took pieces from the Triangle and implemented it into his offense and he was rewarded with a championship.

If you watch a Golden State Warriors game, you can see the ball going into the high post while the wing players cut to the basket. That’s classic Triangle Offense. You will also see the modern NBA as well.

The Warriors have arguably the best point guard in the game in Stephen Curry. He runs the fast break, moves the ball, gets to the free throw line, and of course, shoot threes.

So while the Triangle Offense doesn’t fit today’s fast paced three point shooting NBA, the fundamentals of the Triangle can’t be ignored. Ball movement and cuts to the basket should be implemented into every NBA offense. But the principles of the Triangle just don’t fit into the NBA today.

Teams try not to avoid mid-range jump shots. Teams are turning down open layups, for even more open three pointers. The point guard position is loaded with talent.

Phil Jackson must swallow his pride, follow his protégé in Steve Kerr, and realize that the Triangle Offense as a whole won’t work in todays NBA, but there are pieces of the Triangle that can help lead the Knicks back to the promised land that has eluded them since the 1970’s.


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