When Phil Jackson was first hired as president of the New York Knicks, fans rejoiced at the idea of Carmelo Anthony riding the triangle offense to a championship as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant both had in the past.
Now after some early-season struggles, criticism of the Knicks’ stagnant offense has begun to sprout as people have suggested everything from finding a new point guard or better passing big men to scrapping the offense altogether and starting over.
Yet while it’s absurdly early in the season to be drawing conclusions, it’s never to soon to take a look at the history of the offense and how the triangle has fared in the past.
So what exactly is the triangle offense and how was it created?
Here’s the five facts you need to know:
1. Phil Jackson May Have Popularized the Offense but he Didn’t Create It
The first traceable concepts of the triangle offense come from Hall of Fame coach Sam Barry who coached basketball, football and baseball teams at the University of California until 1950.
The offense was then further progressed by another future Hall-of-Famer in Tex Winter, who learned the triangle offense from Barry as a player on one of his teams at USC.
Winter would then go on to be a very successful college coach, eventually landing in the NBA as an assistant with the Phil Jackson coached Chicago Bulls in 1985 and the Phil Jackson coached Lakers in 1999.Winter was also a consultant for the Championship Lakers teams of 2008 and 2009.
The 92-year-old Winter does not currently have any role with the Knicks (in case you were wondering).
2. The “Triangle” Comes From how Players Align Themselves on one Side of the Floor to Begin the Offense
With a guard in the corner, a forward on the wing and the center beginning on the block, the offense begins with a literal human triangle. From the triangle, the offense then delves into a series of movements and passes based on the defense’s reaction.
In the triangle offense all five players on the court are theoretically interchangeable, and because of the read and react nature of the offense there are rarely any set plays. For a more in-depth look at how the offense is supposed to run watch the video above or check here.
3. New York isn’t the Only Team Running a Form of the Triangle Offense This Season
While certain principles of the triangle such as dribble hand-offs and cuts can be found in almost every NBA offense, the Nuggets are the closest thing behind the Knicks to running a pure triangle offense. This can be credited to head coach Brian Shaw, who both played and coached under Phil Jackson and the triangle offense with the Los Angeles Lakers.
4. Disciples of the Triangle Offense Other Than Phil Jackson Have Not Fared Well
Jim Cleamons was the first of Phil Jackson’s coaching tree to get a shot at a head coaching job when he was hired by the Dallas Mavericks in 1996, it, however, did not go well. Cleamons was fired only 16 games into his second season after a 4-12 start. In his only full season with the team, the Mavericks were the second worst offensive team in the league.
Next to get a shot at installing the triangle as a head coach was Kurt Rambis who actually made the playoffs as a head coach in his first lockout shortened season in 1998 with the Lakers. Rambis’ next stop, however, did not go as smoothly as he lasted two season with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010 and 2011. Under Rambis, Minnesota won only 15 and 17 games respectively, and finished with one of the worst offenses in the league both times.
The most recent of Jackson’s coaching tree to get a head coaching job (not including Derek Fisher) is Brian Shaw, the current coach of the Denver Nuggets. While the jury is still out on Shaw as a head coach, he went 36-46 in his first season and finished with the 16th ranked offense in the league.
5. Don’t Expect the Triangle Offense to Deliver Right Away
Due to the complexity and the possible lack of personnel to fit the triangle offense, it often takes a season or so before success with the triangle is evident. Even Phil Jackson, the most successful user of the offense, took two seasons with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen before winning a championship.
For this reason, James Dolan and Knicks fans should probably expect success eventually, but not anytime this season.