With little to no live sports to engage the millions confined to their homes; #TheLastDance has captivated the country. And for us coaches desperately seeking scheme to steal or scrutinize, the Triangle offense has emerged as a relevant conversation starter. During the 1991 to 1998 seasons, the Chicago Bulls won 6 NBA championships under the guidance of Phil Jackson as the head coach. Inspired by Tex Winters while on staff as an assistant, Jackson implemented the Triangle offense to increase ball movement and player movement despite the early dissent from Michael Jordan. From there, the rest is history.
Will we see a resurgence in the installations of the Triangle offense? Doubtful, but one can hope my future opponents are considering it after watching the docuseries. Jokes aside, the Triangle offense can stylistically be compared to the Flex, Princeton, or Swing offense. It is a pass-predicated motion offense with a prevalence of basket-cutting and off-ball screening. As today’s game continues to trend towards more ball-skill styles of play; it is rare to see programs consistently run offensive continuities as a base offense where the ball sticks between passes seeking a cutting teammate at the rim for an entire possession. Today’s game is sold on the storytelling of pace. And the Triangle offense does not fit that narrative.
Yet, I would venture to guess that nearly every system across the country embeds something conceptually from the Triangle offense. Mostly, we see it in early offense entries or specific sets that flow into the universal open-motion spacing to stay consistent with the increasing reliance of perimeter play. Of those entries or sets here are the four most common actions:
- Pistol Early Offense
- Low-Post Splits & Squeeze
- Spread Offense to 2-Man
- Blind Pig Pressure Release
Pistol Early Offense
When I think of the Triangle offense there are two core components that come to mind:
- Strong-side entry, strong-side fill
- Two-man pitch & play
The “Pistol” action is a common NBA action often seen in early offense or late-game hurry-up. Initiated between the primary ballhandler and another perimeter player from the same side corner. Outside of the trailing big coming into the play at the top of the key there are a lot of similarities conceptually to the Triangle offense. There are a variety of progressive reads that can take place between the two-man game on the wing, including the “Corner” action that the Bulls & Lakers both included with a big-to-little ballscreen in the – you guessed it – corner of the floor. The “Pistol” offense applies both staples of the Triangle offense with strong-side action between perimeter players and two-man progressive reads based on how the action is defended. Even the same fundamentals that were incessantly hammered by Phil Jackson during early Bulls’ practices were incorporated with Steve Kerr during the installation of the Warriors offensive system.
“Kerr began every practice with push passes and toss-backs just as he used to, and the Warriors reacted similarly to how Jackson’s Bulls did: “You’ve got to be kidding.” Horace Grant Blog
Low-Post Splits & Squeeze
The most recognizable triangle from the offense is following the strong-side entry, strong side-fill to the corner with an occupied post. As a pass predicated offense, following the post-entry initiates cutters baseline and come-together referred to as the squeeze cut. Within the last decade, it used to be sufficient enough to simply basket-cut or relocate for spacing, now it seems like entries/actions are initiated after a post-entry pass.
Spread Motion into 2-Man
If there was an offense that emulates the Triangle offense the most in contemporary basketball I would anoint Dana Altman’s or Brad Underwood’s Spread Motion offense. It is a pass-predicated offense with a lot of weakside screening action that flows into the 2-man pinch post pitchback and/or play. With a designed continuity the Spread Motion can play side-to-side with multiple reads throughout an entire possession based on how the variety of defenders make decisions per action. The constant action with an inherent understanding of where the ball should gravitate to given the time, roles, and the situation has allowed some college stars to flourish under this system.
Blind Pig Pressure Release
What was once a staple as a set or possible counter to denial of the 2-man action within the Triangle offense has now become a common pressure release for many teams on offense. Here is an example of the Grizzlies during the Marc Gasol era executing multiple pindown sequences with an overplaying defense by quickly flashing to the elbow to find backdoor cutters towards the rim.
So, what if I told you that the Triangle Offense still exists today?
Conceptually, it will forever be ingrained in our sport.