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An Overview of the Basketball Triangle Offense

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After the Lakers won the 2010 NBA Championship there was a great deal of discussion on the famous triangle offense that Phil Jackson has used to win 11 of the last 21 NBA titles.

With that in mind let's take a quick overview of the offense as well as some of the advantages of running it.

Tex Winter has long been credited with being the originator of the Triangle offense but he has often said that he learned the basic principles of the offense from Sam Berry, his college coach at the University of Southern California in the 1940's.

Even though Winter used the offense (then known as the Sideline Triangle) with great success for decades while coaching at the college level, it didn't become famous until Winter became Phil Jackson's assistant n 1985 and started implementing it with the Chicago Bulls.

In its most advanced and purest form, the Triangle is a free flowing, "read and react" type of motion offense with ball and player movement that is determined by what the defense is doing. However, because the Triangle has a myriad of scoring options, it can also be used as a "set play" offense until all the details are learned and understood. Even though this is not as free flowing as what we have seen the Bulls and Lakers run over the years, it still allows the Triangle to be an extremely effective offense at all levels.

No matter how the Triangle is run, there are several advantages worth mentioning. First of all, the offense provides great spacing making it very difficult for the defense to help or trap without leaving someone wide open. Secondly, the Triangle can be run against both man and zone defenses and can be started out of a multitude of different sets including a 1-4, a 2-3, a Box, and with a dribble entry. The Triangle can accommodate all types of post players whether that post player is a passer/rebounder (Bill Cartwright), a physical beast (Shaquille O'Neil) or a skilled scorer (Pau Gasol). Since young post players are typically slower to develop offensively, running the Triangle lets you play that big body or strong defender without discarding your offense until his scoring skills improve.

Possibly the biggest advantage of the Triangle Offense is that all positions are interchangeable in order to exploit the defense. For example, when you look at the current Lakers team, players such as Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest may each play the point, the high post, the wing, and the low post all on subsequent possessions. Since each position requires a different skill set to defend, some type of mis-match is almost inevitable.

Despite all the advantages, there are some areas of concern when running the Triangle but most of those concerns are with executing the basic fundamentals of the game and not with the offense itself. To be most effective, all players need to be unselfish and need to be above average passers. While there are plenty of opportunities to get to the rim in this offense there are even more opportunities for strong post play and open jump shots. A lack of outside shooting would enable the defense to drop off the non -shooters and would negate the advantages gained by great spacing.

Like all motion offenses, the Triangle gets better the more teams (and individuals) run it so coaches must be patient and not give up on it when it doesn't look very smooth during the beginning of the season.

To learn more about the Triangle offense and all its options you can study Tex Winter's book and DVD series. Geno Auriemma (UCONN) and Tara Van Der Veer (Stanford), who lead their respective women's teams to the NCAA Championship game this past April, also have their versions of the Triangle available on DVD.

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