Thoughts on the Triangle

WE MADE ITTTT!!!!

As the NBA season blessedly begins tonight, I thought I would do a little preseason wrap-up by expressing a few of my thoughts on the Knicks shiny-new Triangle offense. The ‘Bockers played 7 preseason games, of which I watched 5, and I have to say the system is not in place just yet (SURPRISE, SURPRISE). Still, there is good reason to be optimistic that these guys hammer out a few more of the kinks during the year and get it looking niiice in time for a run at that 8th seed.

First and Foremost

This is truly old-school basketball. The Triangle differentiates itself from the pick-and-roll initiated offenses that stir the drink of about 20 of the league’s other team. This is a system that neither has, nor wants, a dynamic drive-and-kick PG. This could be good when you realize the Knicks don’t really have one of those, but then you remember we went out of our way to specifically get a guy who would do little more than start the offense, minimize turnovers, and hit open 3s when they were there. If Calderon’s acquisition teaches us anything, its that the Triangle is here to stay. So let’s all try to enjoy it.

Meat and Potatoes

From what I’ve seen, the Triangle NEEEDS jump-shooting big men if its going to work. The offense looked its best when the initial entry pass went to Melo or say, Jason Smith after he’d made two jump shots. Their shooting ability forces the defense to honor that player and not sag off to clutter up the passing lanes.

When this happens, and our big has a little separation this leads to one of two looks.

1.) A short pass, sometimes even a handoff, to a wing player curling around the floor. The big is able to make the pass and set a baby pick at the same time, which will lead to a quick shot for the cutting wing. Melo has looked great icing these bad boys. If JR stops complaining about the Triangle and actually tries to learn it, he’s going to bury these looks as well.

2.) A handoff pass to a guard cutting towards the basket. This is where Larkin has looked awesome. He’s still too small to really finish around the rim, but he has the kind of speed to either a.) beat his defender there, b.) draw the foul, or c.) draw the help and pass back to that same big who is open for a pick-and-pop style shot.

Note: Watching Larkin work with Jason Smith, I can only imagine how Melo would feast in the triangle if he played at the four. He’s gonna either knock down the shot every time, or keep his man so glued to his hip that Larkin doesn’t see any help at the rim. This actually got me to wondering how much of Melo’s desire to return to his natural SF spot was just so he didn’t have to defend people like David West or Nene anymore. Derek Fisher should seriously be on the lookout for any team without a real scoring threat at the 4 so he can go small for a night.

The Breakdowns

What happens when the big can’t shoot? Or, even worse, is totally uncomfortable with the ball in his hands. Quincy Acy’s midrange has been on-and-off during the preseason, but the dude has ABSOLUTELY no business putting the ball on the floor. If his defender is all over him he’s just been kicking it right back to the entry passer. This causes the ball to swing harmlessly around the perimeter until one of the Knicks finally has to do something. We have very few players who can create off the dribble so this usually just leads to a contested jumper late in the shot-clock or a despicable 24 second violation. These happened A TON in our last game against Toronto.

Solutions?

There are two solutions to this kind of breakdown, both of which require a second big-man, like Dalembert or Stoudemire, who can finish around the rim.

The first is just a simple post-up. If nothing’s happening, just feed Amare in the low-post with 5 or so seconds left. Dude has looked pretty decent during the preseason in at least drawing the foul if he can’t finish. The Triangle usually dictates having someone ready in place to contest for an offensive rebound, so they are already in position for that look. I should mention, though, that every time Amare has gotten the ball he looks completely unwilling to let it go and tries to bull his way through two or three defenders. Some awesome plays, some ugly turnovers.

The second is similar to what the Knicks have been doing, which is for that other big (the C, not the PF) to cut towards the PG and get the ball to open up that handoff again. However, what I’d love to see is instead of that pass, having that big set up a high pick-and-roll. The Knicks had a lot of success with this two seasons ago and its a nice option late in the shotclock for driving towards the basket and hopefully freeing up an open man. Defenses grow increasingly more willing to clog the paint and gamble late in possessions and its highly possible we could be opening up some 3 pointers. This does require people like Calderon and Prigioni foresaking their pass-first instincts and actually attacking the basket for once. Pablo actually did this a couple of times during that Raptors game and it was AWESOME.

Final Takeaways

The lack of isolation and pick-and-roll, the mid-range jumpers, the emphasis on offensive rebounding all of these are old-school basketball strategies that the Knicks may not be used to employing. This is a system in progress and the Triangle has looked a little different in each game and with each different lineup.

However, a lot of its uglier issues, such as Knicks turnovers off of bobbled handoffs and underthrown entry lobs will simply be resolved with more practice. These are not very difficult concepts, and its easy to see that when this system is played properly it will yield very few turnovers. That should be an encouraging sign when you remember that the 2012-2013 Knicks squad led the league in fewest TOs per game.

And, at its best, this is a system that promotes some excellent basketball movement. There were a bunch of possessions this preseason where I was able to see the big picture and saw the Knicks executing a real offensive system, swinging the ball around and creating open looks. This may be part of my job, but I believe in the Triangle. I believe in Phil. And I think once we figure this thing out, our offense is going to be something special.

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