Principles of the Triangle Offense

To ensure that players would be capable of executing this freelancing style, the offense was created with fundamentals and sound principles in mind.  The offense seeks to follow these seven principles of sound offense:

1.  Penetration.
The offense seeks to compromise the defense by penetrating the frontline defenders.  This is best accomplished through the fast break.

2. Spacing.
Proper spacing ensures that any attempt to help, trap, and recover requires defenders to travel 15 to 20 feet from player to player.  When the defense commits, an offensive player should always be open.

3. Ball and player movement with a purpose.
Players must move and move the ball with a purpose.  The offense should keep the defense occupied on and off the ball.  Players are indoctrinated with the mantra "there are five men and one ball, so each player will only have the ball 20 percent or less of the time the team is in possession of the ball."

4.  The ball handler must be able to pass to any of his four teammates at any given time.

5. Offensive rebounding and defensive balance.
On all shots taken the offense provides strong rebounding positioning and defensive balance to get back and prevent the opposition's transition opportunities.

6. Versatile positioning.
Every player should be able to fill any spot on the floor regardless of their role.  All positions are interchangable.

7. Utilizes individual talents.
Tex liked to say that Michael Jordan taught him this principle. The offense should be able to utilize it's best players and put them in the best positions to score.

With these principles in mind, it's easy to see why the triangle has the positions on the floor it does.  The post is featured heavily in the offense so that a player is only one dribble away from the basket.  Because of this deep penetration, any attempt to double asks defenders to traverse at least 15 feet from their assignment, opening up another player in the offense.  In spite of basketballs trend to keep 4 out and 1 in for a drive and kick game, the triangle asks it's weakside wing to stay within 15-20 feet of the ball to keep that player as an option for whoever has the ball.  Even with the weakside wing playing inside, perimeter players have plenty of space and great angles to attack the basket.  This also affords the offense better offensive rebounding opportunities by placing two players close to the basket at all times.

There are other simple principles that the coaching staff constantly preaches to the players of the triangle offense:

- "You are always in the offense."

If you watch Shannon Brown in this clip, you'll see that despite being lost at times, he is "always in the offense"

Kobe makes the N.1 entry pass into Matt Barnes in the wing position.  Brown wants to fill the strong side corner but sees that there is an opportunity to isolate against Yao in a solo.  So Brown backs off.  Barnes swings the ball up top to Kobe.  Brown initially goes to fill the wing position, but Odom gets there before, so Brown fills the corner instead.

Despite the failed solo, the swinging of the ball allows for a center opposite for Barnes.  None of these actions are called or setup, the players simply fill the first available position on the floor and execute their options from there.

Barnes comes across to fill the post and form the triangle, but Odom immediately makes a N.2 pass to the top.  This pass keys two actions:
1. Wing man runs a rebound screen cut
2. Weakside wing to the pinch post.

The play breaks down but Barnes is ready and alert, cutting behind the defense to the void below the free throw line and is able to finish around Yao for the layup.

- "You can't make a mistake in the offense if you hit the open man or cut to the open area."

Here, Steve Blake and Theo Ratliff establish a solo. Ratliff sees that Blake is going to be open in the garden spot and makes the skip pass.  Kobe, who is directly behind Pau (leaving his man no one to guard), is able to easily free himself for the pass.  Martin is left in no man's land so Kobe forces Pau's man to help by penetrating, leaving Pau wide open for the dump pass and easy two.

- "If you have a direct line to the basket, break the offense and go to the basket."

In this clip, Pau trails the ball, bringing Yao out of the paint.  Yao, being uncomfortable guarding the perimeter, sags off of  Pau, allowing Kobe to easily swing the ball to Pau up top.  The rest of the Rockets are caught ball watching, and with Yao out of the paint, Odom is able to slip from the post right under the basket for the easy finish.

For players to succeed in this system, they must always be in the moment, ready to react and adapt to any situation.  Despite the complexity of the offense's options, the triangle emphasizes fundamentals and principles that are simple and as old as basketball itself: "Get to the open area. Leave space for other players. Don't pass and stand."  Armed with these fundamentals and principles, each player is empowered to make their own decisions  rather than function as predictable robots of execution.  Because of the fundamental nature of the offense, the only adjustment necessary from season to season is an emphasis on particular series of options, so that certain individual abilities and strengths might be utilized.  Dedication to fundamentals, asking the players to actually think, and system flexibility have allowed the triangle to escape the scrutiny of the best NBA minds and stand the test of time.