Brace yourselves, New York Knicks’ fans, because it appears the Triangle offense won’t entirely be thrown away, as both Kristaps Porzingis and head coach Jeff Hornacek admitted this year’s offense will in fact use elements of the controversial system.
While Phil Jackson is no longer with the team, both the star player and coach admitted the Zen Master’s beloved offense will stay behind…in small doses.
“I saw some elements from the triangle,” Porzingis admitted following the team’s first training camp practice. “I think it’s always good to know an offense that’s worked in the past. We worked on it a little bit today and probably going forward we’re going to do some things with the triangle.”
In all honesty, the primary principles of the Triangle offense are used by most every team in the National Basketball Association. The system highlights cutting without the ball, setting and slipping screens, spacing, and high-percentage shooting.
Countless squads, including two of the more successful teams like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, have infused some of the Triangle’s elements. Both teams possess all the aforementioned qualifications to successfully run parts of the offense’s sets – particularly the Warriors, whose head coach, Steve Kerr, played for Jackson and won a bunch of rings together in Chicago.
Porzingis is that rare player in the NBA who can excel in multiple offenses. He’s 7-foot-3, but not a lumbering sort. He can shoot 3s, put the ball on the floor, make smart and timely passes, and can skillfully cut to the basket. He spent the summer working abroad on his post-up and mid-range shooting games, so once he gets those down pat, there won’t be an offensive set that seems foreign and uncomfortable.
And contrary to what many thought about his supposed disdain for the Triangle, Porzingis noted otherwise.
“It’s always good for everybody [to learn the Triangle], even if we’re not playing it,” said Porzingis. “Just to know some other teams use elements from that offense to defend that better, or for yourself, [or] for your basketball IQ. It’s going to be good for everybody to know that.”
The first day of camp featured a lot of sets where players were cutting without the basketball, performing dribble handoffs, and spacing. Those that have watched the Triangle offense dating back to the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen days with the Chicago Bulls to the Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant days with the Los Angeles Lakers can hearken to such action and movements. Sure, those four are Hall of Famers and all-timers, so any offense would look good, but even for teams like the current batch of Spurs that may only have one bonafide superstar in forward Kawhi Leonard, the essence of the Triangle offense can enhance a player’s ability.
Running the Triangle offense as the primary system may not garner the same type of success as in years past, and it was a flawed approach in New York under Jackson’s watch, but incorporating it in increments has clear benefits.
And like Hornacek reasoned after Tuesday’s practice, ball is ball. It’s really all about how well you execute the offense, no matter what it’s called.
“Those are basketball actions,” Hornacek said of the cutting, ball movement, and dribble handoffs evident in today’s drills. “If you’re going to throw the ball in the post and run some split actions — you guys [media] want to call it Triangle – that’s basketball. Yeah, some of that we ran last year [but], it’s just basketball stuff.”
During Friday’s press conference, Hornacek didn’t even say the name ‘Triangle,’ but did stress the importance of the spacing and cutting aspects of the vaunted system.
“The style that guys are liking to play is a little bit different [than the Triangle]. We’re going to open it up and get some different things out there,” Hornacek said. “The biggest thing for us is to try to put our guys in the best position. Whether it’s post-ups [or], if it’s outside shooting 3-pointers. You look at the roster, you look at the player’s strengths, and you try to build from there.”
The pieces are there for the Knicks to have a successful offense, regardless of what the system is called. Porzingis, Willy Hernangomez, and Enes Kanter are all athletic and skilled big men who can face up or post up and create mismatch opportunities.
The newly acquired shooters are all masterful at getting buckets from distances. Whether it was in college (rookie Damyean Dotson who nailed 3.4 buckets from beyond the arc, last season, at the University of Houston) or as already established scorers (Michael Beasley, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Doug McDermott), there are plenty of guys who can spread the floor.
Hornacek said he plans to push the pace and spread the floor beyond the three-point line, much in the mold of the Warriors. The Knicks obviously lack the star power the defending champs possess, but anything is better than last season’s snail’s rate, where New York ranked 15th in pace and 21st in 3s attempted.
Just the mere mention of the word “Triangle” gives Knicks’ fans agita. But if Hornacek’s tweaks work and shots fall often, the tortured faithful won’t care what the system is called.