The Triangle Offense hasn’t worked as well as the New York Knicks have hoped. Just don’t be so quick to judge the incomplete structure of the system.
Between 1991 and 2010, no two words truck more fear into the hearts of opposing defenses than, “Triangle Offense.” Tex Winter’s patented system was the basis for 11 championship runs, featuring six titles won by the Chicago Bulls and another five by the Los Angeles Lakers.
The system’s success spanned multiple decades and ever-changing eras, which beckons the following question: why isn’t it working for the New York Knicks?
The head coach of those 11 championship teams was Phil Jackson. Jackson is now the team president of the Knicks, and he’s taken it upon himself to build a coaching staff that can implement the Triangle Offense.
It’s a rational approach, but thus far, the results have been lackluster.
Some have hypothesized that the system isn’t a proper fit for the modern era. Its heavy emphasis on post play and the midrange game fail to comply with the elevated emphasis on point guards and 3-point shooters, as well as the irrationally perceived decline in the importance of interior scoring.
While that all holds some measure of truth, it’s far too soon to write the Triangle Offense off in its entirety.
The results have been underwhelming, and that simply will not fly in the city of New York. The Knicks haven’t won a title since 1973, and thus, every single season will come with unrealistically high hopes and expectations from fans and critics alike.
The reality is, New York doesn’t currently have the talent to properly run the system—something that could change in the very near future. So why are we evaluating it as if it does?
It’s Only Been Two Years
This is the second season that Phil Jackson has been team president of the New York Knicks. Nevertheless, many are wondering why Jackson hasn’t, at the very least, elevated the Knicks to the point of being strong enough to reach the 2016 NBA Playoffs.
Fair as that question may be, there’s one factor that has been consistently overlooked: Jackson’s only had two offseasons, and the second was quite successful.
The first offseason under Jackson’s watch was one with minimal cap space and a desire to clear the roster of all current assets.
That much is clear in the fact that the only players who were on the 2013-14 roster and are currently present in 2015-16 are Carmelo Anthony and—that’s it.
This past offseason, Jackson signed Robin Lopez and drafted a player whom very few believed would pan out: Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis has taken the Association by storm, Lopez has been the perfect complement, and the Knicks currently rank No. 1 in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage at the rim.
Most importantly, Jackson has built the foundation for the successful execution of the Triangle Offense—and the slow process is something we all should’ve expected.
It’s a Process
DeAndre Jordan can’t hit a free throw or a hook shot, Greg Monroe doesn’t play defense, and Marc Gasol was staying with the Memphis Grizzlies from the start. LaMarcus Aldridge wanted to play for an instant contender, Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard were restricted free agents, and Rajon Rondo was coming off of a horrendous season.
Realistically, who did you expect the Knicks to sign this past offseason that would’ve made it a championship contender?
Monroe is a solid player, but he’s never been to the playoffs and has already been benched and placed on the trading block by the team he signed with. Jordan is a dominant rebounder and shot-blocker, but the Knicks’ rim protection is still No. 1 in the NBA without him.
Considering the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs could’ve and would’ve matched any offers to Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard, respectively, the Knicks had no chance to sign either of those All-Star wings.
As Jackson has maintained from the start, he is slowly and methodically building the contender he believes New York can become. There have been mistakes during his tenure—the Jose Calderon trade remains puzzling—but he’s made some significant moves that have drastically improved the future of the organization.
It’s the offseason that’s nearing that should be viewed as critical to Jackson’s tenure as team president.
Wrong Franchise Player
The NBA community has rationally targeted Carmelo Anthony as a victim of Phil Jackson’s process. That’s entirely understandable considering Jackson re-signed Anthony to a five-year contract, and has since delivered back-to-back failed attempts at making the postseason.
Here’s the thing: fans are focusing on the wrong franchise player.
Anthony deserves better than this, but Jackson doesn’t seem to be building around Anthony; he’s building around the player Anthony can become. That process has begun in 2015-16, as Anthony, long known as a volume scorer with tunnel vision, has played at a high level on both ends of the floor.
The 31-year-old is holding opponents to 40.4 percent shooting from the field, averaging a career-best 4.2 assists per game, and is trusting his teammates more than ever before.
That’s where the construction of the Triangle Offense begins. Anthony is embracing a team-first mentality, Robin Lopez and Kristaps Porzingis are anchoring the defensive interior, and the latter is being developed as the future face of the franchise.
All that’s left is finding the ideal level of backcourt play, and we all seem to have suddenly forgotten how Jackson found a diamond in the rough in Langston Galloway, and improbably traded for Jerian Grant.
Porzingis is a modern big man who can space the floor, attack from the post, and anchor the defensive interior. While Anthony is becoming a more well-rounded player, Porzingis is developing into the low and high-post playmaker who can anchor the Triangle Offense.
Painful as it may be to watch in its current state, calling the implication of the Triangle Offense a failed project is rushing to judgement.