The Triangle and the Current Lakers

Kurt —  August 13, 2007

Rather than a post about my 12-team trade that would get the Lakers Jermaine O’Neal — and they only have to give up a rack of basketballs and two Laker girls to be named later — regular poster Renato Afonso sent in a very good breakdown of the triangle offense and how the current Lakers fit into it. I added a couple links for the people who like visuals, but these are his thoughts and his opinions — I do not agree with all of them but it is a good breakdown and a great place to start the conversation. Take it away Renato:

The Basics
As the name tells, it’s all based on two triangles that must exist at all times, no matter where a player moves to. Those triangles exist on both the strong side (3 players) and on the weak side (2 players).

The triangle is actually a system where players may choose different ways to start the play and exploit every mismatch that exists if they want to. Each option implies the existence of well defined places that players can occupy almost at will, as long as everyone adjusts accordingly. And each option has a certain degree of freedom that can and should be exploited by the offense.

One common misconception is that sometimes there’s an overload of 4 players on the strong side, which is basically wrong. Whenever you see that overload, it means one of two things: A) One player is totally out of his place; B) The player on the top of the key is not on his place, approaching the strong side to facilitate a pass from the sidelines (which causes havoc on the offense if that pass is actually made).

The Roles
Each position fills a need of the team, but when the triangle is used to perfection, it doesn’t matter who does what, as long as they occupy their place.

PG: He just has to bring the ball forward and read the defense and the mismatches that exist and exploit them. He should be taller than average not only for defensive purposes but also to allow exploring the weak side early on, allowing the PG to post up with just two passes off the dribble without compromising the play or letting the defense know that that’s the option being used.

SG/SF: They basically have the same role in this offense, with height being the only true difference between them. Since the PG (or ball carrier) chooses the side where the offense starts, playing the SG or the SF is a matter of choice or design (or luck) on each and every play.

PF: The most important player in this offense — a team playing the triangle offense without a PF able to rebound and hit the mid-range jump shot consistently won’t win (unless competition really sucks, which is not the case here).

C: Since the offense was originally designed for a quality big man inside, no further explanation is needed here.

How It Works
This offense allows great flexibility on every move or cut, allowing multiple options at all times. Of course, once every player has an option during the offensive motion, the triangle efficiency is proportional to the basketball IQ of the players on court. And that’s the reason why it takes a long time to learn and why Phil Jackson prefers seasoned vets over young guns — and the intangibles as well.

The real key is simple — whenever a pick is set, the player in motion has the option to make a small curl towards the basket allowing him to take an easy mid-range jump shot. So, the players better be good at it. (Editors note: Think about how many times MJ did that.)

What The Lakers Have
PG: For starters, the Lakers have the guards with high basketball IQ and ability to read the game. They might not be the best at it, but they are pretty capable. Maybe they lack some consistent three-point shooting touch, but we don’t have a glaring need at the spot now. Farmar might develop really well into the system.

SG: Kobe. He should rely more on the play and use the picks more wisely with better shot selection. But hey, the man does have some skill. Evans is a decent backup, although his jump shot could be better. No harm done here.

SF: Luke Walton is the perfect triangle player. Nothing else needs to be said. Radmanovic should fit perfectly as a backup, if he ever understands the system.

PF: Lamar Odom is the biggest asset we have in this system. The PF spot allows the player to play inside when he has the advantage or to draw the defender outside if he’s physically stronger. Should Lamar convince himself of the bonus his versatility brings to the offensive motion when spotting up near the top of the key on the weak side and maybe the Lakers could reach higher levels. Turiaf brings intensity on both ends, which is more than enough.

C: Mihm is nothing but a great (one of the best backups offensively) backup. Kwame doesn’t have real low post skill. Bynum is not matured yet (third year leap coming, probably).

A Word About Defense
This post is strictly about the triangle offense, and Lakers needs are far greater on the defensive end. There’s no problem on trading for defense, as long as the main concepts of each position are filled properly.

Bottom Line
We really should trade for a quality center, but if you think about it Jermaine O’Neal is not a true center. Maybe we could even improve our starting point guard, but do you think you can bring a great perimeter defender with high basketball IQ who used to play in the triangle system and who happens to be available? If you do, start a petition and I’ll sign it right away. And yes, the defense needs to be greatly improved, but is someone willing to sacrifice what Walton brings in order to get a top-notch perimeter defender? I’m not. But I’d give up Radmanovic in a heartbeat.

Everyone wants to win, and Kobe has the best NBA system in order to win titles. The path for a title isn’t easy, specially in this West, but I can bet you that this roster would be top 3 in the East with strong possibilities to reach the Finals. If I was Kobe, bringing this roster to the next level (with maybe a small tweak here and there) should be the greatest challenge of his career and in case of success, his greatest accomplishment. (I personally think he cannot do that and we should trade him fast, but that’s a whole different story.)

The best offense…
…is not the triangle. In my opinion, a pure flex is the best offense ever created, but it requires players with similar skill and who are really fast in order to exploit all mismatches. I played flex until I was 18 and then switched to a team who plays the triangle (I’m now 26). The triangle gives us far more options and can be really evil on a defense who is actually trying, but I had the most fun playing the flex… (played the flex again for 1 year when I was 20).

Hope you enjoyed this analysis and start addressing the Lakers problems properly, without thinking on possible trade scenarios (a.k.a. WTS) just to keep Kobe happy.

Renato Afonso