Which NY Knicks Do and Don't Fit the Triangle Offense?

Luke PetkacFeatured ColumnistOctober 7, 2014

Derek Fisher is installing a whole new offense in New York.
Derek Fisher is installing a whole new offense in New York.Mike Groll/Associated Press

It will take time for the New York Knicks to adjust to the triangle offense. The constant flow and whirring movement of the triangle bears little resemblance to the Knicks' old, isolation-heavy offense, and New York will experience some growing pains along the way.

That doesn't just apply to the upcoming season but to the Knicks' future as a whole. The triangle is a complicated beast, and it's not for everyone. This season will, in part, be about finding which players fit best in head coach Derek Fisher's systemand which may be suiting up for a different team down the road.

The Knicks haven't been exposed to the triangle offense for long, but it's possible to assess who may be a good fit based on past play. But before getting into that, let's take a quick look at the triangle itself.

 

Triangle Offense

The triangle offense is extremely complex, so for the sake of space, this will cover just the basic framework of what the Knicks will be running this season.

The triangle is a read-and-react offense, meaning it rarely has set plays. Instead, there's typically a primary action that can trigger several different secondary actions depending on what a player sees or how the defense reacts. The idea is to keep the offense churning at all times and never allow it to break down into an isolation where four guys just stand and watch. Option A flows into Option B flows into Option C, etc.

The offense is based on (would you believe it!?) a triangle that forms between a big on the low block, a forward on the wing and a guard in the corner. The other big and guard hover on the weak side. The role that a player has in the offense is by no means static, but the actual positioning of the five rarely changes. Nearly every set run in the offense starts out looking something like this:

Courtesy of YouTube

From there comes several primary actions which, if necessary, trigger different secondary actions. We'll run through the primary actions, but any Knicks fans hankering for a really detailed look at the new offense should do themselves a favor and check out the YouTube video posted below. “Coach Daniel” does a terrific job breaking down the system in a way that's easy to understand (several of the graphics used here are courtesy of that video).

The first, most common set in the triangle offense is an entry pass from the player on the wing to the player in the post. Immediately following the pass, the triangle wing and guard will cut across the court. That opens up all kinds of possibilities—an isolation for the big, a pass to one of the cutters, a curl off a screen for a jumper...you name it.

Courtesy of YouTube

Courtesy of YouTube

The second main set is a simple pass from the triangle wing to the weak-side wing if no entry pass is available. Following that pass, the weak-side wing and big will attempt a give-and-go, which typically features the wing curling around the big.

Courtesy of YouTube

Courtesy of YouTube

In the third and final main action, the triangle wing passes it directly to the weak-side big, who moves toward the high post. That immediately triggers the weak-side wing to cut toward the basket like so:

Courtesy of YouTube

Courtesy of YouTube

Again, this is a very basic look containing none of the triangle's secondary options, but it does give some idea of what the offense is all about and how the Knicks may run it. Smart off-ball movement, shooting and passing (especially from bigs) are key in the triangle, while a lack of off-the-bounce creation can be somewhat mitigated by the system. Now let's look at how each Knick might fit.

 

Good Fits

Carmelo Anthony—6'8", 230 lbs

This should come as no surprise. Carmelo Anthony is one of the best all-around offensive players in basketball. He'd fit any system.

Anthony is a killer shooter, an underrated passer and a nightmare cover in the post and one-on-one situations. He could conceivably fare well playing every role in the triangle, giving the Knicks a huge amount of flexibility on that end.

Anthony will likely have some freedom to break off from the triangle and go one-on-one with a defender if he feels he has a mismatch. Some problems could arise if Anthony does this a bit too often, but overall he's a perfect fit for the system and should benefit hugely from the constant movement and churn of the offense.

 

Jose Calderon—6'3", 210 lbs

Jose Calderon honestly couldn't have wound up in a better spot than New York this season.

Calderon's off-the-dribble game is all but gone, but that hardly matters for guards in the triangle. Shooting, however, matters quite a bit, which is something Calderon does very well. He's hit over 44 percent from deep in each of his last three seasons, and his ability to shoot off-the-bounce threes should give the Knicks a fun offensive wrinkle.

 

Langston Galloway—6'2", 202 lbs

Langston Galloway is likely just a body for training camp, but he really is a good fit in the triangle.

Galloway was a 43 percent three-point shooter at Saint Joseph's and took over 800 shots from deep in his college career. That's impressive. He's also a decent passer and rarely turned the ball over last year, per Sports-Reference.com.

 

Pablo Prigioni—6'3", 180 lbs

You may be noticing a pattern here. Essentially, everything that was written about Galloway and Calderon earlier also applies to Pablo Prigioni. He can't get into the paint unassisted anymore, but he's a dynamite shooter who protects the ball, and the Knicks couldn't ask for much more out of their backup point guard. He's the archetypal triangle guard.

 

Iman Shumpert—6'5", 212 lbs

Being asked to do less work off the dribble should do wonders for Shumpert.
Being asked to do less work off the dribble should do wonders for Shumpert.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Iman Shumpert's erratic play makes him tough to peg, but I'm going out on a limb and betting that he excels in the triangle.

Shumpert has been a horribly inefficient scorer thus far in his career, but the Knicks' uninspired offense deserves a lot of the blame for his struggles.

Last season, Shumpert was forced to create half of his baskets, per 82games.com, including a whopping 73 percent of his two-pointers. He's a so-so ball-handler at best, and asking him to do that much was a mistake—one that playing off the ball in the triangle should help rectify.

The big question mark is Shumpert's shooting, which has teetered between very good (40 percent from deep in 2012-13) and very, very bad (32 percent from deep in his other seasons).

If Shumpert can't hit from outside, then his utility in the Knicks' offense drops off a cliff. There's reason to be optimistic about his chances—he hit 36 percent on catch-and-shoot threes last year and was dynamite from the corners—but he does have something to prove.

Shumpert sounds excited about the new offense and certainly has the tools to excel in it. Until he proves otherwise, he's penciled in as a fit.

 

Amar'e Stoudemire—6'10", 245 lbs

Amar'e Stoudemire was sneaky good offensively after the All-Star break last season and should find similar success in the triangle offense.

Stoudemire's not a noteworthy passer, but the triangle's focus on constant movement and hard cuts to the basket is right up his alley. Stoudemire made a living rolling to the basket and finishing at the rim with the Phoenix Suns. He's not the athletic terror he was then, but he draws a lot of attention when he cuts to the paint and is still very good around the rim.

Courtesy of Instagiffer

Stoudemire may struggle to play sizable minutes this season because of knee and defensive issues, but he still brings a lot to the table offensively.

 

Travis Wear—6'10", 230 lbs

Like Galloway, Travis Wear will struggle to make New York's roster, but he fits well enough into the triangle to be interesting.

Wear is basically the opposite of most big men. He rarely shoots around the restricted area, preferring instead to float around the perimeter and high post, where he was very effective at UCLA, per Hoop-Math. He also racked up a pretty impressive assist rate (10.2 percent, per Sports-Reference) for a big last season.

Wear's very real defensive limitations will probably prevent him from sticking, but he's intriguing nonetheless.

 

Decent Fits

Andrea Bargnani—7'0", 225 lbs

Brace yourselves: You're about to read a semi-optimistic take on Andrea Bargnani. I can't believe it either.

Honestly, in terms of skill set, Bargnani's a solid triangle big. He's a good shooter inside the arc, an average passer for a center and, despite his reputation, a strong finisher at the rim. Bargnani's not the ideal triangle big by any means, but he should be functional, and it's been a while since he's been worthy of that kind of (admittedly tepid) praise.

 

Cleanthony Early—6'8", 219 lbs

Cleanthony Early is thought to be a great fit in the triangle, but it's hard to see that based on his college play. Early is a solid shooter for his size (37 percent from deep last season) and should make for a decent cutter and roll man.

However, he's also a dreadful passer—he posted just a 6.4 percent assist rate, per Sports-Reference—and struggled to get to the rim by himself, per Hoop-Math. That's a bad sign, especially considering Early's advanced age for an NBA rookie (he's 23 years old). Shot creation isn't wildly important for triangle forwards/bigs but is certainly useful, and passing is a must.

The Knicks obviously think Early is a good fit in the offense, but some skepticism is definitely warranted right now.

 

Tim Hardaway Jr.—6'6", 205 lbs

With a little work, Tim Hardaway Jr. should fit in the triangle as a cutter and shooter, but his passing is a big concern.

It's not that Hardaway is a bad passer. He just...doesn't pass. At all. Last season, Hardaway passed the ball 17.3 times per game. Only Marcus Thornton and Maurice Harkless played as many minutes as Hardaway and passed the ball less frequently. And neither of those guys has built a reputation for unselfishness.

In summer league play, Hardaway broke out of the offense and freelanced a few times to the tune of some badly bricked deep jumpers. The coaching staff isn't going to like that much if it happens in games with actual meaning.

 

Shane Larkin—5'11", 176 lbs

Shane Larkin really struggled offensively with the Dallas Mavericks last season, but it was a weird, injury-shortened year, and he was so awesome at Miami that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The Knicks have two great triangle guards in Calderon and Prigioni, so Larkin likely won't get many minutes this season. But if he straightens out his shooting (32 percent from deep with Dallas), he could be a lot of fun in the future. Larkin is a very good passer and a super athlete who could be a great cutter down the road.

 

Orlando Sanchez—6'9", 232 lbs

Orlando Sanchez is a 26-year-old (!!) rookie from St. John's. He's probably just another training camp body, but he might be worth keeping an eye on anyway. He finished a massive 79 percent of his shots at the rim last season per Hoop-Math and showed off some truly impressive court vision at times.

Courtesy of Instagiffer

 

Jason Smith—7'0", 240 lbs

Jason Smith fails most of the conventional “triangle big” tests. He's not a particularly good passer and not mobile or athletic enough to be overly dangerous cutting to the basket. Still, he's so good at spacing the floor that he can't be considered a bad fit for the triangle.

Smith doesn't take threes but is deadly from 16 feet and beyond. Last season, over 60 percent of his offense came from that area on the floor, as he shot 47 percent from there. He's only a so-so defender, but his shooting gives New York a lot of options. He could be a nice fit alongside Anthony in fun, all-offense lineups.

 

J.R. Smith—6'6", 220 lbs

J.R. Smith certainly has the skills to be devastating in the triangle. He's a terrific three-point shooter (39 percent last season), an underrated cutter and could feast on the weak-side two-man game that the triangle opens up.

Still, Smith loves to go one-on-one with his defender, and only time will tell if he can play within the triangle and avoid freelancing too much. Over the past two seasons, Smith has been assisted on under 20 percent of his two-point baskets. The Knicks' iso-heavy offense obviously deserves some of the blame, but even so, those are crazy numbers.

Much like Hardaway, Smith's tendency to improvise is worth monitoring. But even if he does break out of the system a bit too much, he should be fairly successful in it.

 

Poor Fits

Quincy Acy—6'7", 233 lbs

Quincy Acy is a banger who plays with a lot of energy and crashes the boards like crazy. That makes him a lot of fun to watch, but it doesn't exactly translate to playing in the triangle.

Acy has spent most of his career lurking around the basket and does the vast majority of his damage in that region. He did flash a decent jumper with the Sacramento Kings, but he'll have to improve to be of much use in the triangle offense.

 

Samuel Dalembert—6'11", 250 lbs

Offensively, Dalembert can't do much more than score on the occasional roll to the basket or offensive rebound, so what can you call him but a poor fit for the triangle? The new system will likely help him out, as he should get more easy looks around the basket, but he's not exactly going to open up defenses with Tyson Chandler-esque rolls to the rim.

Dalembert is far and away the Knicks' best defensive big man, but given his limitations, it'll be interesting to see how New York juggles playing him and its more offensive-minded options at center.

 

Cole Aldrich—6'11", 245 lbs

Aldrich had some good moments last year, but it's hard to picture him getting regular time.
Aldrich had some good moments last year, but it's hard to picture him getting regular time.Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Meh. Cole Aldrich is similar to Samuel Dalembert, except Dalembert is simply better on both ends. In his defense, Aldrich put up impressive numbers in the Knicks' final two games last season and may get some minutes by virtue of his rebounding alone. But overall, he's a very limited offensive player, and New York has better bigs to choose from.

 

Travis Outlaw—6'9", 210 lbs

There's not much to see here. Outlaw's best attribute is probably outside shooting, and he only shot 35 percent from deep last season—it's not as though he's setting the world aflame from there. Yahoo! Sports' Dan Devine summed it up nicely when he recently wrote:

We have several more years' worth of evidence that Outlaw isn't a very good option anywhere in the lineup. He's shot 38.2 percent from the field and 30.7 percent from 3-point land over the past four years, the already brutal Kings performed even worse with him on the floor than off it over the past couple of years, and he hasn't sniffed a league-average Player Efficiency Rating since 2009.

 

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference unless specifically stated otherwise.