It’s March, and we’re still talking about the triangle! This time, however, Shaquille O’Neal puts a positive spin on basketball’s most intriguing set.
The New York Knicks have been on and off about running the triangle ever since Phil Jackson came to them. Derek Fisher tried to implement it but ultimately stopped. Jeff Hornacek did the same during training camp before calling it quits before going back to it recently. Now, O’Neal, who won three championships as the centerpiece of this offense, puts the blame on the players and not the coaching staff. Here’s his soliloquy from Monday’s game between the Knicks and Clippers, as transcribed by ESPN:
“It works. When you’re a player, you’re used to doing something one way, and you bring in a system, a lot of guys don’t like to give up their habits. But the triangle, the ball can’t stop. It can’t stop.
“If you look at how the [Knicks’] second team runs the triangle, guys who don’t have a lot of experience in the game and a lot of habits, they ran a lot of it late in the fourth quarter and got a couple of backdoor plays. It definitely does work. Look at the guys, when Phil put this team together, I was liking it: [Kristaps] Porzingis, Carmelo, Rose, [Joakim] Noah. I said, ‘OK, it’s going to work if they embrace the triangle. I like it.’ But again, the ball can never stop.”
As complex as it is, it’s simple. It’s a motion offense once you strip everything down, and it’s predicated on movement and smart passes executed by high IQ players. Heading into the year, people were optimistic about the Knicks ability to run this offense, and it’s because of something Shaq alluded to — the players.
The four guys he listed are all solid and more than capable of running the triangle if they wanted to. However, I’m not sure they want to. Rose and Anthony aren’t pass-first guys and their future in the Big Apple is up in the air; why waste a couple of seasons to get used to running this brand new offense when you could wind up on contender during free agency or by way of a trade?
“Guys are stubborn — it took us a while to break it, too. When we first started, we were doing terrible. I had to look at the mirror and say, ‘OK, I was probably one of the main problems.’ Because I like to get the ball and tell everyone to move out of the way and get to work, so I had to look at the mirror and say, ‘Let me try it.’ It became easier. I get it. [Guys] cutting, and it opened up for me and made it easier for me.”
Unlike O’Neal (27), Kobe Bryant (21), Michael Jordan (27) and Scottie Pippen (25), the main cogs of the triangle are beyond their prime. The two duos were fortunate enough to land under Jackson when they were at the height of their powers.
Moreover, the likelihood of the Knicks returning to relevancy is low because there’s so much going on with the organization. They’re just 27-43 this season, and the triangle isn’t going to save them from mediocrity. As lethal as both the Bulls and Lakers were, Jackson’s offense didn’t lead them to 11 titles. They had defenses that were nearly lockdown every season, and that’s also something the Knicks don’t have.
What O’Neal noticed, along with Knicks fans, is that the younger guys have more success running the triangle because they’re just playing basketball. No one has an agenda aside from what’s best for the team, and shunning the rebuild while trying to run this offense isn’t going to work.
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