Does anyone use the triangle offense other than Phil Jackson? He won 11 rings with it. In the NFL, teams copy each other all the time. How come teams don't copy Phil? I don't think the argument that 'Phil and Tex Winters' are the only guys who really understand it. These are professional coaches that typically have decades of experience in basketball before getting a job.

  • While I think this question is somewhat subjective in nature, this article covers a lot of interesting points about the Triangle Offense. This author implies that the offense is hard to implement because it requires high player knowledge/awareness, rather than set plays that are easier to follow since this is a "flow style" offense. (One reason you see Phil implement it so well - he's regarded as a pretty smart coach).
    – Nick
    Aug 27, 2013 at 18:18
  • thank you for the link. Very interesting. That being said, these are professional athletes. These are the best people in the world at what they do. This is their job and this is all the players do for years. I find it surprising that coaches don't think players can figure this out.
    – Bob
    Aug 28, 2013 at 15:54
  • I found it a weak excuse as well.
    – Nick
    Aug 28, 2013 at 18:18
  • @Bob more often than not athletes are taught, from young ages on, to optimize their physical form before their in-game intelligence. I would argue that a player with really good game awareness is a talent that's rarely taught by training. At any rate it's a highly subjective matter, so I'll leave it at that :)
    – posdef
    Aug 29, 2013 at 14:26
  • 2
    @posdef Right, which is exactly why I brought up my point. Working on the physical side gives players the chance to compete whereas the mental side provides an advantage...which is a reason, imo, for teaching youth athletes the practice you state.
    – user527
    Aug 29, 2013 at 17:52

4 Answers 4


This article by Chuck Klosterman does a good job of explaining why. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. "The easy (and lazy) answer is that no one uses the Triangle because it’s too complex...The Triangle is perhaps the only offensive set any casual NBA fan can identify by name, despite the fact that no one outside of Phil Jackson’s coaching sphere can describe how it works with any clarity."
  2. Phil Jackson's explanation (in 2012 mind you) - "When asked why the Triangle is disappearing, Jackson suggested that it’s a hard offense for an impatient person to teach to modern athletes: “The problem with the Triangle is that you have to teach the most basic, basic skills: Footwork. Where you stand on the floor. And if you have the kind of player who wants to attack and score every time he touches the ball, he will hurt this offense.” In general, Jackson sees the league imprudently moving away from post-oriented sets: “The game is evolving into a 3-point shooting game. You can’t win a championship with a European offense"

  3. "The strength of the offense is that all five players are interchangeable and that anyone on the floor can occupy the post (assuming that player has the best post matchup)."

  4. "By decreasing the import of the lead guard and having two players share ballhandling duties, the offense’s emphasis was shifted to the baseline. That brand of thinking conflicts with the current NBA climate, in which so many point guards have emerged as high-profile superstars."

The emergence of the Golden State Warriors disproves that you can't win with heavy emphasis on 3-point shooting. It should be noted that the coach of the Warriors, Steve Kerr played under Phil Jackson, understands the triangle very well but also realizes the limitations the offense given its reliance on post-up players and long to mid-range two point shots as described below.

In a separate article the emergence of advanced analytics, which uses math to optimize playing styles based on the expected outcome of various actions, greatly discounts the value of the mid-range jump shot. In short players should mostly take 3-point shots (because the payoff is 50% higher than a 2-pointer) or very high shooting percentage 2-point shots like dunks and layups. From this article:

"On the other side, one of the biggest skeptics of analytics is the Zen Master, Phil Jackson... This also comes to the defense of his famous Triangle Offense which is predicated on ball movement and dominated with midrange jumpers: a shot that Daryl Morey will cut you immediately if you dare take such an inefficient shot."

Daryl Morey is the General Manager of the Houston Rockets - a team that pioneered the use of 3-point or dunks style analytically driven basketball.


As a system, the triangle is basically just four sets repeated according to the position of players and the ball on the floor. Whenever one ends without a good shot, if a team is well trained they will pick up into the next one seamlessly. It's similar to some old-school Dean Smith styled systems that way, but rather instead of trying to create a 1 on 1 mismatch, it creates a situation where you move the ball until you're either got an easy 3 on 3 or better, allowing for more fluidity.

If you've followed this, you will immediately pick up on the fact that the GSW Motion offense is a modified triangle, as players (Kobe, Pippen, etc), coaches (Luke Walton, Phil Jackson), and analysts have pointed out from the 2014 pre-season. It has the four base movements of the triangle offense as defined by Tex Winter, but adding the Spurs / Popovitch's Motion Weak as a fifth one and pushing the tempo (something both a lot of historic Warriors staff are for, and Alvin Gentry helped codify). This is not surprising since Steve Kerr played under Phil Jackson and Popovich, and was an executive that worked with Gentry. Every coach cribs off the stuff he learned from his coaches (even Tex Winter did from his coach, Sam Barry) and develops it further.

It looks different because the players are different. But people forget that the first threepeat Bulls played a different flavor of triangle (a lot closer to the 2015 Warriors with all their running people off the floor than people remember) than that of the Kobe / Shaq Lakers. The first move of the triangle starts with the ball in the low post, back to the basket, two players cut hard, and so on. With MJ and Kobe, that ended up with them hitting that gorgeous fade away over and over. With Steph Curry and Draymond Green, it ends with a pass to an open three or a lob. This shows that even with different sets of talent, the move remains a way to get the players to use their strengths in a structured way.

So, while the classic triangle may be outdated, it's still a championship winning machine, and a system that allows a huge talent to have influence even without the ball (aka Gravity, aka the "for the love of all that is holy, don't let MJ/Kobe/Curry murder us" effect). That being said, basically every team ripped off the pinch post play (the second of the four triangle sets; the one with the hand-off / screen in the high post), so nearly every system in the NBA has at least some triangle elements.


It's a GREAT question.

Why don't the most intelligent and best basketball coaches use the triangle?

Is it only because the Zenmaster has the intelligence to coach this offense?

Or is it because there is such a huge advantage in running the triangle that coaches instinctively know it just wouldn't be fair to the rest of the league?

Or - can we just use common sense - it is a trash offensive theory and there are hundreds that work better?

Phil Jackson was smart for implementing the triangle. He had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and a good surrounding cast. The whole point of the triangle is isolation. Of course you want to isolate Jordan on someone.

What Jackson really did with the triangle offense was take advantage of the terrible rules the NBA had at the time. Not allowing double teams and not allowing zone defenses. It was just a ridiculous time to watch basketball - the NBA 90s.

The triangle was based on giving Jordan the ball on the high wing. The rest of the floor would clear out - shooter deep center and big man on the weak block. There is your triangle. So the other team has to try and "show" a double team to Jordan's side while not getting called for an illegal defense. You can imagine how out of position defenses were all the time. If Jordan got in trouble he passed out to Pippen or a shooter. Pippen was a more capable distributor than Jordan (I know his assists didn't match but that is just usage) so they weren't really resetting if the secondary pass was made.

If you watched the 90s Bulls games they could be pretty brutal when they played a good team. Yes when they played crap teams Jackson let them have more freedom but in close games we got heavy heavy doses of iso ball and there was nothing fun about it unless you were a Bulls fan. Watching guys show to Jordan and then have to run close to their guy every three seconds was absurd.

I did mention that Jackson was smart for using the triangle to take advantage of league rules that were quick to call illegal defenses and outlawed zone defenses. This is not to say that if Jordan was in a better offense that they wouldn't have done better. This is just what the best team in the world used. It required to have a couple of players that would have decided mismatches every game. The only thing hard about the triangle offense that Jackson ran is what the hell do the other 4 players do to not look like bumbling fools until the wing player has beat his man or caused an advantage.

In 2001 the NBA allowed zone defenses. Jordan's Bulls may have been just as successful but it wouldn't have looked the same. You say... well how about Kobe and Shaq, they played against zone... Again not really. The NBA allowed zone but did not allow an undefended player for more than 3 seconds. And since Kobe and Shaq's games were very opposite and Kobe stood at 20 feet and Shaq underneath, well it was pretty easy to force opponents to man and defend the Laker's iso-ball.

It really brings to point of the NBA's flaw and why the rest of the world may eventually catch it. The NBA's defensive 3 second rule disables the league. It was created so that you couldn't mob the star player on the other team. However Euro leagues don't have this rule and do just fine. Players learn to cut and pass and set picks. There is more of an emphasis on a team game on intellect where the NBA seems to be more about beating a guy off the dribble or bullying him under the basket.

Why don't more teams run the triangle? Well you really need a dominant wing that can shoot good enough to make teams respect him, one that can drive, and one that can pass. These guys don't grow on trees and really I am not sure who I would put in this category the past 5 years. If you don't have this advantage with the triangle, it can still work because there is movement but the fact that it will have to reset more given a lower quality player and then with the 24 seconds clock, it just isn't viable for most teams. The media and Jackson try to act like it is some mystical offense. It is crap that I don't want to see.


The triangle that the Bulls and Lakers ran was very specific to their skill sets. That's why Phil was always picky when choosing a team to coach. Point guard should be a defensive minded and a three point shooter. The wings need to be long and can go one on one. Then you need bigs. 7 footers are very important. It also helped to have 4 hall of famers on those two teams.


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