The Last Dance

What is the triangle? What you need to know about the offence that helped the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers dominate the NBA

The origins of the triangle offence trace back to Sam Barry, a Hall of Fame coach who coached at the University of Iowa and the University of Southern California between the years of 1922 and 1950. But it is Hall of Fame coach Tex Winter, who played for Barry at USC in the late 1940s, who is credited with popularizing the triangle offence in the NBA.

Winter served as an assistant coach on the Chicago Bulls between 1985 and 1999 before joining the Los Angeles Lakers between 1999 and 2008. He won a total of nine championships as a member of Phil Jackson's coaching staff, six with the Bulls, three with the Lakers.

Those teams are famous for running the triangle offence.

So what is the triangle offence?

It's sort of what it sounds like. The idea is to form a triangle between three players on offence, with one player standing in the corner, one standing on the wing and one standing in the post. The two other players park themselves on the weak side, usually around the opposite wing and corner, to space the floor.

Teams then run actions off of that, from post-ups to handoffs and pindowns.

"In the end, the Triangle concepts are just basketball," former Bulls guard Steve Kerr once said. "Run, cut, spacing, dribble hand-offs. Lots of ball movement and player movement.

"With the right talent, those concepts are always going to give you a chance at success."

It's a simple offence in theory, but the amount of options that are available once the triangle is established is where it gets complicated.

It's considered to be a "flow offence," as one coach explained to Chuck Klosterman, then of Grantland, because it encourages player movement and ball movement. The triangle might start on one side of the court, but as the ball moves around, so does the triangle. It all depends on how the team is being defended, which is why the system requires everyone to be able to read and react.

ESPN's Sports Science broke down the intricacies of the offence well in a video several years ago.

The triangle offence worked for the Bulls and Lakers, teams that were built around some of the greatest players of all-time in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, but there isn't a team in today's NBA that still runs it. There are teams that use elements of the triangle - Golden State's split cuts being one of many examples - but the last team to use the triangle as the foundation of its offence in the same way the Bulls and Lakers did was the New York Knicks when they were led by Jackson and Derek Fisher.

Those teams, however, had little-to-no success with the offence, with players complaining that it was "different" and "random."

That doesn't mean we've seen the last of the triangle. There's a chance that it will one day return to the NBA. But even if it doesn't, it will forever be remembered as the offence that helped the Bulls and Lakers win the number of championships they did.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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