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Basketball Offense - The Triangle Offense

By James Gels, from the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook, @ http://www.coachesclipboard.net

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The Triangle half-court offense originated with Sam Barry at the University of Southern California many years ago. It was further developed by former Kansas State head coach Tex Winter, who had played under Barry. Winter went on as assistant coach to Phil Jackson and the triangle offense was instrumental in the Chicago Bulls (Michael Jordan, et al) winning a number of NBA championships. Winter has also been a consultant to the LA Lakers. Some college teams have adapted it, including the Tennessee Lady Vols, UConn's Lady Huskies, and Tara VanDerveer's Stanford Cardinals. This article discusses the triangle in some depth with numerous diagrams below pointing out many of the options. Many of these diagrams point out how the offensive player(s) read and react to the defense.

The triangle offense is detailed and takes a while to learn, but is very effective once players learn how to read and react to the defense. The offense can be confusing for the defense as it can be initiated in many different ways... not the same way with every possession (see "Establishing the Triangle" below). Spacing is key, with players about 15-18 feet apart. The basic structure of the triangle offense is the "sideline triangle" on one side of the floor, and a "two-man game" on the weakside. The sideline triangle is formed by a post player on the block and two perimeter players, one in the corner and one on the wing, and can be set up on either side of the court (diagrams A and B). The "two-man" weakside offense consists of a guard at the top, and a player at the weakside elbow-extended area. Players can interchange, but it's usually best to have two post and three perimeter players.

The spacing stretches the defense to defend both sides of the court, and this creates a problem for the helpside defense and defensive trapping. Unlike a free-lance motion offense, players should be looking to fill the five spots. But like a motion offense, players read and react to the defense without having to call set plays.

triangle offense set

Establishing the Triangle

First, before discussing all of the options, we will outline the many ways, or entries, to get into the set. This can be confusing to the defense, and there is a counter for just about anything the defense throws at us. In each case, we want the ball on the wing and establish the sideline triangle.

1-2-2 set

In diagram C above, starting in a 1-2-2 set, O5 and O4 down-screen for O2 and O3, who cut out to the wings. The pass goes from O1 to the wing. O1 will cut to the ball-side corner, and the triangle is formed, with O5 in the low post. The weakside wing moves up to the top and the weakside post player moves to the weakside elbow-extended area. O2, O1 and O5 form the sideline triangle. O3 and O4 are positioned to run the "two-man game".

Point guard inside cut

In diagram D, O1 passes to O2 and cuts inside, off O5's screen (near the ball-side elbow). O2 has the option of passing to O1 on the give and go for a possible lay-up from O1 (diagram E). If the pass from O2 is not there, O1 can move to the ball-side corner (diagram D), while O5 drops back down to the block. Or O1 could cut to the opposite corner (diagram F). In this case, the ball is reversed to the top to O3, and then to O4 who has stepped out on the wing, while O5 cuts to the left block... and now the triangle is established on the left side. O2 and O3 would now be the weakside "two-man game", with O2 dropping inside a little near the weakside elbow.

Point guard inside cut

Point guard outside cut

In diagram G, O1 passes to O2 and cuts outside O2 to the corner, and the triangle is set. An option here is a hand-off from O2 to O1. If the X1 defender is screened by O2, O1 can drive to the hoop (diagram H). Recognizing this, O5 slides up to the elbow for spacing and a possible pass there from O1. If the X1 defender goes under the screen (diagram I), O1 can pull up and shoot the jump shot. If the X2 and X1 defenders switch the screen (diagram J), O1 and O2 run a pick and roll.

Point guard outside cut
dribble entry

Dribble entry - wing pass denied

When the pass to the wing is being denied, O1 can simply dribble to the wing, as O2 slides down to the corner (diagram K). Sometimes, with X2 overplaying the pass, O2 can back-cut for a pass from O1 (diagram L). Here again, O5 slides up to the elbow.

Diagram M shows O1 dribbling right and O2 cutting through to the opposite corner. The ball is reversed from O1 to O3 on the top, and then to O4 (who has stepped out to the wing). O5 cuts to the left block, and now the triangle established on the left side. O1 and O3 are now the "two-man game".

Weakside guard cut to corner

Weakside guard cuts to ball-side corner

Diagram N shows O1 passing to O2, but this time O3 cuts through to the ball-side corner, while O1 replaces O3 at the top.

Weakside post cuts to ball-side corner

Diagram O again shows O1 passing to O2. O5 screens for O4 and O4 cuts to the ball-side corner. O3 drops into the weakside elbow to replace O4, and O1 replaces O3 at the top.

Any player could play the low post

Although X5 and X4 are our main post players, any player can post up on the low block. This strategy could be effective when there is a size mis-match with one of the guards, or a perimeter defender is in foul trouble... so we post up his man and try to get another foul on him/her. We simply move O5 out to the corner and let another player take the low post. Diagram P shows O1 posting up. Diagram Q has O3 in the post (O1 replaces O3 on top). In diagram R, O4 posts up, while O3 drops inside to replace O4 and O1 replaces O3.

Any player can post up on the block

Weave-screen entry

Weave-screen (dribble hand-off) entry

Another way to set up the offense is shown in diagram S. Here, O1 does a weave-screen (dribble hand-off) with O3. Often the X2 defender will drop inside to hedge on the dribble by O3. This allows for an easy pass to O2 on the wing, and O3 cuts through to the ball-side corner. O1 moves to the top.

Wing denial - ball reversal

Above we mentioned that if X2 denies the pass to O2, O1 could simply dribble to the wing as O2 slides to the corner. Another option (when the wing pass is denied) is to reverse the ball to the opposite side. In diagram T, O1 passes to O3 and cuts through to the opposite corner. O3 passes to O4 on the wing and O5 cuts to the left low block. O2 moves to the weakside elbow-extended area. Diagram U shows the same reversal but with O2 cutting to the opposite corner, and O1 dropping inside to the weakside elbow-extended area. Diagram V again shows the ball-reversal, but this time O3 cuts to the corner, with O2 dropping inside to the weakside elbow-extended area.

Reversing the ball on wing denial

Another example of ball-reversal is a skip pass from the low post to the opposite wing (diagram W). O2 passes in to O5. O1 cuts baseline for a possible hand-off from O5. If the hand-off is not there, O1 continues through (getting a screen from O4) and moves to the opposite corner. O5 skip passes to O3 on the opposite wing and O1, O3 and O4 create the triangle. Diagrams X and Y show reversal again, beginning with O2 passing to O1 in the corner, and then making a give and go cut. O2 goes through, again receiving a screen from O4. O5 now runs a pick and roll with O1. As O1 dribbles around O5's screen into the top seam, in addition to the pick and roll options, or a jump shot from O1, there is an option for ball reversal with a kick-out pass to O3 on the left wing. The triangle again is established with O3, O2 and O4.

Skip pass from the post

To get the complete Triangle Offense article, including the details of the (1) sideline triangle options, (2) post offense, (3) weakside two-man game, (4) strong-side two-man game, (5) reading and reacting to the defense, and (6) the detailed animation, become a Premium Member, or get the Deluxe CD, the Playbook download, or the Playbook & Animations download.



Helpful DVDs:


Tex Winter: The Encyclopedia of the Triangle Offense
Tex Winter: The Encyclopedia of the Triangle Offense
with Tex Winter, Innovator of the Triangle Offense; former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls Assistant Coach.
  • Everything you need to know about the Triangle Offense from the innovator himself, Tex Winter
  • Drills and demonstrations for developing the Triangle Offense
  • Players will learn to make the same reads, cuts and shots as basketball greats Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kobe Bryant
The Triangle is assembled piece by piece in this landmark DVD. The Triangle is introduced by Coach Winter's exploration of his seven principles of a sound offense. ... (more info)

Price: $119.99
Buy Now from the Coach's Clipboard Basketball DVD -  Video Store!



Tara VanDerveer: Stanford's Triangle Offense
Tara VanDerveer: Stanford's Triangle Offense
with Tara VanDerveer, Stanford University Head Women's Basketball Coach; 2X NCAA Championship Coach, 3X NCAA Coach of the Year; 1996 US Women's Olympic Team Head Coach (Gold Medal); Women's Basketball Hall of Fame (2002).
  • Master the Triangle Offense with 3-time NCAA Coach of the Year, Tara VanDerveer
  • Demonstration and explanation of each position including breakdown and drills
  • Emphasis on passing and spacing to create the most scoring opportunities
In a storied 26-year coaching career, Tara VanDerveer has established herself as one of the top coaches in the history of both collegiate and international women's basketball. In this on-court demonstration, Coach VanDerveer presents the Triangle offense in a whole-part-whole manner... (more info)

Price: $39.99
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Five-Star Basketball: The Triangle Offense for High School Basketball
Five-Star Basketball: The Triangle Offense for High School Basketball
with Courtney Brooks, Southwest Christian School (GA); 2006 State Champs; HS Coach of Dwight Howard; and Five-Star Basketball Instructor.

Coach Brooks credits the Triangle Offense for his 80% winning percentage over the past nine years. Coach Brooks introduces the triangle in a 5-0 alignment. The key spot, corner spot, post, top of circle spot and the weak side spot make up all five positions. This offense has many features and is constantly in motion.... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now from the Coach's Clipboard Basketball DVD -  Video Store!



Five Star: Basketball 8 Breakdown Drills for the Triangle Offense
Five Star: Basketball 8 Breakdown Drills for the Triangle Offense
with Courtney Brooks, Southwest Christian School (GA); 2006 State Champs; HS Coach of Dwight Howard; and Five-Star Basketball Instructor.

Every move and pass in the triangle relies on great footwork. Coach Brooks shows the detailed drills that build the triangle offense. The initial drill is a full court drill and the execution of the hand off at the other end. The same concept is run in the half court, allowing the pinch player to fake the hand off and attack the defender to score. The wing player has many opportunities... (more info)

Price: $39.99
Buy Now from the Coach's Clipboard Basketball DVD -  Video Store!