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The case for the Spurs to run the Triangle Offense

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With Pau Gasol likely starting alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, should the Spurs consider the triangle offense?

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs offense had two personalities last year. You saw a starting unit that relied on heavy isolation from LaMacrus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard. Conversely, the bench unit with Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, David West, and company ran a motion offense with a high level of player movement and ball movement. Critics will point to the Thunder series as the Spurs demise, but the seeds were planted before that. Even against Memphis, we saw the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Spurs offense. To jog your memory:

Isolation:

While this is not the starting lineup, this is an example of Leonard posting up with zero off ball action. Substitute Aldridge for Leonard and we often saw similar looks from the Spurs. Against a depleted Grizzlies team this was enough to get by, but you can't beat the top of Western Conference playing one on one unless you have the best isolation players in the world. Even Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook ultimately fell short as their ball movement disappeared late in Game 6 against the Warriors. As talented as Aldridge and Leonard are, they are not LeBron James and Kyrie Irving in terms of scoring at will against good defense. The Spurs are at their best when they are in their motion offense:

Some would argue that the bench is less talented and has to rely on more ball movement and cutting. To me this is just good basketball. There's no reason starting units can't play like this. One key distinction however is that the Spurs bench used four on the perimeter with one big man. I dissected their four out one in offense here. There is a strong case to be made that the Spurs would be better off bringing Gasol off the bench, which would allow them the space to play as seen above. But that argument is for another piece. Assuming they start the bigs together, the triangle is the ideal offense.

The Triangle

The triangle makes sense for this group because it is an offense that features low post opportunities for Aldridge and Gasol, heavy cutting and motion for the four players without the ball, and a two man game on the weak side that would allow for Leonard or Parker to still use pick and rolls and play off the bigs. You can also run a high low triangle variation that would capitalize on the interior passing of Gasol and Aldridge without the stagnation of a traditional high low offense. Here is the basic continuity shown in video form (the coach explaining is not charismatic but this is a tutorial if you're unfamiliar with the triangle):

As you can see, this is not isolation ball. You take turns setting up triangles with shooting on the wing and corner. You force the defense to decide if they will double down on Gasol or Aldridge on the low block (conceding an open shot), or play it honest.

But rather than stand around, players cut hard and are moving with continuity. The traditional triangle (without high low), has both the wing and corner cutting through if they are not open. Here is a quick video showing this variation with Gasol's Lakers:

Aside from the obvious fit with Aldridge and Gasol, who won championships running this offense, this offense works well for Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi can be dominant in the mid-range game without watching other players stand around. With a triangle set up on one side, the opposite side would have just two players. This sets up nicely for Kawhi to work from the perimeter into the high post, or run action with a big.

With Parker out there, he can still run his pick and roll action. While Tony Parker is not the prototypical triangle offense player, at this point in his career the offense should be running through Leonard and the big men. Moreover, Popovich is such a thorough coach that he can tailor the triangle and high low concepts to still feature pick and rolls and successful sets for Parker.

This offense is predicated on ball movement and passing angles to showcase multiple post players. The Spurs offense bogged down last year when Duncan, Aldridge, and Leonard were on the floor together. Next season the Spurs need get back to moving the ball side to side and playing their game. With Aldridge and Gasol likely starting together, spacing and ball movement is threatened. The triangle offense would solve those problems.