Simplified Triangle Offense

Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at

The title of this article seems odd in two ways. One, there aren't many things simpler than a triangle. Two, to those of you who are familiar with the intricacies of the Triangle Offense made famous by the Chicago Bulls, a "Simplified Triangle Offense" seems like an oxymoron. One of the most common questions presented on the coaching bulletin boards and discussion forums is, "Can anyone explain the triangle offense? I am coaching my 5th grade son's team this year and I would like to try it." Now, I have coached many young teams and I have looked at Tex Winter's diagrams, and it is hard to sanely merge those two images together in my mind.

Young kids need to concentrate on the most basic of the fundamental individual and team skills. The plays that work best are those that are simple and direct. Its a thrill just to see them properly execute a pick and roll. In contrast, the triangle offense provides a myriad of options based on defensive reactions. Experienced players well-versed in reading the defense and foreseeing potential advantages will enjoy the wide spacing and flexibility this offense provides. To a young player, it is downright baffling. Why? because there are so many choices to make. The first diagram in my instruction sheet has seven suggested entry routes to initiate the play. That amounts to a lot of conditional "ifs" for the coach to explain to a youngster that still forgets to close the refrigerator door every day.

So, I have mimicked the response of respected coaches who answer the calls for triangle information. "Stick to the basics." That's what I said, too.

Imagine my discomfort when I found out our head coach was adopting the triangle offense as the system of choice for our varsity players! That meant that the JV and C teams must incorporate it, too, because we really care about consistency and continuity in the program. While he has smart and experienced players, many of our guys (9-10 grade) will be exploring such advanced concepts as left handed lay-ups and how to properly set a screen. Seven suggested entry routes? No way!

For us, the challenge is introducing a triangle offense. Figure out some way to run it in a simple, somewhat structured way, so that when the kids are told "run your offense", they'd have some idea on where to be and how to start. Here's how we are teaching it.

Triangle Offense - Basic Concepts

  1. Break the offense into two parts, the triangle and the two man game. The triangle is shown in the larger red box (players 1, 3 and 5). The two man game is in the smaller red box. Explaining how 5 guys run a triangle was a stumbling block for us at first. The answer was to break it apart like this.
  2. Spacing is critical. Note the green dotted lines. The spacing should be 15 - 18 feet. The kids will have a natural tendency to creep in together. As we viewed the game tape, inadequate spacing appeared as an obvious reason for turnovers. It is hard to pass into a post, for instance, when three defenders are a step away from the ball. Spread it out.
  3. The post player should be in alignment with the ball and the basket. This forces the defense to play more directly behind or in front of the post.
tri1.GIF (1757 bytes)


The Entry

The object is to get the point guard (the player with the ball in this diagram) into the corner. I've shown a pass to the wing, but the pass can go to the post, or the point can drive to the wing spot, exchange the ball, and then go down to the corner. Look for the ball every time a cut is made to the basket. We had some players cut early in the play and the pass back to them bounced off their chests because they were caught by surprise. In this diagram, the player elects to misdirect, then cut to the basket, then go to the corner. The cutter can use either side of the post.

After the cutter goes through, the weak side guard (in the two man game) moves toward the top of the key. We needed an easier outlet pass from the triangle and someone in position to help defensively when we turned the ball over.


tri2.GIF (1703 bytes)

The Second Pass

Now we are truly in "the triangle" (shown in blue). In this case the pass goes to the post, but it may go to the corner as well. Note that the post can pass to the weak side if those defenders collapse in the key. The passing lanes are shown by the green dotted lines.

Once the pass is made, it is time to cut to the basket. If the players pass, then stand, nothing happens, so move! Here the wing passes to the post, cuts to the basket and then to the opposite corner.

tri3.GIF (1769 bytes)

Immediately following the wing's cut, the corner player goes baseline, then up around the post. This is one of the easiest handoffs. The cutter can shoot off the post or drive. If he doesn't get the ball, he should get all the way back to the corner. 

I recommend that the post fake a pass to every cutter. The cutters should be ready to receive the ball on every cut. Be sure to lead the cutter a bit with the pass. If he needs to reach back or down to get the ball, the shot will be more difficult.

After the second cut, the post can pivot to the basket. At this point, he should be isolated with his defender.


tri4.GIF (1626 bytes)

Reversal to the Two Man Game

At any point the ball is reversed out of the triangle, the two man game begins. It is shown late in the play here, but it can happen any time the defense forces you to abandon the play.

Note that the weak side post moves up to pick. Don't set the pick too high. The elbow is a good place.

In this example, the two man game is a pick and roll, but the post can also move out and receive a pass from the top. In that eventuality, the guard cuts to an open area and the play is a give and go.

Here, the guard drives off the pick. As the post's defender moves to help, the pass goes back to the screener a la pick and roll.


tri5.GIF (1490 bytes)

In this example, the two man game is a pick and roll, but the post, instead of setting a pick, can also move out and receive a pass from the top. In that eventuality, the guard cuts to an open area and the play is a give and go.

Here, the guard drives off the pick. As the post's defender moves to help, the pass goes back to the screener a la pick and roll.

tri6.GIF (1560 bytes)


The play will fall apart once in a while as all plays do. To recover, maintain player spacing. Balance out. If the play is conceived as the simple triangle with a post and a two man game without a post, the players should be able to learn all the roles pretty quickly. In the event of a melt-down, the players can move to a starting position and renew the attack on the side the post is on. In our diagrams, the initial attack was from the left side, but if you put the post in the other side of the key, he/she can run the triangle options with the other two players.


After using this offense for a while, I like it. Post play is a lost art in our neighborhood, so when the play clicks, the shots are easy. There are some pitfalls to plan for, though:

  1. The kids need to learn to both expect and handle the handoff. This hasn't been easy.
  2. The post player must learn not to pass behind the cutters or at their feet. When we do lay-up drills, we put the post guys at the top of the key so everyone passes to them and then cuts to get the ball back and lay it up.
  3. Spacing must be maintained. This is a good habit to learn, anyway.
  4. Once the kids are familiar running the patterns, have the post move from side to side. Whatever side the post is on will be the strong side and that is the triangle side. It works both ways.