Triangles and Zones

I don’t know why this is such a point of confusion for people. It’s really, really simple:

The Triangle offense, which Phil Jackson cannot coach without – in fact he doesn’t coach ANY team with ANY other offense, is all about movement and creating spacing. Its success depends on picks, screens, and all sorts of motion.

The Triangle offense can’t function against a zone. There’s no “motion” to be gained when defenders never leave an area. There’s no picks or screens because every “gap” ends up with two defenders nearby. Passes to the post end up with at least three and most times four defenders in the offense’s face. Dribble drives end in charges more often because the defender doesn’t have to move “far” in order to take a charge – just a step or two – and many times the offense is dribbling into two defenders, making it that much harder to avoid the charge.

Do a Google search on video of the Triangle and you can see the spacing involved. Then imagine a 1-2-2 or a 2-3 zone sitting there and you now are forcing the offense to spread out and take perimeter jump shots.

That’s not what the Lakers are calibrated for – they are not the best 3-point shooting team in the NBA. In fact, they were 23rd this season at .341, tied with MINNESOTA and barely above Oklahoma City (.340). The Suns, on the other hand, were the best in the NBA (.412). That translates to roughly about 9 extra points a game.

Yes, the Lakers were the best this season at defending the 3 pointer, however the Suns were no slouches either (17th) – but the 17th best defender of the 3 pointer on the 23rd best shooting team yields less points than the best defenders on the best shooters. The Suns will win this battle over the course of a series.

So the bottom line is, Phil Jackson is going to have problems with the zone for the remainder of the series because 1) he doesn’t know how to coach any other kind of offense but the Triangle and 2) even if the Lakers get hot from 3-point range, they have proven they can’t sustain it over 4 quarters, let alone a-best-of-3 series. And Game 4 proved that Kobe, as good as he is, can’t carry his team anymore for an entire game – his injuries and age have taken some of the gas out of the tank.


I just finished watching the Denver / Phoenix game and I can honestly say that, while I know that FIBA officiating is easily the worst in the world, that NBA game was by far the worst officiated game I’ve seen in 2009, starting from the 3rd quarter on.

The refs, all three of them, swallowed their whistles whenever Phoenix had the ball, but touch a Denver player’s hair and it’s a 2-shot foul. Steve Nash is fouled on the way to the hoop with 6 seconds left in the game and there’s no call. Even the NBA TV broadcasters were like “WTF?” No wonder Alvin Gentry was livid.

I do not believe David Stern for a second that the officials are impartial. That’s a load of crap. And I’m really starting to believe that when the former players/refs are hung out to dry by their peers for making incriminating statements about the others in their group, there’s truth to it. Yeah Donaghy was a crooked ref, but you know what? Everyone thought Canseco was loony when he came forward about the BS going on in baseball – I’m starting to think that Donaghy might also have some bits of truth out there as well that will come to light eventually.

As for now, well, the Suns were homered in Denver, and it wasn’t because the Nuggets played good basketball, it was because the Suns had to play an 8-on-5.

When will we see some transparency with the officials, David Stern? I can’t wait to see what the stat crunchers find with the foul calls in this game. The media will be all over this one in the morning. It comes down to this – a two-time MVP drives the lane, is shoved, and there’s no call, but a former drug addict that is not one year removed from a 2-year suspension gets to run over and through Suns players and gets the benefit of a call EVERY SINGLE TIME.

That, my friends, is bullshit.

Suns’ 13th man

The preseason rumors are starting to heat up for the Phoenix Suns as to whom the 13th man should be – whether it’s someone like 2nd round pick Taylor Griffin who would come cheap or a veteran who might be waived before the season starts.

My idea is actually both of those – sign Taylor Griffin for the minimum and he can be inactive for as much or as little as necessary, and then trade Alando Tucker for a veteran rebounder. Tucker has done absolutely nada during his tenure with the Suns – he’s a tweener and has demonstrated that he’s only good in the NBDL. His jump shot and driving focus deserts him when he’s on the big stage against better players. We saw a lot of him during blowouts near the end of last season, and he would routinely go 1-14, 2-10, 1-11, etc. Not only can he not finish, he can’t even seem to pass – he’s a black hole when you pass him the ball. Nope, better to trade him for a veteran banger who’ll average 4 points and 8 boards a game and play good defense.

Steve Kerr, I hope you’re reading!

Wildcat Player Impacts

[UPDATE 7/3/09: After some discussion with some readers from, I revisited the formula to account for positions played by players. While the numbers are different overall, and the order in which players are listed has changed, the results are basically still the same.]

Yesterday, I wrote about a comparison between Arizona NBA players and UConn players.

Today, let’s compare some other schools – UCLA, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and Kentucky. All of these schools are “basketball blue-bloods”, so one would think that they all should have their share of shining stars and impact players.

The criteria was simple, top 7 players from a specific school that have played in the NBA a minimum of 2 seasons. Rookies were left off because it’s too early to tell if their careers are boom or bust. After two full seasons, one should have a good idea of where the player is headed.

All stats listed are career stats. PERs listed are John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating. These are not counted in the calculation of the Player Impact Rating (PIR) but are listed to satisfy curiosity and as points of reference.

The PIR is a metric I created to summarize a player’s impact to the game based on the person’s stats over time – this takes into account the number of minutes played, so the career stats aren’t skewed by the longer careers of people like Mike Bibby, for example. Team PIRs are calculated two ways – one with 7 players, since empirical evidence suggest that the average school has at most 7 players in the NBA at any one point in time, and the other with 5 players, since you can only have 5 players on the court at any time. Obviously, the 5 player team PIR is calculated using the best five players.

Again, for comparison, I also did four other player PIRs. Unsurprisingly, none of the players calculated are even close to these four (one of which is a Hall of Famer, the other three will definitely be joining him).


As a reminder, here’s Arizona’s players and their individual PIR’s

Now, let’s start with the UCLA Bruins. Nothing like a conference rivalry to get things started. Plus, with the history of UCLA in the NCAA Tournament, one might think that there are a plethora of former Bruins in the NBA that are major players…


Hmm… Ok, let’s go cross-country to another tradition-laden school in Kentucky. Those Wildcats have a pedigree in basketball, dontcha know! They MUST have some pretty good players that are lighting up scoreboards, right?


OOPS! There are only 5 players from Kentucky currently in the NBA with more than 2 seasons under their belts. So, I guess Kentucky wasn’t as good a comparison after all, it seems. How about … North Carolina? Surely that would be a better comparison.


Wow… now there’s some heavy hitters in this group. But still, something seems not quite right. Maybe a midwestern school holds the solution? Let’s look at Kansas.


Uh oh… only 6 players here. That’s not really good either. I guess it’s up to Duke.

Now, before I did this calculation, I fully expected the results to be similar to everything else I’ve been seeing so far. However, Duke actually has 8 players in the NBA currently right now that qualify, so I had to use their top 7. How scary is that??


Notably, Shane Battier is NOT listed here for Duke. He was the 8th player and has a PIR of 43.62. If you include him and do a team PIR of 8 players, Duke would drop to a team PIR of 61.87. Ouch.

So what’s the verdict? Are any teams going to beat Arizona? Actually, the answer is “yes.”


How about just top 5’s?


As a side note, players with top 250 career PERs have been noted in the tables above and counted. Final tally: Arizona 5, North Carolina 4, Duke 3, UCLA 1, Kansas 1, Kentucky 0.

If any team was combined with Arizona players, Arizona players would outnumber the other team players except for Duke. Duke would have Hill, Boozer, and Brand, while Arizona would have Arenas and Bibby.

So, using this information, what have we learned? We already know that Arizona has the most draft picks of any school since the Lottery Era began. We know that of all the current NBA players, Arizona has more career PER players than any other school. We know that as a group, Arizona players have higher Player Impacts than any other school except Duke. And in head-to-heads against the “blue-blood” of college basketball, Arizona beats them all, again except for Duke.

For one last comparison, I’ll calculate the Arizona State’s NBA players’ individual PIRs (This one wasn’t even worth doing a table for – that’s how bad it is):

Ike Diogu 55.76
Eddie House 52.25

If combined with Arizona, Diogu makes the 6th spot out of top 7. I couldn’t calculate a team rating for ASU because they don’t have enough players in the NBA, and they won’t for next two years either with only 4 (add Pendergraph and Harden to the list).

Does Arizona belong now in the annals of college basketball as one of the “blue-bloods”? With 25 straight NCAA appearances, several Final Fours and a National Championship, the last measuring stick of “Players In The NBA” is still in review, but based on this evidence, I would argue that Arizona belongs now to that upper echelon of blue-bloods, the college basketball elite.