It's a Sunday afternoon in early November, and Kobe Bryant is enjoying his final minutes on the court at Madison Square Garden. He's soaking in adulation and applause from the crowd as the clock ticks down. And Kobe being Kobe, he couldn't leave the Garden floor without a little trash talk.
So before he walked off the Garden hardwood for the final time, Bryant delivered a message to Spike Lee about his beloved Knicks.
"That ain't no f---ing triangle," Bryant said of New York's offense. "That's a square."
At the time, Bryant had a point.
The Knicks were less than two weeks into the season and there were more than a few wrinkles to iron out on offense. However, fast forward nearly three months later, and while some wrinkles remain for the Knicks, their offense seems to be improving.
The club ranks eighth in offensive efficiency for games played after Jan. 1, which is a big reason why New York is in the hunt for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The offense Bryant described as a square in early November might slowly be finding its form. However, there can be no mistaking this Knicks roster with the Hall of Fame-laden group in Los Angeles during Phil Jackson's tenure.
Still, Bryant's off-the-cuff comment raised an interesting question: Is this Knicks offense at all similar to the triangle Bryant and Fisher ran under Jackson in L.A.?
The answer, just like the triangle offense itself, is complicated.
Again, the talent gap between Jackson's Lakers teams and Fisher's Knicks team is significant. Those Lakers featured Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal and, later, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony and a promising rookie in Kristaps Porzingis, and they're trying to build a team around the two.
But there also appears to be some structural difference between Fisher's triangle and the offense Jackson ran in Los Angeles. The production and numbers bear out those differences. Bottom line, many of the flaws still remaining in the Knicks' offense are not the product of the triangle philosophy, but rather the vast differences in the roster makeup and talent. The Knicks simply are just not there yet.
Below, with a big assist from Ryan Feldman of the ESPN Stats & Information Group, we take a look at three significant differences between Jackson's and Fisher's offenses. The triangle remains an integral part of the offensive philosophy, but how much?
Some critics of the triangle claim the offense doesn't fit the modern-day NBA, in which the 3-point shot and points in the paint are paramount.
The main critique is the triangle produces too many midrange jump shots. And in the Knicks' version of the offense, there's evidence to support that claim.
New York was top five in the NBA in midrange shot attempts last season. This season, they rank second in midrange attempts (entering play on Thursday).
Conversely, under Jackson, the Lakers didn't have the same shot distribution. The Lakers ranked 24th in percentage of midrange field goals attempts from 2005-11 (the years during which data was available).
There are many factors at play here, but one is the Knicks' personnel. The team's most frequent shooters are all comfortable firing from the midrange. Anthony (43.5 percent), Porzingis (30 percent) and Arron Afflalo (37 percent) have each taken the majority of their shots from the midrange.
The Knicks also have few players who can penetrate a defense. So, to some degree, it's understandable that they are near the top of the league in midrange attempts.
"The offense is always changing based on the players that are involved, the personnel, their strengths and weaknesses, the way teams are defending certain actions," Fisher said of the triangle. "And we feel that's the beauty of it. That it isn't the same thing [as the Lakers' version of the triangle], although it might look the same."
Reads in the offense are also based, in part, on the way it's being defended. So it's possible that Knicks opponents are baiting them into taking shots from the midrange.
Points in the paint
It's no surprise the Lakers of Jackson's era were among the best in the league in paint scoring. When you have a big man duo of Gasol and Bynum for most of the 2005-11 era, you're probably going to score frequently in the paint.
The Knicks, on the other hand, ranked 29th in paint points per game entering play Thursday. Again, this seems to be a function of team personnel rather than the triangle.
With the heavy reliance on midrange jump shots and the lack of slashers, the Knicks simply don't have many opportunities to score in the paint.
"The offense is always changing based on the players that are involved, the personnel, their strengths and weaknesses, the way teams are defending certain actions. ... You know, we have a team that's built differently, so we're trying to establish an identity as a group." Derek Fisher
This might change if the Knicks can find a dynamic guard in free agency or the trade market. But for the time being, they don't have perimeter players who can get to the rim on a consistent basis.
And the lack of paint points -- and reliance on midrange shots -- limits the Knicks' open 3-point looks. New York is 24th in the NBA in percentage of points produced from beyond the arc. The Lakers from 2005-11 ranked ninth in that category.
It's worth noting the Lakers scored plenty of points in the paint without relying heavily on the pick-and-roll. They were 30th in the NBA in pick-and-roll usage between 2006-11. Likewise, the Knicks rank 29th in pick-and-roll usage this season.
Pick up the pace?
Some believe the triangle offense is outdated, due in part to its slow pace. The Knicks played at the NBA's third-slowest pace last season, their first running the triangle offense. Even with a roster of nearly all new players, they still rank 25th in pace thus far this season.
But it might not be fair or accurate to pin that on the triangle. Between 2005-11, the Lakers played at the eighth-highest pace in the NBA. Again, the discrepancy seems to be a product of the talent gap between the two teams. Fisher said several times this season he would prefer to play at a higher pace.
But the Knicks aren't an elite rebounding team (15th in differential), and they rank second-to-last in the NBA in creating turnovers, which is where transition and fast-break opportunities arise. So it's difficult to find opportunities to push the ball, unless they find someone who can -- such as Atlanta's Jeff Teague, who has been rumored to be on the Knicks' trade radar.
It's a process
Video of Kobe Bryant's commentary on the triangle made the rounds on social media hours after that game in November. For what it's worth, Fisher had a solid retort for Bryant the following day.
"I can remember in 1999-2000, our first several weeks as a team were not very pretty in terms of the execution and guys being in the right spots. It probably looked like a square more then, too," he said. "The difference was, there was a guy, No. 34, named Shaquille O'Neal, who was the MVP that season, in the middle, and Kobe was on the court and Phil's on the sideline. That's a lot of Hall of Fame action going on there."
"That makes things a lot easier, no matter what offense you run," Fisher added. "You know, we have a team that's built differently, so we're trying to establish an identity as a group."