NBA Finals Preview: Andrew Bogut and the Warriors’ Triangle Offense


The Triangle Offense is alive and well in today’s NBA, despite multiple reports to the contrary. The greatest regular season team of all time is going into its second consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, where head coach Steve Kerr will run a healthy dose of Phil Jackson’s favorite offense. However, Kerr’s Triangle doesn’t revolve around a gifted scorer like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant; instead, the Golden State Warriors use Andrew Bogut as the centerpiece of these sets.

Bogut will often catch more than ten feet from the basket, where he is no threat to shoot, but the Warriors have so much man movement around him that he doesn’t have to do anything with which he’s uncomfortable; he can survey the defense, pick the best pass, and deliver it with terrifying accuracy usually reserved for the best point guards. Many times, Bogut won’t even have to dribble; he’s the sun around which the Warriors’ devastating and destructive planets orbit.

The simplest option is the first: Stephen Curry will enter the ball to Bogut in the mid-post, then screen for Klay Thompson to get an open three.

Westbrook is so occupied by sticking with Curry that he’s unable to recover in time to stop Thompson from rising and firing. Perhaps Westbrook should have gotten a hand up as Thompson was going up for the shot, but we’ve seen again and again that even a hand in his face doesn’t change the end result for Thompson. Adams is of no help defending against that pass; there’s no reason for him to pick up a cheap reach-in foul on Bogut so far from the rim. It’s all on Westbrook and Andre Roberson to communicate the switch and be quick enough to shut down both guys at the same time.

Just when you’ve got the switching down pat, Curry or Thompson will cut to the basket and leave defenders scrambling to catch up.

Here, Tyler Johnson lets Curry have a step, opting to get behind him in order to be in better position to guard Thompson after the screen. Curry feels Johnson on his back, plants his foot, and explodes toward the rim, where Bogut’s pass finds him perfectly for the and-1 layup. These instances are what make or break the Triangle; Bogut has to be able to drop the ball off in exactly the right place for Curry to be able to complete the play. The pass doesn’t go far, but it has to be put on the money to not break Curry’s momentum toward the basket. How many players in the league are there who have Bogut’s ability to protect the rim on one end and drop dimes like this on the other?

Another difficulty with switching this screen is that Thompson and Curry are both intelligent enough to occupy both defenders and leave the other open.

Curry sells his cut to the basket, leaving Shane Larkin too far away to contend with Thompson if he comes around the screen. Markel Brown sees this and makes the right play to jump over Curry’s screen, but Thompson is already one mental step ahead of him and cuts toward the basket. Brown scrambles to recover to his man while Larkin thinks they’ve switched and sticks with Thompson as well. Curry ends up with more than twelve feet of space between him and the dejected Larkin, who seems to realize that the three points are on the scoreboard before Curry even releases the ball.

Of course, defend everything perfectly and you might still give up a bucket:

After a weave at the top of the key fails to produce a good look, Bogut gets down on the block and catches the entry pass from Draymond Green. Green cuts through along the baseline, as is customary in the Triangle, while Thompson and Curry play their two-man game near the top of the key. Thompson screens for Curry, igniting another set of switches across the defense, before popping out for the pass and driving for the layup and the foul.

There’s no better way to defend that action than how the Utah Jazz did. The Warriors simply have too much firepower on the court for the Jazz to stop every option and Bogut is patient enough in the post to seemingly always find the pass that gets Golden State a good look. Take another look at how Raul Neto, Derrick Favors, and Rodney Hood communicate on the Thompson screen to cover everything the Warriors did. Favors, who is on Thompson initially, switches onto Curry after the screen, then immediately switches onto Bogut as Curry comes around for a possible dribble handoff. If the Jazz don’t get that absolutely perfect, somebody ends up with the ball wide open under the rim.

For the Warriors, this serves as an excellent example of how beautiful their offense can be. There is no hesitation, no wasted movement, no time off the shot clock. They get into the play as soon as possible; the first pass in the halfcourt is made with 19 seconds on the shot clock. When the weave doesn’t produce anything, they immediately move into their next look. Nobody holds the ball too long, nobody looks around hoping for another option to appear, and most importantly, they don’t just attack the first mismatch they find. Thompson ends up with Favors in front of him after the weave and the Warriors could easily clear out and let Thompson do his thing with the bigger defender trying to stick with him, but instead they continue with their offense and find an even better opportunity.

I imagine there’s nothing quite like the panic defenders feel when they see Curry and Thompson screening for one another off the ball. There’s almost no good way to defend this; double either one of them and the other will bury a three. Play too closely and one or both will blow right past you to the rim. The best you can do is switch the screen and hope that both guys are in an adequate position to deter any shot. The Cleveland Cavaliers will have their hands full as Curry and Thompson wreak havoc on their best-laid defensive plans. J.R. Smith showed in the Cavaliers’ series against Atlanta that he’s capable of shutting down an elite shooter, but Thompson presents a far bigger challenge than Kyle Korver. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, who will spend time on Bogut throughout the series, are two historically subpar defenders who missed almost all of this series a year ago. The trio will have to be as stingy as they’ve ever been if they want to keep up with the Warriors’ Bermuda Triangle Offense — where defenses go to die.

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